Alumni Interview

Alumni Interview: Adriana Kugler, World Bank Executive Director for the US

Adriana Kugler

This episode of the Matrix Podcast features an interview with Adriana D. Kugler, the World Bank Group Executive Director for the United States. Dr. Kugler was appointed by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate in May 2022. She is the first Latinx person and first Jewish woman to be appointed to this position since the foundation of the World Bank in 1944. She is also a proud UC Berkeley alumna who graduated with a PhD in 1997.

Prior to joining the WBG Board, Dr. Kugler had a long and distinguished career in research and policy as a development and labor economist. Her contributions on the impact of government policies and regulations on labor markets were recognized with the 2007 John T. Dunlop Outstanding Scholar Award from the Labor and Employment Relations Association, and with the 2010 First Prize for Best Contribution in the area of “Globalization, Regulations and Development” from the Global Development Network. Dr. Kugler has also served in high-level leadership roles in the public and private sectors. She was Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor between 2011-2013.

Dr. Kugler was Professor of Public Policy and Economics (2016-2022), and Vice Provost for Faculty (2013-2016) at Georgetown University. She was Chair and Chair-elect of the Business and Economics Statistics Section of the American Statistical Association in 2020 and 2019, respectively; was a member of the Board on Science, Technology and Economic Policy (STEP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (2019-2022); and served in the Technical Advisory Committee of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016-2019). She was an elected member of the Executive Committee of the European Association of Labor Economists (2003-2009) and of the Executive Committee of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association (2015-2019). Dr. Kugler serves on the Audit Committee (AC) and Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE). Kugler received her Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University in 1991, graduating with first class joint honors in economics and political science.

This interview was conducted by Danny Yagan, Associate Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, who is on leave as Chief Economist of the Office of Management and Budget. Yagan was a Faculty Research Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a Faculty Associate of the Berkeley Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance, and Faculty Co-Director of the Taxation and Inequality Initiative of the Berkeley Opportunity Lab.

Listen to the interview below, or on or Apple Podcasts.

A transcript of the conversation is included below. 

Woman’s Voice: The Matrix Podcast is a production of Social Science Matrix, an interdisciplinary research center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Other Woman’s Voice: She was interviewed by Danny Yagan, associate professor of economics at UC Berkeley, who recently served in the White House as chief economist in the Office of Management and Budget.

Danny Yagan: Adriana Kugler, it’s so nice to have you join us returning to Berkeley virtually, and to get to have this conversation about government service and academic impact, public service impact, and then the course of your work and trajectory from Berkeley.

Adriana Kugler: Thank you. Thank you so much. And I know you’ve been in public service yourself just recently, so I know you’ve seen it from all sides, as well.

Yagan: Yes, it will be exciting to compare notes with you here. So first, could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in economics, and what drew you to a PhD?

Kugler: Yeah, thank you for asking that. So I was born in the US, but I grew up in Colombia, where I was exposed to social problems from a very young age. In fact, my parents were heavily engaged in social projects, and I remember even as a young girl, they would take me to the shantytowns around Bogota and to the rural areas not only around Bogota, but we actually traveled the country by car.

My parents both worked, and my grandparents lived elsewhere. So I would spend the summers with them. And in fact, my maternal grandparents lived in one of the poorest states in Colombia. So I got to see I think from a very young age growing up I got to see up close homelessness, child labor, poverty, lack of access to basic necessities to drinking water to electricity. Very poor infrastructure.

I remember getting stuck on a road with my parents for almost an entire day because of a destruction of a road that got us stuck there. So these are things that stick in your mind. And wanting to address these social issues, I embarked in a double major in economics and political science.

My love for math immediately drew me towards economics rather than political science, and I also felt as I moved on during my undergraduate years that economic tools just provided answers to these social problems that I cared so much about, but they grounded me more firmly on objective and clear criteria, so I felt they gave me a better tool.

And then I had to decide, well, maybe I’ll do a PhD, and they were, I think, two key factors, I think the first one is I love doing research as an undergrad, so I worked for two professors as an undergrad as a research assistant.

The second one was that I got to see very bright women not having the opportunities they deserved at work, and I thought, well, maybe if I get the highest possible degree I can get AT, maybe I’ll receive the respect and advancement opportunities that I think I would like to see in my career. So those were two key factors certainly that contributed to pursuing a PhD.

Yagan: Wow. And here you are as World Bank Group Executive Director for the United States. Looking back from where you’re sitting now, does that feel to have held true for you that by pursuing the highest degree possible that you’ve been able to break through glass ceilings and be given the runway that you merit in the course of your work?

Kugler: I feel it definitely opened doors for me. I also felt that I have been very lucky to find mentors along the way who have opened doors for me, and I certainly feel that both as a woman and a Latina and a Colombian-American, I have lived that American dream.

I do feel that sometimes, and I have felt this at times, you maybe have to work 10 times as hard to get to the same place, but I certainly have gone beyond what I could have dreamed.

Yagan: Powerful. Coming back to your trajectory as you enter a PhD, you specialize and you specialize in development and labor, And I think we heard certainly on the development side maybe where the origins came from. Could you talk about what drew you specifically to development economics, developing countries, and then also the labor side of the equation?

Kugler: Yeah, thank you for asking that. As I mentioned, I did spend my childhood in Colombia where I got exposed to some critical challenges facing the developing world, but I really realized very quickly that it was lack of access to work, which created obstacles to poor individuals and to poor households.

And that lack of access to labor earnings creates all sorts of income inequities but also inequities in education, inequities in housing, inequities in access to health, and even access to the legal system, and even access to political power.

So I felt that that was kind of the beginning of all other inequities that we observe. It was lack of access to work and to labor earnings that generate inequities in everything else.

Yagan: That focus on inequity, I wonder if Berkeley felt like a really natural home for the kind of economics that motivated you. Could you talk about your time at Berkeley, how that match felt, and what it was like in those years.

Kugler: Absolutely. I really loved my time at Berkeley. At the time, it was amazing because we had four professors who taught me and mentored me closely who, after I left, ended up winning Nobel prizes, the first one being George Akerlof, who was my dissertation advisor, Paul Romer, Dan MacFarlane, and Oliver Williamson, and they all taught me and they all mentored me.

But certainly George was the closest he had a great deal of patience and time for me. He allowed me to ask very unusual questions given my background, and he actually encouraged it, and he always encouraged me to use a variety of methods, which I have done throughout my career.

So I was very grateful for that opportunity. And the department was a very eclectic and vibrant place. There was always a lot going on in the hallways of Evans Hall– seventh floor of Evans Hall and sixth floor of Evans Hall, really vibrant environment.

But I would also stay among the students, and I still remain close to some of those classmates and friends from back in the day. I felt that not comparing notes to other people that it was a very cooperative environment. I remember having several study groups during those first years when you were doing your coursework.

And during my dissertation years, I also had several dissertation discussion groups. So it was just a very cooperative environment. We spent many hours in the computer lab that was founded by Dan McFadden.

He had just gotten funding from SAS to fund the computer lab, and we spent many hours there sharing notes and late nights running programs, which back in the day took a lot longer. So they sometimes stayed overnight even for an entire week or several weeks to run a simple program.

And we often met also on the sidelines of the Strada, Café Milano, spend a lot of time just discussing the findings of some of these results, some of these programs and data analytics we were doing in cafes.

I was very lucky also in the last few years to support my dissertation to get a fellowship for minority students from the Federal Reserve System, which gave me access to an office at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

So I would go there regularly, and also I got to interact with the economists that the research department there. In fact, Mary Daly, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco was just starting at the time. So I was very lucky to get to meet her and, of course, she’s a labor economist.

So it was just a great time to be at Berkeley, and a great environment and I developed friendships and relationships that I keep until today, and I, in fact, see my former classmates here in the hallways of the World Bank on a regular basis.

Yagan: Isn’t that amazing that the world and the connections that are serendipitous, you having a desk at the Federal Reserve in San Francisco across the bridge, and now look at you both, major leadership roles of major institutions in American and international economics.

Kugler: Thank you.

Yagan: One of the things I wanted to touch on there, you were saying just how collaborative the environment was among the students and with the faculty. I think that might strike people as maybe surprising. You think that these upper echelons of graduate study maybe it’s super competitive. The opposite that half of what you learn comes from your peers, I wonder if that rings true.

Kugler: Certainly. I fully agree with you that that’s where you learn the most. In fact, I would say after I left graduate school, I continued to do a whole lot of learning from my coauthors, and that would be from my senior coauthors, but then also from my junior coauthors which were most of my coauthors today, I learned a lot from them now.

So I think throughout your career, you continue to learn from those interactions with your colleagues, and when you enter into these policy roles, oftentimes you’re the sole economist in the room. And you also learn from those in other disciplines. So you end up learning from the lawyers, from the anthropologists, from others coming from very different disciplines, the agricultural expert.

So I think it is very important to keep an open mind and to learn from others, but I would say one piece of advice is keep true to yourself, and don’t start necessarily thinking like them, but bring them value and keep the value of your tools and your knowledge as an economist to contribute to the conversation. Not to just agree with them, but to maybe agree to disagree, and to bring a different perspective because people do value that.

Yagan: One of the things that I have loved about Berkeley and that I’d like to share with students is that Berkeley Economics to me has had a feeling of data first, theory second. It’s not that it’s only the data that matter, but that whatever theory you’re going to layer on top of has to be grounded in facts that we know about the world and that we really credibly know. Was that true when you were a graduate student?

Kugler: That has certainly permeated throughout the decades in my work. I would say many of the ideas for papers that I have developed come from watching, reading news from talking to non economists, and trying to find out answers to things that are not there right now. So that’s certainly the case.

And I think there was certainly a sense that there was a lot of value in having this inductive method, starting from the data, being open to look at the data, and being open to explore different answers to why the data was telling you what it was telling you.

But there was a bit of a back and forth between inductive and deductive reasoning in the sense that, yes, you look at the data, but you also want to have an angle, a perspective to look at that data. You don’t just openly look at the data and possibly look at a million possible interpretations of it.

The theory in economics does guide you to look at potential reasons and channels and theories that could be explaining that data, and maybe the data will come and really question any of those theories, and then you can come up with something even different. And newer than what you even expected from the traditional theories that are out there.

So I think you’re that was part of what we were taught back in the day, and especially with George Akerlof being my advisor, I think that was also much of his approach– look at the data and look at the theory, and maybe even come up with new theories, of course.

Yagan: Yeah, that interplay, it’s very scientific method what you’re describing. I think in physics, there’s theoretical physicist and then there’s the empirical ones, you’re firing protons and neutrons at different atoms and they have an interplay that advances knowledge, and in the best sense, I think the economic paradigm that you just laid out is similar.

So maybe that’s a great segue into your own academic work. From Berkeley, you’ve taught at several renowned institutions, most recently at Georgetown. Do you want to tell us maybe a favorite paper or two just to give listeners a flavor of the types of contributions that you’ve offered and questions that motivated you?

Kugler: Yeah, so I would say my academic work has focused largely on examining the impacts of policies on labor market outcomes. As I said I always think labor earnings and access to work is, I think, what would explain a lot of the other disparities that we observe, but I did always care about how do policies affect that opportunity to access work, or how does it deny it?

It could be in both directions, and so I have looked at the role of labor regulations, the role of capital, market regulations, immigration, trade, all sorts of policies like that. And as I was mentioning before, I have always been very interested in finding answers to these questions through data.

So trying to look at causal effects, I have tried to as much as possible rely on experimental, but also non-experimental methods because it is not always possible to run clean experiments. So thinking very cleverly about potential non-experimental settings that can allow us to identify causal effects.

So I guess a series of papers I would say that I really like is a series of papers I wrote on vocational training, and these are all based on experimental designs and gathering, randomly assigning people either to technical training or not training.

But the key here, again, is there’s a whole debate about whether it’s even worth it to spend money in these programs, and this about second chances. And I think these matters for a lot of the contexts that I work with here at the bank, and a lot of the countries that links the low-income countries, even the middle-income countries where people drop out of the formal education system, and you somehow just waste entire generations of people you have to give second chances.

And so this work has been very enlightening because what I find is that in contrast to some other settings where the returns may be very low to some of these vocational training programs, so you’re not necessarily offering a PhD to a person, you’re instead giving them very practical skills about how to be an electrician, how to be a plumber, how to be a driver, all these things that are highly necessary.

But giving alone that technical training may not do. What we find in this series of papers is that you need to provide life skills or soft skills, that you need to provide access to transportation and childcare because otherwise you never even make it to the training, and that when you combine a series of services, then you find these very high returns.

And something that I really like about these, in particular, one paper is that we’re able to follow people through a very long period of time because the idea that people have is, OK, they may have very high returns, these vocational training programs but, in fact, they disappear very quickly. So they’re not very long lasting.

Well, we look at people a decade 15 years after, and what you see is that they’re still gaining a lot in terms of their income rising, in terms of them being able to go into the formal education system as a result of engaging in vocational training, and in fact, there are these unintended but positive consequences to the rest of the family, that is spread throughout the rest of the family and throughout entire communities.

So I know we economists tend to focusing on unintended negative consequences, but in this case, I like the message of this paper because oftentimes we’re spending a little bit of money on one person on the benefits are so much more widespread.

And we did a cost-benefit analysis and then the consequences are big. The result that you get is totally different if you take into account not only how long lasting and how many ways the program affects the person not only through immediate work, but also allowing them a door to get back into the formal education system, but how it affects an entire community.

And the results obviously of returns and the benefits are so much greater when you take account of those other ways in which the program offers opportunities, not only to the individual participating in the program but to their entire families.

Yagan: That’s so powerful. And when I was at the Office of Management and Budget as chief economist, properly counting for total benefits and total costs is very hard and very important, and it’s amazing how much the cost benefit analysis can change when you say you look at social returns not just private returns for a major investment.

Kugler: Absolutely.

Yagan: So speaking of public service, this is not your first stint in public service. You served in the Obama administration as well. I wonder how you thought about your own trajectory having been an academic and then moving into public service under President Obama, and what drew you and what draws you there now?

Kugler: Yes, so as I said, the whole reason for me going into economics was to help come up with solutions to some of these social problems that I cared so much about.

And so when I started my career even early on. I was very positively and happily surprised, to be honest to see that some of my papers even as I was an assistant professor were starting to receive attention from policymakers around the world from policymakers here in the US.

So I was just thrilled when I was invited to serve as chief economist under the Obama administration because this was a very critical time. This was right during the Great Recession, at a time when the unemployment rate was a double digits for the first time in many decades.

And when we needed to come up with some ways to bring down the unemployment rate to help people navigate this very critical time and these very difficult time for families and households and the poverty rate had increased as well during the time, so I was very happy that we were jointly with the great team.

There were two labor economists at the time at the Council of Economic Advisors that I worked very closely with. Alan Krueger was one of them, and certainly being able to have that counterpart at the White House and people that we were working with on policy solutions on unemployment insurance, on training programs, on payroll, tax subsidies, all sorts of tax credits that we thought could stimulate job creation was very key, and we saw some good results for sure.

Yagan: Maybe that’s actually something to help people understand something about how a presidential administration works. So you were the chief economist at the Department of Labor, and you were distinguishing your role at this major cabinet department with that of Alan Krueger and I guess another labor economist at the Council of Economic Advisors which sits within the Executive Office of the President, informally sits in the White House.

Could you talk about how policy development and implementation, that interplay between where you sat, where Alan sat, the Department of Labor versus the White House, help people understand how government functions.

Kugler: Yeah, I think there is a sense that there are these silos in the government that the Labor Department never interacts with the Commerce Department with the Patient Department with Health and Human Services or even with the White House.

But in fact, at least, I am– I have seen it in this administration as well, I can tell you that from both administrations I have worked with, I see a whole lot of cohesion and interaction between agencies, which I think is very critical to coming up with good policies because think about labor and education.

If you’re thinking about again these transitions from a school to work, you need to coordinate efforts. If you’re talking about some of these programs that may require additional services, you need to coordinate with Health and Human Services.

If you’re talking about tax subsidies, you certainly need to talk to Treasury. If you need to design programs that engage the private sector, you’re going to have to talk to commerce.

But the White House then is doing a lot of the negotiations, the other part of Commerce, which is not only the good thinking that goes into the policies, but actually putting them into practice. They will be the interface with Congress, and they will make the magic happen, and hopefully get them into– turn them into legislation because then you need funding and you need the support of Congress to make some of these policies happen.

So I felt very lucky, and I remember Alan Krueger and it was Kathryn Abraham too who was at the Council of Economic Advisors at the time, they would organize bi-weekly meetings of all the economists in the administration to coordinate efforts because it was very important to do that.

I have to say at the Labor Department, I was one of the few economists and the only economists at the very top of interacting directly with the Secretary and with the Assistant Secretary.

So I was a lone voice, but they certainly listened very carefully to me, and they counted on me to pass the message along to others in the administration about some of the priorities and some of the things making the economic case of why it was worth pursuing some of the policies that they wanted in the building.

So it was very key to have that communication, first to have coherent policies and policies where we wouldn’t be duplicating efforts, but in fact, we would be complementing each other’s efforts, and then to actually make it happen.

Yagan: Wonderful. Yes, that’s that resonates so much with my experience in learning how the gears move. So that’s a great segue because now you’re no longer in the administration, you are a Senate-confirmed position at the World Bank, which hopefully everyone understands is a huge deal. Very, very few people who are appointed by the president actually become Senate-confirmed, that they’re in a Senate-confirmed position, so congratulations on that.

Kugler: Thank you very much.

Yagan: And I wonder if you could help people understand what is the World Bank? Where does that fit in the set of international institutions, and what the State Department does, IMF, USAID, other of the ecosystem. And then you as executive director for the United States, what is your priority? And where do you fit in the United States and World Bank organizational politics?

Kugler: So thanks for that question, Danny. You’re right that after going into the Great Recession and trying to solve the issues of unemployment here in the US, I got approached and was very honored to be approached by President Biden to be nominated to be US executive director of the World Bank at a very critical time for the world. So here we have the world’s problems, and multiple, simultaneous and multiple crises going on all at once that needed to be tackled.

Kugler: So the World Bank was founded in 1944 right at the end of World War II, and it was– the bank has several arms, but the initial arm, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, IBRD, was founded with the goal of rebuilding and reconstructing the world after the atrocities of World War II.

And, by the way, being Jewish and having had my father’s side of the family flee Europe in 1939 and having passed away in concentration camps, this mission of the World Bank really resonates naturally. And, unfortunately, we’re rebuilding the world again for many, many atrocities, man-made and non-man-made, but in the same situation.

So the regional role of rebuilding, reconstructing has come back in some sense. Much of what the World Bank does is to finance also long-term development for countries. So it invests in infrastructure projects, but also human capital, health, education. That’s much of what the World Bank does.

On the other hand, I think the role of the bank over time has grown to include to be a knowledge bank. And so it’s kind of a place where in the building there there’s a lot of knowledge about best practices around the world– about policies that work and don’t work.

And so there is a lot of technical knowledge and advisory services that the World Bank gives to the rest of the world to help in capacity building, to help countries build up capacity of their own, to build up institutions, to come up with regulatory processes and regulatory capacity, which facilitates for the private sector to also come in and function well, and to help with macroeconomic management, but that’s where I think it differs from say the IMF. The IMF is much more focused on the cyclical aspects and the macroeconomic management of things.

Yagan: I should say for people, so IMF is the International Monetary Fund, just–

Kugler: Absolutely. Thank you for that. The State Department deals a lot with the diplomatic relations. We somehow here deal with much more of the economic tools that we have to help countries make progress. I think at the State Department, a lot of the emphasis is on the career diplomats helping to use diplomatic tools to build relationships and to help advance the development in other ways.

And USAID, so the US Agency for International Development, is the bilateral arm that the US has to provide assistance also for development to countries, but it’s much smaller because it’s just the US.

Here at the World Bank, we are the largest shareholder, the US is the largest shareholder, but we have 179 countries contributing, even some of the poorer countries find it worthwhile to contribute to the bank so that we can pool resources and then lend to the countries that need it the most.

So there is very poor countries, then the middle income countries, and then you have technical assistance that is provided sometimes through to even higher middle income countries. So it’s a combination of services that are provided by the bank to advance what have seen so far as the twin goals of promoting prosperity and reducing poverty.

Now having said that, part of my role as executive director is to think about our strategic direction and the strategic priorities that the bank should have. Are those twin goals where we should stay, or should we be thinking about some of these new challenges that have come our way, including health pandemics, including climate change, including political turmoil and migration, things that cross borders that each country cannot solve on their own.

And so maybe this is really a very critical time for an organization like the World Bank to rethink its mission and to think, well, it’s not only about working individually with countries to help them advance their growth potential and reduce poverty, but we need to deal with these issues that affect us all that each of us, each country individually is not going to take on because there are big benefits to all other countries from doing it. From me engaging in undertaking actions with regards to climate change, say, but because I will be taking on my own.

So we need to figure out ways and mechanisms, and the World Bank is an ideal place to tackle these issues where there are huge externalities, huge spillovers from undertaking actions, but I shouldn’t be solely the one assuming that cost from resolving that issue.

So in some sense, this is kind of the core function, but incredibly, we also review every single project. So we just approved 170 billion to be disbursed over the next 15 months, the next fiscal year and a little bit more, and that means that last year, we had about 1,000 or so projects coming this year. We may be having about 1,000 projects that we have to approve to the board, and we review every single one of those because it is important to know how the money is being spent.

And in some sense, we want to avoid programmatic risk we want to fail doing the good work and doing it in the best possible way, but we also want to avoid fiduciary risk, which is we want to make sure we do more good than harm. We want to make sure that we don’t undertake actions that are going to be harmful for countries, but we also want to make sure that we spend resources well, and in the best possible way we can.

So we have both a programmatic duty and a fiduciary duty in the role of as executive directors. I would say those are kind of two big issues that we worry heavily about.

Yagan: That is fascinating, and I wonder if you have a way to think about the United States’ special role in the world. You said we are one of 170 maybe contributors, shareholders of the World Bank, yet we’re also the largest. I think the United States has veto rights in some sense at the bank.

And also people describe on the military side in NATO that the United States plays an outsized role in actually making things happen. In your experience at the World Bank, does the United States is special role in opportunity and platform and position of influence, feel like in really special catalyst for all this global change that you hope to affect.

Kugler: Yeah, it’s true. We are the largest shareholder. We don’t quite have veto power, which we do in some other organizations in some of the regional banks, the IDB, for example. But we do carry a whole lot of weight and people look for our leadership.

And they had seen that leadership diminished over the past few years. And so they’re happy to have us back playing, a leadership role, and leading on the efforts and tackling the challenges that face us today.

So, for example, here at the World Bank, one of the things that has been done over the past many months is to help Ukraine economically, and the US has played a key, critical role in addressing the economic needs of Ukraine, which, as we know, have huge implications for the rest of the world.

So the Russian invasion of Ukraine, unfortunately, has affected the rest of us in all sorts of ways. It has affected economies around the world, it has affected the food insecurity that is being faced throughout the African continent, but also in South Asia also in Latin America and other parts of the world. So I think people do understand.

And here’s again where a single country cannot take it all upon themselves, it has to be done jointly because it affects all of us, and so we need to take joint action. But certainly, people look up to US leadership not only on resources, but on thought leadership. How are we going to tackle these critical issues? And how are we going to find solutions that help us address them?

Yagan: Going back to something you said earlier about the economist’s role in policy advice, you’ve already described how the administration and World Bank are different entities, they’ve also had similarities. There are economists with technical expertise participating in a political process, either within the United States or internationally.

And I wonder if you can describe how you think about this unique role that you have served, how much do you try to stick to straight policy analysis? This is the right answer, and then you politicians can do what you want with it.

How much do you try to problem solve within the political within the political constraints to find the most viable policy that can be implemented? How do you understand your own role in the interplay between technical expert and player in a political enterprise?

Kugler: Great question, Danny. I think as a good economist, I’m certainly very grounded on evidence-based policy making, and I think we need to find for the best possible policy solution that we may have to address a certain issue. But you’re so right that we have to be very aware of the political constraints, and sometimes work around those constraints.

So sometimes you have a first best solution to an issue and to get around those political constraints and to come up with some solution as opposed to not having any solution at all, you may have to come to a second best solution. You may have to compromise, and you may have to adjust your original thinking on an issue and your original solution to a problem. So certainly, that’s very key.

I also think in understanding, and look, I sit around 24 other executive directors who cover the MENA region, who cover Africa, who cover Latin America, the other G7s, the Asian-Pacific regions, you need to understand their motivations, if you want to bring them along with you.

So you need to certainly understand what drives them, and what are their political constraints so that you can help them and you can make the case to them that these may just be better again than knowing nothing, which is– if you get stuck, that’s the solution. You don’t do anything.

But I think it is key to understand others motivations in these political settings, to understand how can you help them? To bring them along, and to get them to understand that this will be to their benefit as well, and that maybe you can minimize some of the costs that they see in getting engaged with the given policy.

Yagan: I love it. Even the economist framework, minimizing the costs for them to–

Kugler: To take that next step.

Yagan: To take the next step, yes. You’ve described really from the beginning how the motivations to get involved in economics but then also in public service stem from experiences from childhood, you’re Colombian-American you were describing as a Latina how that has shaped kind of how you thought about your career, and I wonder how that perspective shapes the work you’re doing and how you bring your technical expertise maybe in special ways at the bank.

Kugler: Yeah, I certainly believe that my background as a Colombian-American and my global upbringing, having lived not only in Colombia but also in other continents and having traveled some 50 countries around the world allows me to understand the realities of other countries and understand others’ perspectives.

So when I can talk to my African colleagues or my Latin American colleagues or my colleagues, they know I’ve traveled in their countries. They know I understand firsthand the realities in those countries, and the constraints too. Not only their problems, but also their constraints.

And so I would say they view me very differently. I am the first Latina to hold this role, and I have this global upbringing that is different from maybe what other US EDs have brought to the role.

So this has created a sense of trust and a sense of being heard by me that really helps to bring us together and to try to tackle some of the problems we face today together at the board. It does help in communicating, finding solutions, so certainly, I think it’s very helpful for people to understand that I’m not foreign to their realities.

Yagan: That makes so much sense, and I’m so glad that you’re in this– that you’re in this role. And then if we can close, you’ve been so generous with your time. Thinking you’ve had this distinguished career in public service and academia, you’ve talked about getting started in economics coming to Berkeley.

I wonder if you could go back in time and share some thoughts with yourself or if you have lessons, urgings that you would offer to academic colleagues who want their research to matter for people just coming out of Berkeley hoping to make an impact in the world or maybe that first year PhD student or first year undergrad at Berkeley trying to find their way, what are some thoughts that come to mind that you would love to share with them?

Kugler: So I would certainly say focus on the key problems that we face today. Again, going back to everything I learned at Berkeley about not thinking about some theoretical key question that comes to mind, but if we hope to make progress as an economist, I think that’s where we can have the greatest impact, which is to find solutions, and not to the problems that we had a decade ago, but to the problems that we’re facing today.

So focusing on the key problems that we face today, but I think you have to be passionate. And in my case, being a labor economist was a real passion. I saw that that was what offered opportunities to individuals, to households to come out of poverty and to have opportunities moving forward.

So I think each of us gets motivated by our own issues. I would say stay grounded in evidence. I do think about the data work that happily you’re still advancing at this view at Berkeley of focusing on what the data tells us to inform those problems.

And I do think when you move away from that academic setting to the non-academic setting, I think it is good to stay true to yourself as an economist because you’re interacting with so many others that think in a different way, and you may start thinking just like them, but then you add little value.

It’s when you stay true to yourself to be an economist and you’re surrounded by many others coming from other disciplines and perspectives that you can bring them a little bit of your way of thinking, which is not typical for most.

Even though you’re right, here at the World Bank, there are many, many economists, so it’s a little different, but yet, because people have been in this organization for so many years, they do think about certain issues in certain traditional ways, and I think it is good to come from the outside to bring some new thinking.

Yagan: Wonderful that really resonates with my own experience just having served, and those are hopefully words that I can share with students that students will hear in your words hear when they listen to this, and can be enduring ethos at Berkeley for years to come.

So, Adriana, thank you so much for joining us, rejoining Berkeley virtually here, and we’ll look forward to reading and hearing about all your great work in the new post.

Kugler: Thank you. Thank you very much, Danny, and thank you very much for your service.

Yagan: Thank you, Adriana.

Woman’s Voice: Thank you for listening. To learn more about Social Science Matrix, please visit


You May Like

Authors Meet Critics


Published December 1, 2022

Authors Meet Critics: How the Clinic Made Gender

Watch a video (or listen to a podcast) of our recent “Authors Meet Critics” panel on "How the Clinic Made Gender: The Medical History of a Transformative Idea," by Sandra Eder, Associate Professor of History at UC Berkeley. Eder was joined in conversation by Laura Nelson, Danya Lagos, and Catherine Ceniza Choy.

Learn More >

Matrix On Point


Published November 10, 2022

Matrix on Point: The Court and the People

On October 20, Social Science Matrix hosted a "Matrix on Point" panel featuring UC Berkeley experts discussing what the conservative turn in the Supreme Court means for the relationship between the Court and the people. Panelists included Erwin Chemerinsky, Thomas Biolsi, and Khiara M. Bridges, with Ronit Stahl, moderating.

Learn More >

Matrix News

Matrix Communications Scholars

Published November 7, 2022

Inaugural Cohort of Matrix Communications Scholars Announced

Social Science Matrix is proud to announce our inaugural cohort of Matrix Communications Scholars, a group of six PhD students or candidates who will create podcasts, written interviews, or other features while developing social science communication skills throughout the year. The Scholars are Jennie Barker, a PhD candidate in Political Science; J.T. Jamieson, a PhD candidate in History; Aidan Lee, a PhD student in History; Daniel Lobo, a PhD student in Sociology; Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya, a PhD student in Sociology; and Tiffany Taylor, a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology.

Learn More >