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Eye on Alumni Interview: Sam Juthani '13

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Sam Juthani (Master in Economics of Public Policy) is an Economist for WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), an environmental sustainability charity in Oxfordshire, UK. He is also a chocolatier, marathon runner, and candidate for Parliament. How does it all fit together?

You're a full-time economist, but you're developing some other career interests as well. Tell us about them.

I effectively have about three jobs, so its probably best to split these out:

Economist: I work for an environmental charity, looking at resource use. If a material has value at the end of a production process, then it logically should be used again, or sold on. It frequently isn't, so this is an area in which there is a serious market failure. My job is to analyse these, and help the charity that I work for to provide information and market co-ordination that corrects these failures whilst avoiding the risk of government failure.

Politician: I am running for election to be a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Labour Party here in the UK for a seat called Henley. As an economist, I'm frequently on the media, commentating on economic policy issues, especially macroeconomic issues, but also within the areas that I'm most concerned about: education, healthcare and the environment.

Chocolatier: I make chocolate truffles for parties, weddings and fundraising events (e.g. for the marathon I will be running in April).

Pick one experience from all these that's stood out so far.

So many to chose from! But I think a recent one that really stands out for me is being invited on to local radio station to be interviewed about economic statistics, where I could really use my academic training and experience to talk about what's happening to households in the UK, and the direction I would hope to take them if I were elected.

How did the Economics of Public Policy master program help you prepare for this multi-faceted career?

The master program was hugely helpful. First and foremost was just being in a different country, surrounded by others from so many other countries and cultures. It taught me a lot about the way in which different people think and approach tasks. This was especially true with my flatmates, who were mostly other GSE students – but more importantly were from Bolivia, New Zealand and Colombia respectively.

The Barcelona GSE courses were well taught, and I really enjoyed the subject that I studied (Economics of Public Policy). Having a tool-set that allows you to think clearly and logically through a position, and the potential pitfalls, is invaluable, and these were continually reinforced with each class that I took.

And of course, I was able to test all my chocolates on my classmates and others! Chocolate was a good way of working across nationalities and languages! (See "Sam's Chocolate Flapjack Recipe" in the sidebar of this article.)

What knowledge and experiences have been essential for achieving the positions you now have?

I think the key part of all of them was demonstrating that I was able to connect the abstract economic theories and methods to something that was real world- be it about people's lives and jobs, or about the way in which we use materials and where in the supply chain we might find inefficiencies and market failures.

For all of the work that I do, having a strong understanding of the workplace is absolutely essential. My experience as a government economist (I previously worked at HM Treasury) has proved to be exceptionally helpful in doing what I said before about connecting economics to a real-life situation. This is essential, and is something you can't learn in an academic setting, not matter how good. You have to be out there in the workplace looking at a market, interacting with it on a regular basis and understanding how what you see in front of you actually translates to in terms of the models you learned – and if they don't, is it because you're using the wrong model, or is the model itself not up to the job? That sort of skill and understanding can only come about with experience.

What advice would you give to current Barcelona GSE students?

Life has a funny way of throwing you curveballs- situations which you didn't quite anticipate happening. When I graduated, I worked for an IT company for a year. This was not an ideal position, but gave me time and space to look for the right thing, whilst progressing with other things, like my political career, and chocolatiering! I think I'm back on track, and very much where I want to be now.

If you want to be an economist and influence policy, I very much recommend working in a policy setting – a government department, central bank, think-tank, anything. Just don't stay in academia. There's nothing wrong with the academic life-style, and its always helpful to have links there to return, but if you want to really make an impact, you need to understand what you're working with.

And if you want to be politically active, that same sentiment is even stronger. You don't know how to change the world for the better if you don't understand it.

If you want make chocolate, then I highly recommend tasting everything a lot! You'll get fat, but it'll be worth it!

What do you miss the most from the Barcelona GSE?

I miss a lot of it, Barcelona is a great city and I made some great friends on the course. I learned a huge amount during my time there, and really enjoyed the broad interaction I could have with people who were doing such amazing, crazy and cool things with their lives!

I have to say though, I don't miss the problem sets!

You meet some amazing people at GSE. Last summer, I was privileged enough to be invited to one of my good friend's weddings! The friends I met at the GSE, and particularly my flatmates, are friends for life. They live literally all over the world, and I miss them.

But that's the great thing. I'm doing cool stuff now that I've left the GSE, whether its one of my many jobs, running London Marathon for a charity for disabled children, or as a governor of a number of schools in the UK, I've moved on from the GSE as a bigger, more accomplished person. I know my colleagues have as well. That's why they're all so great!

 

Sam's Chocolate Flapjack Recipe

"This recipe got me and my flatmates through all of our exams."

100g butter

100g sugar
(Recipe states light soft brown sugar - this would give a richer resulting flapjack)

6tbsp golden syrup

50g cacao, finely grated

300g porridge oats

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg (fan oven). Lightly grease or line a square tin (25x20cm approx)

2. Heat the sugar, golden syrup and margarine (or butter) in a saucepan, over a moderate heat, until all is melted and smelling sublime.

3. Grate in the cacao. Stir.

4. Mix in the oats. Stir until all nicely combined.

5. Put into tin.

6. Press the mixture down with the back of a spoon. I always find the mixture sticks to the spoon when I do this. So, I take a small piece of my baking paper and put that on the flapjack mix and then use my fingers to flatten it down. The paper doesn't stick to the flapjack and nor do my fingers. Perfect.

7. Bake for 20-25 mins until golden.

8. Once cooled, remove from the tin and cut into 12 slices. 


Interview conducted in January 2015.

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