Mar 08, 2010

Faculty Profile: Salo Coslovsky

Salo Coslovsky joined the Wagner faculty in fall 2009 as assistant professor of international development. He has an MA in law and diplomacy from Tufts and a PhD in international development from M.I.T. Salo's upbringing led him to become interested in international development, particularly how developing countries can promote sustainable growth. "I grew up in Brazil at a very eventful time: there was a transition from dictatorship to democracy; bouts of hyperinflation and a succession of failed economic stabilization plans; and privatization, deregulation, and liberalization. So I learned a lot about international development just by being there." 

What motivated you to pursue a career in academia?
"The real trigger was traveling by public transportation throughout Latin America as a teenager. That's when the differences among people and places started to jump at me: why does infrastructure and public services vary so much among countries, and even within countries? Why do different governments seem to perform so differently? Why is it that some people work so hard but never progress? That's when I started to make comparisons and ask questions, and I haven't stopped. There is no better place [than academia] to ask (and answer) questions like these, that are at the same time straightforward and important. But in addition to translating theory into practice (and vice-versa), I also like to get things done, so it is great to be around real achievers, which are the people that Wagner attracts."

How has your first year as a full-time faculty member been so far?
"My first year has been great. I'm still learning my way around NYU, but I'm enjoying the new challenges and the discoveries that come with them."

What is the best part about working at Wagner?
"I like a lot of things about Wagner. Just coming to the Puck is a pleasure-the architecture of the building, the neighborhood, the well-lit interiors. I really enjoy the intellectual exchanges, the talk series, the impromptu conversations with faculty and students, and the never-ending stream of academic discussions that we host. Above all, it is great to be part of a school that is so dynamic, filled with people who want to make it even better than it already is."

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
"Above all, I enjoy the fact that it involves public service and international development. The sense of working in such a large and critical theme is fantastic. Next, I really enjoy the mix of theory and practice, and to be able to use one to inform the other. It is a privilege to be at the interface of these two worlds."

What is the most challenging part of your job?
"Time-management! Demands on my time are increasing by the minute and I want to attend to all interesting and important requests, but then I would need 35 hours a day to keep up. So I have been trying to be as efficient as I can be, but it seems that I will have to be more selective as well. This is a big challenge."

What excites you about your current research?
"The biggest treat is to find counterintuitive cases and patterns that cast new light on old ideas and give hope to the underdog. For instance, in one project, I am trying to understand how a cluster of businesses located in a remote part of the Bolivian Amazon have been outperforming more powerful and better-endowed competitors in Brazil.

In another project I am examining how property rights affect investment and innovation. The prevailing view is that one is a prerequisite for the other, but this pattern does not seem to hold in the development of sugarcane varieties. Rather, the opposite seems to be true: in this sector, the lack of property rights seems to encourage innovation. Is it true? And if so, what are the lessons for promoting innovation in developing countries?

And in another project I am examining how institutions - i.e. the rulers of the economic game - influence product differentiation and opportunities for industrial upgrading. I am studying the sugar, leather, and charcoal industries, and hope to have interesting findings to report after conducting fieldwork over the summer."

How would you characterize Wagner students?
"The people I have seen are smart, ambitious, committed, and-above all-public-minded. And students here contribute enormously to enhancing the intellectual life of our community. I've seen how they bring real-world experience to in-class discussions, invite outside scholars to come in, push all of us to stay on top of emerging topics, and connect people that may be unaware of each others' existence. Their contribution cannot be overestimated."

What is your idea of a perfect day?
"A perfect day starts with a leisurely morning so I can read the Brazilian and U.S. newspapers and a selection of the blogs that I follow. Then, some sort of formal or informal discussion or presentation that triggers an unexpected discovery; I love having one of those "Aha!" moments in which my understanding of the world suddenly changes, even if only a tiny bit. The perfect day would include some exercise, preferably outdoors, and it would end with a good movie, concert, or play and a delicious meal with my fiancée."

What's the best thing about living in New York?
"I love the unexpected juxtapositions, i.e. the mix of people, accents, and dressing styles; the food; the public transportation; the graffiti, stickers, and other displays of public art; and the variation in neighborhoods, in which every few blocks is a different world."

What's on your iPod?
"Inti-Illimani, in solidarity with the Chileans (and because the music is great). I always listen to Brazilian singers and bands; lately I have been listening to Gal Costa and Clara Nunes."

What would you say to someone who wants to pursue a career in public policy?
"The first thing I would suggest is to keep an open mind. The public sector is not like the private sector, so those interested in public service ought to avoid deceptive comparisons. To a very large extent, the public sector is messy by design and it works according to a different logic, so those interested in getting things done in the public realm ought to understand this logic to be effective in promoting change and achieving results."

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