Two graduate students from the Sanford School of Public Policy recently organized a two-day conference in Washington, D.C., to bring together Chilean students enrolled in public policy graduate programs across the United States.

Felipe Magofke of the Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) program and Joaquin Brahm of the Master of Public Policy program designed the conference as a way to establish a network of public policy professionals to collaborate on projects, research and publications that will benefit Chile and Latin America.

“We wanted to bring together Chilean students in the U.S. to reflect on all the challenges Chile is facing in terms of achieving economic growth and reaching the stage of developed countries,” Magofke said.

The conference, held at the Chilean Embassy on Friday, April 25, and Saturday, April 26, drew approximately 50 attendees from 12 different universities, including Duke, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of California at Berkeley. It was co-sponsored by the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Duke University.

Sergio Urzua, economist and professor at the University of Maryland, spoke about educational reforms, inequality and social mobility in Chile, linking the school system to market outcomes.

“This is a great opportunity to exchange ideas, to get a good diagnosis of the situation of the country, and, more importantly, to get ideas of how to proceed in the design and implementation of public policies,” Urzua said.

Claudio Grossman, dean of the American University Law School, delivered the keynote address on freedom of speech in Chile and Latin America. Other speakers included Veronica Silva, consultant at the World Bank; Ricardo Rainieri, alternate executive director at the World Bank and former Chilean minister of energy; Ximena Hartsock, former chief of staff for the Washington, D.C., City Administrator and co-founder of; and Gabe Klein, former chief of the Department of Transportation in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Phyllis Pomerantz, professor of the practice of public policy at DCID, spoke about the “seven deadly sins,” or seven areas Chile has to be aware of in order to avoid falling into the middle income trap. These included the low quality of education, a low percentage of women in the workforce and educational institutions, and a strong partisan divide.

“It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice,” Pomerantz said, referencing the quote from Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. “With two powerful political parties, it’s important that Chile doesn’t get into a U.S.-style gridlock.”

One of the main objectives of the conference, the organizers said, was to send a “message of unity” to Chile.

“Each [side] is defending its own ideas without getting together to work out these issues,” Magofke said. “We need to put aside the different schools and different political parties and work together so we can take what we learn back to our country.”

Duke University has significant ties with Chile. Former President Ricardo Lagos received his doctorate in economics at Duke; Arturo Valenzuela, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric Affairs, taught political science at Duke from 1970 to 1987; and Ariel Dorfman, one of Latin America’s most famous contemporary literary figures, has been teaching literature at Duke since 1985.

“These personal and institutional linkages between Duke and Chile, combined with a rising number of graduate and professional students from Chile at Duke, present a great opportunity for Duke alumni to take a leadership position in developing innovative economic and political policy for the future of Chile and Latin America,” Magofke said.

The organizers plan to continue the conference annually to debate the most pressing contemporary economic and political development issues in Chile and the region.

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