Author: Blake Hannon

Published

Kate Vyborny
Kate Vyborny (AB '05)

The junior staff of the Center for Global Development has gathered in a small conference room in their Dupont Circle offices not far from the White House. This weekly meeting will be led by CGD Vice President Dennis de Tray, but the scene is casual. Half the staff fits at the conference table, others sit atop desks and portable heaters, and the mood is initially lighthearted, though poverty and world hunger are constant agenda items at CGD, which prides itself on being a "think and do tank."

Getting down to business, recent Terry College grad Kate Vyborny (AB '05) briefs the staff on a new project she's been conceptualizing with CGD President Nancy Birdsall.

"Essentially," says Vyborny, "it's a scorecard that will give rich countries a numerical grade based on the effectiveness of their foreign aid to poor countries."

She passes out a list of indicators — a rubric for money well spent on foreign aid — and the group quickly enters into a debate about how best to measure the quality of spending.

Vyborny had no idea when she enrolled at UGA as a Foundation Fellow that she would one day devote her life to development. Had no clue that shortly after graduation she would be working to improve economic conditions in countries in dire circumstances due to hunger and disease. Never would have imagined that in November 2007 she would be named a Rhodes Scholar, and given the opportunity to earn a master's degree in the economics of development at Oxford.

The University of Georgia was the only public university in the country to have two Rhodes Scholars in 2007 (Deep Shah was the other UGA recipient), and it was Vyborny's first semester human geography class, taught by Prof. Kavita Pandit, that kindled her interest in development. Vyborny knew instantly that she had found her calling.

"I obviously knew there were poor people in the world," she recalls. "But there's a big jump between understanding what people can do as charity and realizing that larger public policy issues affect how countries develop and how that process affects the poor, U.S. trade, immigration, and environmental policies affect the lives of millions of poor people, and we can do a lot to improve that. What could be more important?"

Previously intending to major in math and political science, Vyborny switched her focus to economics and international affairs. Terry economics professor David Mustard recalls what a dynamic force Vyborny was in class.

"She was totally engaged," says Mustard, "and it hasn't ended with her graduation. She stays in contact with me. She asks me questions, sends me articles and wants to discuss them. She is interested in complicated academic issues, but she's also concerned about policy matters and how they impact people."

Vyborny took an Honors section of Mustard's "Economics of Education" (4250H) course, which he described in a Rhodes Scholar recommendation letter for her as the "most amazing class I've ever taught...of the 16 Honors students in that class, six were Foundation Fellows and others had top university scholarships. This group includes people who are currently at Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, and in PhD programs at Duke, the University of Texas, and the University of North Carolina."

"Even in that class, Kate stood out," says Mustard.

But then, that's not surprising since Vyborny posted a perfect 4.0 GPA at UGA.

Vyborny knew she wanted to further her education after graduation, but sought some real-world experience before deciding what skill set she would need for her career. She thinks it's good advice for almost anyone.

"I really, really recommend that students take time off if they intend to go back to school — unless they are 110 percent sure what they want to do."

Following graduation, Vyborny was one of seven students in the nation to receive a one-year fellowship at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. A think tank that's similar to CGD, the Carnegie Endowment gave Vyborny the chance to work on trade and development. She also assisted in the research and preparation of a major publication, Winners and Losers: Impact of the Doha Round on Developing Countries, Assessing the Impact of Multilateral Trade policy on Development.

Working as a special assistant to Birdsall, Vyborny got a taste of everything that goes on at CGD. After almost a year, she moved to a program coordinator position, which allows her to develop projects and help put them into practice. Besides her donor-support scorecard, Vyborny is also tackling "progress-based aid." In December 2007, CGD sent her to Senegal to meet with education officials from rich and poor countries to discuss a new approach to foreign aid: $100 per child who successfully completes primary school — no further questions asked.

"You can buy books, but will they make it to the classroom?" says Vyborny. "You can train teachers, but what if they don't come to school? Instead of trying to micromanage what inputs our money buys, why don't we let the country decide how to spend its money, and then measure the results that matter — how many children finished school and how much did they learn? This approach allows the country to determine what is needed — but we only pay for results."

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