Alejandro Weber MIDP/MBA’17 and Daniela Peñaloza MIDP’15 are a married couple and both are pursuing careers in public service. Weber is the Undersecretary of Finance for the Chilean government. He answered some of our questions about his life and career.
Tell us about your career path.
I am an organizational psychologist from the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile, and hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of International Development (MIDP) from Duke.
I was Deputy Director of People Development in the National Civil Service between 2011 and 2014; and advisor to the Ministry of Health. Previously, I worked at the Measurement Center (MIDE-UC) of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and in consulting for the private sector (2005-2010).
What has been the most interesting assignment or project that you’ve had so far in your career, not just at your current job?
Undoubtedly, as a public authority, it was really challenging to face the development of public and social policies in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the greatest social and economic crisis in recent decades. That crisis has meant spending $28 billion on direct transfers to families and SMEs from April 2020 to the end of this year and raising public spending to the highest level since it has been registered, always looking out so that this money reaches those who most need it. Likewise, we are carrying out an economic reactivation agenda to boost growth, promote investment and recover more than 1 million jobs lost during the pandemic in Chile.
Can you tell me about a specific course or professor from your time at Sanford that is still influential for you now?
Poverty Reduction with Professor Phyllis Pomerantz and Policy Analysis with Natalia Mirovitskaya. Those two courses taught me to see public policies in context, to develop a deep critical analysis, study the strategies and the impact on different stakeholders and take action measures based on evidence that allow the implementation of good public policy designs, reducing the gap between the design and implementation.
What is a highlight or memory of your time at Duke? At Sanford?
Duke has an active learning community made up of teachers with a lot of practical experience and students with a lot of field experience, coming from many parts of the world, which allowed us to share real learning about how to generate transformations in developing countries. That is a particularly relevant memory that allowed me to develop a series of fundamental skills to implement good public policies.
What is the most important skill that policy students should learn?
In my opinion, there are two central skills: first, the analysis based on evidence of all the data and all the possible information that allows the articulation of a good design of public policies. Questioning data and argumentation are important skills to learn in order to make better decisions.
Second, the ability to generate influence on public and political communication. The political case for decision-making is key for those who really have to have the last word in the implementation of a public policy in whatever area: health, education, transportation, housing, etc.
What do you think were the keys to your success?
For both of us, we can answer that the key to the success and development of our careers has been to focus on merit as an engine of development and to always have the social seal in the development of any public policy.
Also, active listening: understanding very well the need of all actors and having the ability to communicate transversally with people of different socio-cultural and economic environments, of different hierarchy, and that has allowed us to influence and occupy positions of power that are fundamental to generate changes.
What is the most surprising thing about your job, the thing that you didn’t expect when you started?
There are two things. One is the multiplicity of public policy content that we carry out in matters like public works, social policies, transportation, education, etc. The Ministry of Finance is the last link in the chain before the final decision of the President and the second is the enormous impact that the definitions that we adopt in the Ministry of Finance generate on citizens, such as the social policies that have meant that during 2021 direct transfers for about 10 points of GDP to about 85% of the country’s population.
What would you say to a current student at Sanford – a word of advice or something you wish you knew when you were graduating?
Leadership, commitment to the community, the ability to influence or exercise power are skills that are developed in practice. And there is no better practice or experience at Duke than to actively share with people who come from different contexts, countries and realities. With teachers who have multidisciplinary experience and exposure to these different points of view allow enriching decision-making and developing skills that are fundamental such as public communication and the ability to make decisions based on evidence. For students, we say: take advantage of the process because it is a unique experience that really transforms the way one sees public policy problems. For example, at Duke I realized that inequality was a central problem that had to be fought, not just overcoming poverty. This transformation was thanks to the vision of so many people who contributed so that I had a different insight on such a central issue in Latin America.
Any last words or comments, awards you want to mention?
I was elected one of the 100 young leaders of Chile during 2018, when I was still at the Civil Service. I´m also the youngest Undersecretary of Finance since the recovery of the democracy in Chile in the 1990s.