Daniela Peñaloza MIDP’15 and Alejandro Weber MIDP/MBA’17 are a married couple and both are pursuing careers in public service. Peñaloza is the Mayor of Las Condes, a region with around 300,000 people, where she works on community development with a social focus. She answered some of our questions about her life and career.
Tell us about your career path.
I am a psychologist from the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile and hold a Master of International Development (MIDP) from Duke.
Fifteen years ago I decided to dedicate myself professionally to public service. I worked at the Jaime Guzmán Foundation; first as Deputy Director of the National Youth Institute and, later, advisor to the Minister of Education.
I have a deep vocation for public service and I was the first woman to lead the Jaime Guzmán Foundation’s “Youth in the service of Chile” Program, where I did community work in the municipality of Coyhaique, in the south of Chile. Since then, I have always been linked to the development and progress of the communities, hand in hand with the neighbors and civil society.
Upon returning from my studies at Duke, I served as Director of Education in the Municipality of La Reina. In 2018, I entered of the Municipality of Las Condes and started working as head of the Community Development Directorate, directing and implementing social programs in matters of safety, senior citizens, employment, middle class, disability, sports, culture, environment among others. That gave me a solid foundation and great knowledge to my job as a Mayor of this commune today.
What has been the most interesting assignment or project that you’ve had so far in your career, not just at your current job?
As a mayor I was definitely to be able to give rapid answers to the neighbors during the crisis, such as coordinating for the first time social aid to the middle class, a sector that had not needed that kind of state support before. It was challenging to build a strategy to help neighbors, entrepreneurs and provide sanitary conditions for the operation of the commune and doing all of that from the perspective of local governments.
As a couple that came to Duke at different times for different graduate programs, can you tell us a bit about how you handled that as a family?
I was selected first for the program but that was not an impediment as a family to start studies and move abroad. In this initial stage, Alejandro dedicated himself to taking care of our first child, who was only 10 months old at the time. When Alejandro began his studies a couple of years later, it was my turn to stay with our son. Thus, with a lot of companionship, we were able to carry out both programs and live a family life in the United States.
Can you tell me about a specific course or professor from your time at Sanford that is still influential for you now?
Governance and Development-Selected Topics by Professor Phyllis Pomerantz and the Fiscal Decentralization and Local Government Finance course by Professor Roy Kelly. Those two courses gave me a real sense of the importance of local governments, transparency and participation. All of them relevant variables in the exercise of my position as mayor.
What is a highlight or memory of your time at Duke? At Sanford?
There are few things that we always remember about Duke and the life we had there for four years. The first is the technical and academic depth of the faculty. The fact that the MIDP had small groups and small courses allowed us to delve into the topics and into the experiences along with our classmates and teachers. We became very close with the other students and teachers: It felt like a family. That allowed us to learn about North American culture with the teachers but also about the cultural diversity of our colleagues from other countries.
What is the most important skill that policy students should learn?
We consider that one of the most important things for those who want to deepen public policy and then exercise it, is not to remain only in theory or in comparative experience, but also to seek that what is being designed has support in practical reality, in the community, in the territory. A public policy measure cannot be standardized for an entire country and it cannot be standardized for the different communities that are part of a territory as diverse as Chile.
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 would you say to a current student at Sanford – a word of advice or something you wish you knew when you were graduating?
One of the greatest assets of the Sanford program is the multiculturalism of all students and also the vast experience of all its teachers. Many of them have years of experience in the field, in organizations, solving problems where they happen. To future students I say: take advantage of that value of multiculturalism. Go out to explore, learn and embrace that diversity.
Any last words or comments, awards you want to mention?
I am proud to be the first female mayor elected of the Las Condes commune since the return to democracy. This commune is one of the most important in the country because of its large population, with a high concentration of older adults, an increasing number of female households, and a growing middle class, and because of its budget.