LBJ School of Public Affairs

Thinkers & Doers


Sabor do Brazil (Taste of Brazil)

I feel like a citizen of the world given my international experiences but at the same time I realize that there is so much of the world that I am ignorant of. I am grateful to have this opportunity to spend some time in South America.

I have several observations to share:

FOOD: Because this is a planned city everything is in its own sector – hotels, embassies, apartments, etc – and we work in the governmental sector where all the ministries are. Thus, there are no restaurants and very few shops to get stuff. So what do people do? They eat in the government subsidized canteens in each of the different ministries. From 12-1 the workers of a particular ministry can eat in their own canteen and from 1 onwards everywhere is fair game. The buffet here though is not the typical all you can eat deal but rather you weigh your plate after taking whatever you like and then pay accordingly. I appreciate this system because it seems to encourage less waste and over consumption. Economic theory may say sunk costs but how many of you have had this terrible feeling of eating too much after coming out of an all-you-can eat buffet? Another beauty of working in a ministry building is the government provision of a little goodie box (with a sandwich, juice, fruit, and chocolate) for those that stay until seven in the night. Justin tells me that he knows of some companies who provide free taxi rides home and dinner for employees who work late but it is the first time I have been exposed to this incentive system!

WORK ENVIRONMENT: It feels weird working in an International Policy Center. We are carrying out research on important global issues and could be stationed anywhere in the world. Yet, the office environment and preeminence of local Brazilian employees is something else. The headquarters of the various perfunctory bodies of the United Nations are mostly in New York or somewhere in Western Europe. As part of an initiative to elicit more knowledge from developing countries, the UN decided to open international policy centers based in the developing world.

DATA WORK: Telling the IPC guys that I like working with data = big mistake! Note to self: tell them that you like working with data when they are at the data analysis stage – NOT the data gathering phase. I was tasked with the extremely tedious task of pulling data on different social security schemes onto an excel database. This involved lots of control c & control v. After getting this, and struggling to get other data, I was once again reminded of the relatively paucity of data. We have a lot of data for macro variables but much less when it comes to more nuanced considerations such as the content of social security schemes. I am still not sure if this is the problem though. My dad is convinced that we know what the problems are (i.e. we have adequate data), we know the general solutions, and the main obstacle hindering development is political will to pursue the appropriate policies. I think he is largely right and I am hoping to address how to overcome this problem with regards to subsidy reform at the moment. I will write more about this later. Still though, I appreciate the amount of data that we have but think there is still a long way to go. Also, I wonder how difficult it must be to collect some of this data but how important it is. I think data gatherers are unsung heroes. Back to my data work. After getting the data I was exposed to some new tools on STATA, which will undoubtedly serve me well in the future. Moreover, I was introduced to a statistical technique based on fuzzy logic theory called ‘grade of membership’. I am still a bit fuzzy about it but it sure seems interesting. We are trying to run the GoM model at the moment and hopefully the picture will be clearer soon!

posted by mpournik in 2011 and have Comment (1)

One Response to “Sabor do Brazil (Taste of Brazil)”

  1. Mohammad Pournik says:

    I am quite impressed by how perceptive Milad has become. O|f course it is important to have a sound understanding of the extent and exact nature of a problem and for that you need data. However, we know enough about the likely areas of problem that insufficient data is not a good enough excuse for lack of action. One can start corrective action based on general understanding and collect data as wel go along for refinement of the measures and monitoring of whether we are on track or not. Spending too much time and energy on data collection before any action tends to tire one out and can lead to insufficient regular data collection to monitor implementation of actions. Hence my reluctance to do too much data gathering before action. I guess i am a believer in action research, clearly linked to measures taken to improve how things are done.

Place your comment

Please fill your data and comment below.