Student explores evidence-based solutions in international development with focus on Latin America

Born and raised in Ecuador, Yale student David Alzate ‘24 is currently pursuing an MPP at the Jackson School of Global Affairs with the aim of identifying ways to implement and scale evidence-based solutions in international development. He recently took part in the visit by Beatriz Argimón, the vice president of Uruguay, who spoke at Yale in February (David is pictured above, 2nd from right, with the visiting delegation). We spoke with him about his experienecs at Yale.


Could you tell us a little bit about your policy and career interests and what inspired your particular policy focus? 

I am interested in identifying, implementing, and scaling evidence-based solutions in international development–in particular, in Latin America. In other words, I care about development solutions that are grounded in data rather than hunches. I think this is much needed in the Latin American context, where the default way of conducting policy tends to be ideological.

Prior to coming to Jackson for my MPP, I spent four years working in a research and policy organization called the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) based at MIT. J-PAL works with economists around the world to conduct rigorous statistical tests of whether a specific anti-poverty policy or program–ranging from agricultural innovations to tutoring interventions and anti-corruption reforms–is indeed working. There, I tried to apply this data-driven approach in collaborations with governments in Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, and Spain. Getting policymakers to make social policy decisions based on data is hard, even when there are people within the government pushing for this approach. I think people working in this space are still figuring out how to get better at this, and this is a big reason why I pursued an MPP at Yale.  

Could you speak a little more about the work you do at the Economic Growth Center?

The work I do at Yale’s Economic Growth Center is not too far from the work I was doing at J-PAL, though it is a little more academic in nature. I am working with senior staff and faculty at EGC, including Deputy Director Aishwarya Ratan and professors Amit Khandelwal, Lauren Bergquist, Nicholas Ryan, Orazio Attanasio, and Pinelopi Goldberg to structure new research programs related to Latin America and the role of markets in international development. For instance, I assist with the hiring of post-doctoral associates, thinking through how these research programs should be communicated in the EGC website, and helping plan researcher gatherings and events. I also do a few ad-hoc tasks that include interviewing EGC affiliates about their work, such as Antonella Bancalari’s research on infrastructure projects in Peru.

How have your current studies influenced future plans/career aspirations?

Jackson provides its MPP students with the incredible flexibility to take classes anywhere at Yale. I am leveraging this flexibility to challenge and expand on my own ideas about international development. For instance, rigorous statistical methods might help you determine whether an anti-poverty program is having the desired effect. But how can you then translate this knowledge into real change on the ground? I think this second step requires a deep understanding of local political dynamics, as well as business and management skills that allow you to determine whether your solution is financially sustainable, how to effectively manage people in charge of its implementation on-the-ground, and how to convince stakeholders that this is the right thing to do. Hence, I’ve been taking some electives at Yale’s School of Management to try to build these more implementation-based skills, while also deepening my quantitative skills through coding and statistics classes elsewhere.

In the long-term, I hope to be able to leverage these skills and contribute to development policy in my home country of Ecuador. Before then, I would love to gain even more experience in international development and test out different approaches and strategies across the multilateral and NGO space.

Could you share a little bit about the Jackson Latino America group and what kind of activities you partake in as part of the group?

Juan Villalobos, a second-year MPP student who co-founded this organization, and myself spotted an opportunity to create a space to advocate for increased Latin American representation and content at Jackson and beyond. It is Jackson’s first year as an official school, and our Jackson Latinoamérica group is the first regional representation student organization within the school. In addition to holding a few fun gatherings amongst Jackson students interested in the region in our first few months, we contributed to bringing Beatriz Argimón, Uruguayan’s Vice-president, to give a talk on campus about women in leadership positions, with co-sponsorship from CLAIS. We also traveled to DC in January 2023 to become a part of the Red Omnia, a network of Latin American public policy students from across US universities including American University, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins,

We are still in our early stages but hope to bring even more high-level and timely events to campus and showcase that Jackson is definitely a space where exciting things about Latin America can happen and are already happening. In the future, we hope to assist with Jackson’s admissions outreach activities and collaborate with other Latin American affiliated organizations on campus.


To read David’s bio, visit the Jackson website

To learn more about the Women in Leadership talk, visit the Jackson website