Kristrun Frostadottir is the Chief Economist at Kvika, a specialized Icelandic bank focusing on asset management and investment services. Kristrun oversees and conducts macroeconomic analysis for the bank and advises clients on economic and policy matters. She is an active public speaker on macroeconomic and economic policy matters in Iceland, in national media and policy circles. Before joining Kvika in early 2018, Kristrun conducted policy research as Chief Economist at the Iceland Chamber of Commerce. She has served as Chairman of the Agricultural Pricing Committee at the Ministry of Industries and Innovation and participated in government work on tourism policy. Kristrun holds the position of adjunct lecturer at the University of Iceland, where she teaches economic policy to undergraduate students alongside her role at Kvika.
During her studies at Yale, Kristrun focused on economic policy and international finance. She was a summer research associate in Morgan Stanley‘s New York office in 2015, joining the firm full time in London in 2016. Before coming to Yale, Kristrun worked as an economic analyst for Arion bank in Iceland and as lead economist in a working group on Monetary Reform for the Prime Minister’s office. She holds a master’s degree in economics from Boston University and an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Iceland.
She recently talked to us about her Jackson experience and her career path.
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What did you do prior to coming to the Jackson Institute?
Before Jackson my studies had mainly been focused on economics and my work experience heavily impacted by the financial crisis in Iceland. Throughout my undergraduate studies I interned at the Governor's Office at the Central Bank of Iceland, where the IMF's bailout program was the main focus. And before moving to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies I conducted macroeconomic analysis at one of the large Icelandic banks that were resurrected after the financial crises. The economic scene at the time was still very fragile, with limited growth and capital controls in place. I had originally planned to dive deeper into pure economics in Boston, focusing on crisis prevention and capital flows, but found myself searching for an environment that supported broader research interests. At Jackson, I was able to use my background in economics in a more practical way, with the program's focus on combining a variety of subjects with my economics core, such as politics and international relations, particularly appealing. Anyone who has participated in macroeconomic debate knows that economic policy does not take place in an economic vacuum. Having a broad background has given me an edge in economic policy debates, something I attribute very much to my experience at Jackson.
The Jackson student community is small. Did you feel connected to your classmates even as you took classes around campus?
The small student class at Jackson is one of the program's best features. I never felt like a nameless student—whether in eyes of Jackson faculty or fellow students. The program leaders really make an effort of choosing a diverse class, meaning that we all felt like we had our own niche while at the same time sharing an interest in international affairs and public policy. I have friends from all over the world now, many of which I am very close with today even though we live in separate countries. This is an amazing network to have, and same goes with the Jackson faculty. Being able to attend classes across campus, within other schools and departments, fit very nicely with this small student core at Jackson. For me it was the best of both worlds, the ability to experience all that Yale has to offer, seek out a broad variety of courses and meet students from other departments, while always having the Jackson group to hold onto.
Did you have any special connection to Senior Fellows while at Jackson?
I met one of my most influential mentors, Steve Roach, at Yale. To be able to seek advice from someone of his stature was invaluable to me at that point in my studies and career. Not only were his classes on economic policy in China, Japan and the U.S. a foundation for much of my policy thinking and teaching today, but he was also very supportive throughout my career search at Yale. Steve brings a fresh perspective to economic policy thinking—his style is sharp yet humble. He encouraged me to always anticipate what the other side might be thinking in an economic debate in order not get fixated on a single point of view, and to acknowledge when such a process might lead me to change my mind. That doesn't happen often in economic policy debates. This is exactly the sort of mindset that the Jackson community fosters and I was not surprised to find someone like Steve associated with the Institute.
How did your studies at Jackson prepare you for your current work in banking?
I have a very broad mandate in my current role as Chief Economist and flexibility in terms of focus. My goal is to draw up a broad macroeconomic picture for our clients, which entails having an overview of global factors influencing domestic matters, as well as political developments. My studies at Jackson helped me be more fluent in subjects adjacent to economics, such as politics, finance and international relations even though they had not been my main focus pre-Jackson. The economy is moved by so many factors that simple economic models cannot describe. I believe my broad global interests and training from Jackson gives me an edge in my current role. On a different note, I am a strong believer in the importance of developing strong communication skills in order to be taken seriously in client relations and public debate. A diverse community is one of the best places to develop such skills, as you constantly find yourself in situations where people with a different background than you, whether academically or professionally, force you out of your comfort zone. The class setup in Jackson forces your out of a groupthink setting as it brings together so many different perspectives.
Kat Devlin is a research associate at the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, where she focuses on international public opinion, quantitative research methods and Asia. In this role Kat has written on numerous topics, including global views of China, cybersecurity issues in Japan, public opinion in India and foreign language learning in Europe. Kat’s research has been covered in international news outlets such as the BBC, Axios, Forbes, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. She has presented to numerous audiences of academics and policymakers, including the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations staff, the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S.-China Business Council.
She earned her Master’s degree from Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, with concentrations in quantitative research and Chinese studies. During her time at Yale, Kat acted as a Teaching Fellow for courses on the Chinese economy and applied quantitative research methods. She also served as the Managing Editor for Articles of the Yale Journal of International Affairs. Upon graduation, Kat earned the Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace at Middlebury College where she completed an intensive Mandarin language program. Previously, Kat served as a Fulbright grantee in Malaysia, teaching English at a public high school in Johor. She earned her undergraduate degree in political science, magna cum laude, from Villanova University. Kat is proficient in Mandarin.
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Tell us about your interest in data driven research.
My interest in data happened unintentionally – I started working with survey data in my first job after undergrad and caught the quantitative research bug. I had no background in statistics or programming but soon found that having a basic understanding of both helped immensely as both a creator and consumer of research and policy. Plus I find people are more likely to listen to you if you show them numbers in a nice chart.
At my current job with Pew Research Center I present unbiased research without any partisan bent, and having methodologically sound data on hand bolsters the research to a more diverse audience in a way that more ideological think tanks miss out on. While it is impossible to expect to learn about all the available tools for statistical analysis in grad school, Jackson provided me with enough of a foundation that I can adopt newer methods as they become available and have coherent discussions of a method’s efficacy with technical experts.
Given the flexible curriculum at Jackson, how did you tailor your academic experience to meet your interests and career goals?
My interests always felt a bit bipolar: regionally I studied East/Southeast Asia and technically I focused on quantitative methods. Before applying to grad school I meticulously read about the curriculum and course requirements across programs. Jackson was the only place where I felt I could combine my regional and technical interests without sacrificing something along the way. I decided on taking several quantitative classes that used Stata and R since those seemed like the most-used programs in social science research, and I personally learn those type of skills better in a traditional classroom setting that emphasizes collaboration and projects with real-world data. (I’d have learned Python, too, if I had another semester to cram it in.)
To balance that with my regional interests, I acted as a Teaching Fellow for Steve Roach’s course, “The Next China,” on the Chinese economy and used my summer to do a Mandarin immersion program in southern China. On top of that, if my class had a final paper/project with a flexible subject I always chose an Asia-based topic with some sort of quantitative component when possible. This ensured I stayed engaged in my areas of interest but also helped when I had to send writing samples or code samples to potential employers.
At Yale you worked as a Teaching Fellow, what did you gain from those experiences?
I spent two semesters as a Teaching Fellow for The Next China with Steve Roach, and my last semester I worked with Justin Thomas on Applied Quantitative Analysis. Nothing helped me better gauge my actual understanding of a subject than having to teach it to a room of undergraduates. (You can only stall with “Let me follow-up after class” so many times…) Teaching really forced me to learn a topic in totality and anticipate where students might encounter problems with the material. I also enjoyed getting to know the students, acting as a resource if they had questions and gaining a little insight into the diverse experiences of a Yale undergrad.
With some of the more technical aspects of economics and statistics, being a TF required that I explain complicated topics in a way that was accessible without sacrificing precision. That skill translates directly in my day-to-day at work now, too, since most audiences I talk with are not quantitative researchers.
Finally, I am very thankful that I got to work with professors like Steve and JT. They went above and beyond in terms of mentoring, talking through any anxieties I had about the class or impending graduation, and just being overall great people to know outside the classroom.
What are your top three recommendations in New Haven?
I love the unpretentious atmosphere and cheap menu at Three Sheets on Elm Street. If we had too much fun at Three Sheets the night before, a sandwich from P&M Market on Orange Street always hit the spot the next day. (Personal favorite: eggplant parm.) And you can walk off some of those calories by hiking up to East Rock Park, though I recommend saving the Giant Stairs trail for the way down rather than up. I know you only asked for three but I’d be remiss not to encourage everyone to see a show at the Yale Rep, too.
Social Development Specialist
Corey Pattison is a young professional in the World Bank’s Fragility, Conflict, and Violence team. Since 2013, he has served as an advisor to the World Bank on its reengagement in Myanmar and its support to the national peace process, and currently, on its relief and recovery efforts in Rakhine State. His work is focused on the intersection of development and peace building, and he is a lead author of the first joint UN-World Bank flagship study, “Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches for Preventing Violent Conflict.” Pattison is currently pursuing a PhD in political science at Georgetown University and holds a masters in international relations from Yale University. His research has been supported by the Fulbright Program and his writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, and the Oxford Monitor of Forced Displacement.
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How did your time at Jackson shape both your personal interests and career path?
One of the things that attracted me to Jackson was its integration into the broader Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I was interested both in learning skills that could be applied to development policy and programming, but also potentially pursuing a PhD. I had just finished two years of working in Gaza and Indonesia, specifically in conflict-affected areas. I naturally gravitated towards political science courses on civil war and political violence, and that really enabled me to connect those analytical interests and my professional goals in peace building and development. I think I came into Jackson with a lot of passion and ideas, and was able over two years to really specify how I wanted to pursue those, what kinds of analytical skills I needed, and what kind of career opportunities I wanted to pursue. On the latter, I really benefitted also from my engagement as a student liaison with the World Fellows. One World Fellow was actually the person who suggested that I consider working with the World Bank over my summer break, and I remain in close contact with another who continues to mentor me.
An emphasis in your research seems to be violence prevention. What led you to the subject/focus?
I’ve spent a large part of my adult life in places that have experienced or continue to experience war. The first job I ever had was working in Gaza. So, the effects of large-scale violence have really shaped my perspective on most things, including social and economic development. Beyond the profound human costs, it became evident to me that where conflict—an inevitable part of society—becomes violent, the institutions that societies have developed to manage conflict become weakened and can be used as tools to exclude. In those situations, external actors have much more limited influence to mitigate the worst consequences and shape peaceful trajectories. Moreover, it’s the period immediate following large-scale violent conflict that the international community deploys large amounts of aid (though often not large enough to cover the needs), which usually cannot be absorbed by weak institutions and certainly cannot be sustained long enough to overcome set-backs and emerge from a cycle of violence and fragility. In short, then, there are potentially huge savings in terms of human and economic costs, if the international community can reorient itself towards a proactive, preventative approach. That is hardly straightforward—there are financial, political, and organizational incentives are aligned against it, but this is the goal of the recent UN-World Bank flagship study, Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violence Conflict that I’ve co-authored, which is the first jointly-authored study between the two institutions. It’s a small but important step, I think.
Could you speak a little bit about your time working with the World Bank in Myanmar? What was it like to be a part of the World Bank’s first effort after such a long absence from the country?
I feel very lucky to have been part of the early re-engagement efforts. Before 2011, Myanmar was an extremely isolated country, with little exposure to global ideas, technology, and services. After the Myanmar government began to reform, things began to change extremely quickly. There was a lot of optimism and, indeed, a lot of progress on many fronts such as telecoms. The World Bank office had an-almost start-up feel to it; we were operating from a hotel room, in fact. It was really different from “business as usual”: most people inside and outside government had no idea about how the World Bank operated, and we likewise had a lot of learning to do about how to operate effectively and responsibly in Myanmar. The World Bank is somewhat unique amongst development partners in that it works almost exclusively through government systems, which had not been the case in Myanmar for most other development partners. In that sense, we were also some of the first international partners to work alongside government colleagues within government ministries. The scale of the challenge, especially against the backdrop of popular domestic and international expectations, was huge. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Myanmar colleagues who really worked tirelessly for those first few years and achieved so much.
I think we made some minor, but not insignificant progress, in some areas—I was part of several meetings at the local level that was the first between government and representatives of ethnic armed groups, following decades of civil war, and that was very exciting. But in other areas, like Rakhine State, the situation has continued to deteriorate, and this has been profoundly disappointing and challenging.
You were recently selected for the World Bank Young Professionals Program. Can you tell us a bit about the program and what you hope to get out of it?
I was selected as part of this year’s cohort, which numbers 49 on the World Bank side and 13 on the International Finance Corporation (IFC) side. The YPP is the oldest recruitment program at the World Bank. The intention is to develop future leaders within the institution, so there are many resources as part of the program to enable Young Professionals to develop their respective technical depth and breadth across different functional areas of the World Bank. I think many YPs would say that one of the greatest strengths of the program is the cohort itself—I find many veteran YPs from classes a couple decades ago still regularly get together with their cohort, professionally and personally; this can be really helpful inside such a large institution as the World Bank, where it can be easy to get lost.
I hope that the YPP will help facilitate opportunities to learn about areas across the institution that I might not otherwise have—technical subjects, regions, exposure to senior management, etc.
What advice would you give to students interested in international development?
I think it’s vital that students get experience on the ground early in their career. Too often, well-intentioned and thoughtfully-designed ideas break down in implementation because people don’t really appreciate the scale and the complexity of the challenges in poor countries, especially ones that are impacted by fragility, conflict, and violence. Understanding the challenges and opportunities in these contexts is increasingly important for those wanting to working in international development—by 2030, projections show that 60 percent of the world’s poor will live in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence, and these areas are qualitatively different from peaceful contexts. So, whether students spend their career working in developing countries or working on developing countries, I think it’s critical that they have some mental reference points against which they can compare policy or program design ideas to ensure that they are realistic and feasible. For many, personal and family reasons can make it more difficult to get this experience later in one’s career, so it’s good to do this early; ideally, in a few different contexts across regions.
Lawule Shumane is an analyst with Dalberg Global Development Advisory in South Africa. She holds an MA in Global Affairs from Yale University.
As an economics scholar, Shumane’s interests lie at the nexus of politics and economics – understanding how governments, globally, can better service their populations, thus, gradually reducing citizen deprivation. Professionally, Shumane has been actively involved in South Africa’s civic society as she worked for a non-profit labor research organization where she published articles on the behavior of South African multinationals in other African countries regarding their Community Social Responsibility and Environmental practices, as well as a study of CEO remuneration for listed companies in South Africa. Additionally, she worked for UCT’s Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice, assisting in the research, development and implementation of their inaugural Leading in Public Life Programme.
Shumane completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
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Could you tell us a bit about your work at Dalberg Advisors?
I currently work at Dalberg Advisors as an analyst – a role which requires the ability to conduct and complete directed research for the challenge you are trying to address, synthesizing the research and presenting it in a manner that is accessible to the clients we work for. Ideally, the role also exposes you to multiple sectors and interest areas. So far, I have worked on agriculture, financial inclusion and developed strategies for organizations committed to sustainability as well as multilateral organizations who are trying to achieve growth and stability on the African continent.
How did your time at Jackson shape your personal and career interests? What part of your time at Jackson made the biggest impact on you?
Jackson expanded the locus of my personal and career interests. I had always been interested in working in economic development in Africa but the time at Jackson, with the talent that the institution attracts, I began to think differently about global interconnectedness and how different countries on the continent position themselves to improve the lives of their citizens. The students that Jackson attracts and the faculty have been the most influential in shaping and reshaping my ideas about sustainable international development and I have used these insights repeatedly in mu job now as I think about what is most useful to the stakeholders I engage with.
You’ve published an extensive collection of research on a wide range of subjects. Could you tell us a bit about the research you’ve done and what you’re working on now?
I have done quite a bit of work on South Africa’s education system because it is such a big national challenge. My research largely focused on the political economy of South Africa’s education challenge and how it manifests in different regions of the country. I’ve also contributed to a published a piece on energy in India, Uganda, Senegal and Nigeria over the Summer I interned at Dalberg Advisors while I was at Yale. I am currently not working on anything for publication but I am currently working on, and thinking about understanding informal economies in South Africa and other countries on the continent, where the evidence is applicable. This is still at the beginning stages though.
What is one of the issues in your field that you feel is most overlooked by the international public?
I think often the international community overlooks the effect of domestic politics on economic growth trajectories in many developing countries. By this I mean that often, coverage of developing country politics is about elections and other markers of democracy, very seldom do I interact with more nuanced analysis like the incentives of politicians, their ideologies and how this has come to shape local institutions. I think providing more complex analysis of developing world politics would help create better understanding of systemic challenges and more thoughtful ways of addressing them.
What advice would you give to students interested in international development, particularly in Africa?
Immerse yourself in as much as you can to get the most out of the experience. Two years goes by quickly and although there is some structure, the program is designed for exploration and full immersion. There’s much to learn from classrooms, talks and fellow students across the Yale campus. Take advantage of this!