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Faculty of Economics

Tuesday, 6 December, 2022

Gillette Hall is best known for her time at the World Bank. Between 1990 and 2008 she was based in Washington, DC as an economist and senior social development specialist for the international financial institution that provides loans and grants to the governments of low and middle-income countries to allow them to purse capital projects.

Now an independent consultant offering advisory services in economic research, institutional strategy development, and social program design, she is based in Santa Barbara, and was happy to describe her time studying in Cambridge.

She looks back on her time in the city fondly, however, it was her recent meeting with Bill Janeway which was foremost in her mind. She describes their first meeting, many years after his donation. “I read about Bill in the alumni magazine, and finally learned about the man behind the grant I received years ago. I decided I had to meet him. I had a delightful time with Bill when he came through Santa Barbara. I finally got to thank the man behind the generous gift that made my graduate education at Cambridge possible. He is such a wonderful, kind, and interesting man who was really interested in me, and what I was studying.”

Gillette’s story really started in when she matriculated in 1988 and completed a one-year MPhil in Latin American studies. “I received the Janeway Fellowship in 1990, and I applied for it under the recommendation of my tutor at Pembroke College, Michael Kucszynski.”

However, she always knew there was a goal of studying for a PhD, where she could develop high-level research skills, learning about rigours of economics and the development of financial theory.

“It sets you up with project management, problem-solving and analytical skills that are meaningful within and beyond academia, but for me, the funding challenge was enormous,” she says. “I really didn’t think there would be much of a chance for me to achieve a PhD, because I had to support myself, and I knew that would be tough. After completing my MPhil, I had exhausted my savings. Without the fellowship at that critical time, I would have had to leave Cambridge as I had run out of money, due to being entirely self-funded.”

At that time, she was working in a local café many alumni in the faculty may know well. “I resorted to working at Fitzbillies, just on Trumpington street. I lived in a room just over the bakery, so it was very convenient.”

She confesses that for her, like many students, it was both a combination of earning a wage, and perhaps more crucially to get one free meal a day. “Sometimes it was that one hot meal, given to staff in the café when I went in for a shift, that made all the difference.

However, she admits it was starting to get a little too much, and she confessed this when she went into Pembroke College for regular meetings with her tutor, Michael Kucszynski. “He told me about the Janeway Fellowship, and the application which was thankfully fairly easy.”

An American venture capitalist and economist, Janeway is an alumnus of the PhD programme at Cambridge and has played an active role in the Faculty over the last decade, initially funding the Janeway Fellowship. Most recently, through his and Weslie Janeway’s donation, the Faculty now hosts the Janeway Institute, which produces frontier work in economics, and brings together researchers from around the globe, in economics and across the sciences.

“With it, I was able to continue my course of study and ultimately I completed a PhD in Development Economics in 1996,” she adds.

Gillette had one overriding motivation for graduate studies. “I wanted to try to do something about poverty in Latin America. I grew up there, it was home to me, and yet I could see in many areas there was grinding poverty, and I felt it was my chance to make a difference.”

She had been a volunteer in Latin America in 1984-85, after graduating from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service with a degree in International Economics, and received the Mayor’s Award for Public Service in 1985 in the village of Nepeña, Peru, which is a small place about 220 miles north-west of Lima, the country's capital.

“There, I could see I could make a small difference at the village level, but the more I learned about being a volunteer on the ground, the more I realised that it was change at the national and international policy level that I wanted to help bring about. And to do that, I had much more to learn. Through a series of experiences, I also came to think that particularly as a woman concerned about poverty, I needed a weighty credential if I wanted to be heard and taken seriously,” she says.

Gillette went on to work as an economist at the World Bank designing poverty reduction strategies with and for Latin American governments, and later, as a professor at Georgetown University running graduate programs in international development.

“I still have a particular interest in reducing poverty and improving wellbeing among indigenous peoples, among whom I lived as a volunteer in Peru. I eventually co-edited a book on this topic, which I believe is the first global economic analysis of poverty and social indicators for indigenous peoples, and I was delighted to have it published by Cambridge University Press,” says Gillette. “However, I continue to think about my time in Cambridge, like many alumni in the Faculty. What I reflect on and value the most now, even beyond the top calibre education I received, is the fact that Cambridge is home to such a wide array of singularly wonderful people, like Bill Janeway.”

She sums up the impact of having a donor support her studies. “If Bill hadn’t been so generous, so many years ago, it would have been impossible to complete my studies, and my entire career would have never happened. It was life-changing, and still thrilled to be doing it. My newest project, together with the Forest Stewardship Council, aims to drive greater economic returns to indigenous communities around the world for their work preserving the world’s forests and eco-systems.”

Bill Janeway funded Gillette Hall’s PhD, however they only met for a first time a few months ago, when Bill happened to be in Santa Barbara. If you would like to make a gift to support the Faculty of Economics, read more details here

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