All FSI News Blogs May 1, 2020

MIP Feature Friday: Gailyn Portelance

Gailyn is a student in the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program (MIP) specializing in governance and development. Before Stanford, she worked in Washington D.C. in international development sector at the Center for Global Development and also on consumer protection issues at the Federal Trade Commission. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Pomona College.
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Courtesy of Gailyn Portelance

Gailyn is a student in the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program (MIP) specializing in governance and development. Before Stanford, she worked in Washington D.C. in international development sector at the Center for Global Development and also on consumer protection issues at the Federal Trade Commission. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Pomona College in international relations, and she is originally from Seattle, Washington.

FSI: Have you found the subject of emerging technologies in developing countries to be underlooked when it comes to international policy? 

GP: When I was working in the development space, I found that there were always people working on programs on technology development — it is definitely a big area in the field. But that was never really something I had the opportunity to engage in.

And then I came to Stanford, and through the courses I’ve taken and the conversations I’ve had with professors and mentors here, I quickly realized that extraordinarily interesting and complicated questions lie at the intersection of technology and development  — not only how technology can be used to improve and accelerate development at a micro-level, but also thinking about the very real implications (both positive and negative) of emerging technology on people and their communities.

For example, last summer, I worked on a biometric identification project with the World Bank. It was very much a new project for the World Bank and they were excited about applying this new biometric technology to a project to help overcome one of the largest development challenges they saw in Cote d'Ivoire – the lack of access to forms of identification. 

While I was working on this project, it became clear to me that although there’s great potential for good, there are also a lot of potential negative implications of deploying this type of new emerging technology that were not being considered. 

For me, the evolution of my thinking around technology and development has grown to be less about how to use and deploy technology to improve development outcomes, and more about how we can critically think about these emerging technologies and how they might interact with consumers, particularly in challenging environments around the world. I think that's the most interesting question.

Is there anything you’ve been able to work on while at MIP that has particularly influenced your thinking on these issues or shaped how you approach these issues? 

I took a great class taught by Mariano-Florentino Cuellar in the Law School called “Regulating Artificial Intelligence.” He talked about the ethics of artificial intelligence and rapidly developing technologies, and also their regulation in high-risk sectors like healthcare or transport, for example. That class really shaped my approach to technology ethics and introduced me to so many questions that still need to be explored.

On the other hand, there’s the governance and development field. And with regards to that, something that I’ve really enjoyed working on this quarter has been my capstone project for the MIP program. I’m looking at Internet shutdowns in Cameroon — it’s a huge issue because Internet shutdowns are an example of how authoritarian governments use control over the Internet as a tool to further their own goals. And, it’s understudied because the international community doesn’t really know how to respond to the phenomenon of shutdowns, and it’s challenging to track and monitor. There are a lot of amazing activists doing really challenging work in this space, but less so a focus from the world of academia. 

It’s really the perfect intersection for me and has given me the opportunity to combine my interests in political and economic development with technology. 

Why did you choose the MIP program?

I was looking at a lot of different options, but I narrowed it down to Stanford — I think it ultimately came down to it being a smaller, more attentive program. My thinking was, “If I'm going to go back and pay for a master's program, I want to be in one where I feel like I can get personalized and individualized attention when I need it.” I wanted access to administration and program leaders if I’d have any issues, and a program where I would be able to form close personal relationships with professors. 

On top of that, I was born and raised in Seattle and went to college outside of Los Angeles, so I was also looking for a policy program on the West Coast if I could make it work. 

For me, Stanford fit all of those criteria. I just can't imagine going to a 200-person program and getting the opportunity to work for Larry Diamond, the top scholar on democracy and development, Jeremy Weinstein, who has paved the way on political economy and development research in Africa, or Marietje Schaake, a leading thinker in emerging technology, governance, and the rule of law.

The evolution of my thinking around technology and development has grown to be less about how to use and deploy technology to improve development outcomes, and more about how we can critically think about these emerging technologies and how they might interact with consumers.
Gailyn Portelance
Second Year MIP Student

How have the mentors and professors you’ve met here influenced your work and approach to your studies? 

The work I’ve been able to do with them has been really rewarding – and it has allowed me to both pursue and deepen my thinking on different elements of my interests in technology, governance, and development. Jeremy is my advisor, and along with my classmate Rosanna Kim, we worked on a project on the intersecting challenges of humanitarian response, conflict, and migration. Jeremy has challenged me in the best way –and I’ve learned from him how to develop policy recommendations that strike the right balance between ambition and reality and how to be more precise in my policy writing. 

For my work with Larry, I’ve been helping him track democracy trends around the world including elections and electoral backslide, democratic resurgence among various regimes. And that has been an incredible opportunity because I get to meet every week with one of the top democracy scholars in the world and support him on his unique research.

Recently, I’ve started working with Marietje, particularly focusing on her work on AI and governance. It has really deepened my thinking on linking these questions of emerging technology to principles in democracy and the rule of law and has introduced me to many new debates on these issues. I am also really inspired by her inclusive leadership style and the time she takes to mentor so many students at Stanford – and I aspire to have a similar leadership style one day.

What does the future look like for you after the MIP program? 

If I was to outline my ideal job post-graduation, it would be to be thinking about those questions surrounding the ethics of emerging technologies in developing countries, the implications of delivering and deploying these technologies too quickly, and how they can be best developed to be tailored to these local contexts. 

What’s something that surprised you about the MIP program? 

I knew I wanted to come back to grad school to get an education and to at least build a professional network — I was kind of expecting to come back, put my head down for a couple years and get my degree. 

But I have ended up coming away with really close friendships with most of the individuals in my program, and that is something that really surprised me. It’s a super collaborative, accepting environment, and I was expecting it to be much more competitive than it is. We all really support each other, help each other out through growing pains of the program, including difficult statistical classes. We all have each other's backs and have gotten to know each other on a personal level, and I think that is something that you get with a really small cohort.

Another thing that has surprised me is that, after hearing about everyone's passions, despite the fact that a lot of people in the program have interests in the cyber field, every single person still has their own niche and specialty. That is really cool.

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