Aiding West African Development
In Côte d'Ivoire, political science alumna Rebecca Levy ’04 works to fight poverty as an employee of USAID.
In the bustling metropolis of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire’s economic capital and most populous city, Rebecca Levy ’04 resides among government officials, development workers, and private-sector representatives. Working in one of West Africa’s most vibrant economic and industrial centers, she aims to play a role in combating extreme poverty by promoting economic and democratic development.
Levy is a foreign service officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which battles poverty and promotes internal economic security in countries around the globe. Her work primarily involves the management of foreign-assistance programs that support entrepreneurial growth and access to finance, as well as encouraging transparency in the country’s growing mining industry. To do this, Levy must be continually learning about the ever-changing needs and challenges of various people and groups in Côte d'Ivoire in order to best address them. She’s regularly in conversation with both local and national government officials, as well as those in the private sector, so she realizes the importance of being adaptable as she received new information and changes her strategies accordingly.
“At it's core, USAID's mission is to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies, so I certainly hope that I'm contributing to that in some very small way,” said Levy. “On a more day-to-day level, I hope I'm being an effective steward of taxpayer dollars, and that I'm listening to local partners, who understand this context far better than I do, in terms of what approaches and activities will be effective.”
So how did Levy’s path take her from the greens of Haverford to a city that accounts for roughly one-fifth of the population of a West African nation? Levy says she didn’t have an exact plan shortly after she graduated with degrees in political science and English. She did, however, have experience working and studying in Africa—she studied in Ghana for a semester and conducted post-graduate research in rural Mali with Associate Professor of Political Science Susanna Wing.
“I think I was mostly humbled by how much of my energy went into simply adapting to my surroundings and trying communicate effectively, but you cannot help but be struck by both the poverty you witness and also the innovations and opportunities that people are creating,” said Levy. “It was the beginning of a sense of moral imperative that we do more to alleviate extreme poverty, as well as an appreciation for the range of complex ethical, intellectual and practical questions that you face in trying to catalyze that kind of change.”
Those experiences, along with various other jobs she held (teaching English in France, working for a labor union) eventually led her to graduate school at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Since graduating from that program in 2010, she has worked in various ways with USAID and has been in Côte d'Ivoire since 2014. (She also worked as a civil service officer in Columbia and Haiti.)
Looking back at her days at Haverford, Levy feels grateful to have been in an academic environment that compelled her to be a better writer and analytical thinker. The wide range of classes she took, she says, broadened her skill sets and taught her how to process information quickly. “This is really important in the Foreign Service where the assignments you have can vary quite dramatically both in terms of the portfolio of projects you’re managing and, of course, the local context you’re operating in.”
Development is a long process, but Levy is doing her part to bring her experiences and skills to an organization that has broad, international influence on securing and empowering populations worldwide. She will continue to live and work in Abidjan with her husband Kenneth and her two-year-old daughter Ani until next summer, and doesn’t quite know what will come next. Nevertheless, Levy has taken her skills as a political science major to a place few would have expected, and she continues to defy expectations with her work every day.