News from the SECO / WTI Academic Cooperation Project
University of Johannesburg Professor Stephen Gelb shares his thoughts about joining the WTI in January 2013
January 14 will be my first day at the Institute.
What will you be teaching at the WTI?
In the past, I taught macroeconomics and economic growth, international trade and investment, development economics and the politics of economic development. At the WTI, I will be covering similar topics.
My experience as an economic advisor to the African National Congress (ANC) after its unbanning in 1990 and to the South African government on major policy processes is helpful in my teaching. I would like to think that bringing real-life examples to the classroom makes the issues we discuss more applied and relevant for my students.
What do you hope to achieve or to share with students during your time at the WTI?
Not only do I hope to share my knowledge and experience, but I also wish to underline two things that I feel strongly about. Firstly, I hope to emphasise that analysis and research should be based on careful use of data, should be relevant to real-world problems and be sensitive to context. Research should also be bold, in the sense that the argument should go wherever the analysis leads one, even if the conclusions are uncomfortable. Secondly, I wish to constantly remind students (and maybe even colleagues) that we do this work to try to make the world a better place, most especially for poor countries and for poor people.
How did you become interested in working here? What drew you to the Institute?
My initial contact with the WTI was in 2010 and 2011 via the Mandela Institute at Wits University in Johannesburg, part of the SECO / WTI Academic Cooperation Project. I began working with Laurence Boulle, the previous director of the Mandela Institute, around 2010, as he is also interested in foreign investment issues.
I met Roberto Echandi when he came out to Johannesburg and enjoyed talking to him very much. At that stage, I didn’t think about working at the WTI, though I must say that I was utterly charmed by Berne when I visited the WTI in September 2011 to participate in the World Trade Forum and speak about running a database project with the Mandela Institute.
How are you involved in the SECO / WTI Academic Cooperation Project?
With the support of the SECO / WTI Academic Cooperation Project, I have been collecting firm-level data about new and expanded foreign investments. A lot of the data processing work is done by students and new graduates in law and in economics. I am using the database for research. We are hoping that the South African government will make use of the database for its own work, including investment promotion. They have expressed a lot of interest and we are talking to them about getting involved in supporting the work and using the data.
What issues do you address at the EDGE Institute?
I set up the EDGE in 2001 to do policy-relevant economic research and it was my full-time base until 2010, when I decided to take a full-time teaching post at the University of Johannesburg. We did work on a range of issues: Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), macroeconomics, sector studies in services, Intellectual Property (IP) and poverty and inequality. I am also interested in promoting public debate and dialogue so we also ran seminar series on issues of public interest. It was during this time that I became interested in FDI.
Is there something you hope to learn more about whilst working at the WTI or whilst living in Switzerland?
Downhill skiing! I lived in Canada for 10 years as a student and lecturer, but never got to try downhill skiing – only cross-country. On a more serious note, I am looking forward to being in an institute and in a country which are strongly connected to global debates and discussions. I think that I will get a very different perspective than I have in the past, down at the ‘bottom’ of Africa. I will have to adopt a far broader approach than a South African one and I am looking forward to that challenge.
At the WTI, I will have the opportunity to engage even more than in the past few years with how lawyers and legal scholars understand the world, so that will be another positive learning experience for me…and I hope to learn to speak and read a bit of German.