Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Tim McNaught, pictured second from left with his host family in Azerbaijan , graduated from the MPA/ID program at Harvard Kennedy School this year with a graduate degree in international development.
While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Azerbaijan, Tim McNaught loved to get lost in the country’s landscape – particularly in the Greater Caucasus Mountains where remote villages each have a unique language – and befriend locals that he met along the way.
“I remember on multiple occasions being stopped on the road and invited into someone’s home for a cup of tea served with a sweet fruit preserve called murabba,” he said. “The special moments of warm hospitality like these are what I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Though initially assigned to serve as an Agriculture Volunteer from 2009 to 2011, Tim – who is also an alumnus of the Master in Public Administration in International Development Program at Harvard Kennedy School – offered his other expertise in project development, grant writing and technical support at a humanitarian health clinic in his village. While working at the clinic, he helped its workers to apply for and receive USAID funding for a yearlong community health training initiative and developed an electronic health records database system for organizing patients’ files and health reports. He also teamed up with 20 nurses from local schools to provide training on proper eye and dental care for about 1,000 students.
Outside of his primary assignment, Tim volunteered with the Center for Economic and Social Development (CESD), an Azerbaijani think tank, to develop national strategies for economic stability.
“I worked on research papers covering topics that ranged from the effective management of oil revenues to trade policy,” he noted. “A highlight was when the director of CESD and I were able to present the results and policy recommendations of a paper to key stakeholders in Brussels, including representatives from the European Commission and the Azerbaijani government.
In spite of his busy work schedule – balancing his service at the health clinic and extracurricular initiatives for Azerbaijani economic reform – Tim devoted his leisure time to reveling in the local culture, which included learning to play the saz, an Azerbaijani guitar-like instrument. He also enjoyed bonding with his host family, with which he would often drink Azerbaijani tea, grow the “world’s best pomegranates” from their yard and play dominoes as a group.
While he fondly remembers life with his host family, Tim can’t forget their vital company during his first harsh winter in Azerbaijan.
“It was still my first few months in country, I was the only Volunteer at my site, my Azerbaijani language ability was basic, the dirt roads in my village turned to mud, it was very, very cold and dark, and our electricity – which served as my only source of heat – and water supply cut out regularly,” he recalled. “However, this is also the time where I became very close to my host family as we sat around a wood-fuelled fire sharing stories.”
Once completing his service four years ago, Tim felt compelled to fortify his volunteer experience by pursuing a graduate degree in international development at Harvard Kennedy School.
“As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I found myself wanting to learn more about the systemic inefficiencies that were behind the on-the-ground problems that I saw every day,” he said. “I wanted to understand how Azerbaijan could be exporting nearly one million barrels of oil a day to western markets, while my host family did not have piped gas, regular electricity, or paved roads in their village.”
As part of the MPA/ID program, Tim pursued coursework in advanced micro and macroeconomics, advanced quantitative methods, economic development theory, negotiation analysis, the political economy of oil and mining in developing countries, designing social security systems and development policy strategy, along with a wide range of elective courses. He also participated in a two-month summer internship at the Ministry of Finance in Liberia to conduct research on aid effectiveness and co-wrote a policy analysis for a new pension system in Georgia after two weeks of interviewing government officials in Tbilisi.
After graduating from the Harvard Kennedy School earlier this year, Tim now works abroad as an economist at the Ministry of Finance in Timor-Leste, for which he assists in the drafting of the state budget, analyzes the impact of different tax policies and improves domestic revenue recording and forecasting.
As he begins his new role in Timor-Leste, Tim looked back on how his studies at Harvard Kennedy School equipped him with a very intuitive approach to developing effective, supportive and sustainable solutions to the international needs that he discovered as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
“One of the main reasons that I like the MPA/ID program is that while it is a very analytically rigorous program, it is a program that is always focused on finding practical solutions to problems,” he added.
The two-year MPA/ID program at Harvard Kennedy School is an exciting, rigorous graduate program designed to train the next generation of leaders in international development. The proven combination of doctoral-level economics with a multidisciplinary approach sets this program apart. In addition to economics and quantitative methods, the demanding set of core courses includes public sector management, institutions, governance, and the practice of economic development. Graduates are positioned toward all-around excellence in a challenging field that requires both analytical and professional skills. Exceptional, motivated practitioners from all over the world with strong backgrounds in math and economics are encouraged to apply.
Applications for the MPA/ID program at Harvard Kennedy School are due in early December. Full and partial scholarships are available for qualified applicants.