January 11, 2021

Sanjay Iyer (G’19)

Feature Series: The Economy of Francesco

Sanjay Iyer (G’19) is a Presidential Management Fellow at USAID and a part of the Energy and Poverty working group for the "Economy of Francesco" international conference.

Sanjay Iyer
Sanjay Iyer

In November 2020 Pope Francis convened “Economy of Francesco," a global online gathering of young people determined to make the economy fair, sustainable, and inclusive. Georgetown University asked participating students and alumni to reflect on their experiences in two essays: the first considers their pre-conference working groups and the second offers personal takeaways after the gathering.

Thoughts and Reflections on the Eve of the 2020 “Economy of Francesco” Global Gathering

Pope Francis’ announcement of the “Economy of Francesco” global gathering affirmed for many a growing need—that a new and inclusive approach to our global economic system is needed for the twenty-first century. Developing an economy of tomorrow which embraces ideas of fairness, collaboration, and mutual partnership is critical in bridging development gaps and historic inequities. The idea to spur action and amplify the voices of youth leaders through a global gathering around these ideas was inspirational, and it was the impetus behind my application and participation in this transformational event.

In the months preceding the initial date of the global gathering (March 2020), I chose to join the Energy and Poverty village. I felt the nexus of climate policy, sustainable (and often underutilized) energy resources, and new avenues for economic opportunity were and remain critical aspects of a more globalized economy. In my current work as a South Asia desk officer with USAID, sustainable energy solutions are an extremely relevant area of interest for our partner countries in the region, as the economies of South Asia seek to meet their growing energy demands in manners which mitigate climate impacts and utilize natural resources in an ecologically-friendly way. This is also an area where I didn’t have much background and was interested to learn more. I was excited for this opportunity to contribute to this forum of broader development discussions through some of my own experiences and lessons learned while in public service (both as a Peace Corps Volunteer and now as a civil servant with USAID), and I also saw the conference as a chance to learn and build new skills.

However, COVID-19’s sudden onset and wide-reaching impact revealed the fragility of many of our existing systems, and I found myself looking forward to the conference to not only learn about different ideas regarding how we can create a more inclusive economic system, but also to learn from my peers about how different workstreams across the larger continuum of global development practice have adjusted and reacted to the pandemic. Beyond COVID-19’s direct health impact, the social and economic effects of the pandemic have had disproportionate impacts on marginalized populations, which underscored the need for more inclusive economic systems and governance frameworks which can support some of the most vulnerable groups in society. The rippling impact of the pandemic and the need for all systems to react, adapt, and integrate new methods of outreach, communication, and collaboration offers an opportunity to share best practices and revelations of innovative solutions. How do actors across the global development community continue to engage and support those most impacted by the pandemic? How do we ensure that in creating an “economy of the future,” we remain connected and supportive of those populations most susceptible to the perils of COVID-related direct and second order effects? These are critical questions we’ve all been trying to understand over the last nine months, and exploring this lens of adaptation in development practice across all the thematic villages is a larger discussion to which I keenly look forward.

On the eve of the now-virtual conference, some of the sessions and discussions I am most excited to participate in are tangential to my initial village and professional background, such as Day 1’s session on “The State of Food Insecurity” and Day 2’s session on “An Economy of Abundance: How to foster bottom-up development?” I’m excited to listen, learn, and discuss the intersectionality of all the different workstreams, and as noted, COVID-19 has created a new output for all of us in attendance—to better understand what sorts of tools and strategies regarding inclusive engagement need to be part of any new frameworks and ideas which emerge from this event. While the content of the sessions will undoubtably be stimulating, more paramount will be understanding how we must all employ new approaches which promote inclusive engagement in a post-COVID world. I’m excited to learn from this global group of practitioners and scholars about what solutions and best practices each of us has identified in furthering our shared vision: advancing a more inclusive and fair economic system which creates greater and more equal opportunities for all.

Sanjay Iyer (G’19) is currently a Presidential Management Fellow at USAID and is a graduate of the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University. He previously served in the U.S. Peace Corps as the national malaria coordinator in Zambia and as a youth development volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps in Morocco. He also has experience supporting international exchange programs for several years both in the United States and abroad. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University.