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March 1, 2001 Welch studies privatization around the world






by Barbara Black

Theodora Welch is doing her PhD in business strategy at Concordia, but from the vantage point of Harvard.

A recipient of the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project Research Fellowship, she is doing her research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Center for Business and Government.

She’s studying privatization around the world; specifically, the interface between public and private telecommunications ownership in developing countries.

It’s a fruitful area for research, she says, because the models for studies of privatization have traditionally been U.S. ones, and these have a remarkable way of breaking down when they’re applied outside the U.S. — even to Canada.

“We’re so [geographically] close, but our business sector is so different,” Welch said in a telephone interview from Cambridge, Mass. “Imagine stretching that [American] model right around the world.”

Welch did her undergraduate degree in political science at McGill and her MBA at Concordia, specializing in finance. Then she had a great opportunity to broaden her horizons: an internship at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., where she worked with international financial institutions, particularly development banks. She has also done stints as a consultant for the World Bank, Private Sector Development Department, while working on her doctorate.

“I was able to see where business policy and public policy come together, on a global scale,” she recalled. She has been looking at 73 transactions in the developing world involving telecommunications systems. In all cases, and unlike the American experience, these systems were started by the state, and in only a few cases, in partnership with private operators.

“I actually have three fellowships that bring me in contact with three groups,” she explained. “One group is involved with changes in the information technology sector, another looks at international phenomena, and the third is concerned with business and government policies.”
Welch loves living in Cambridge. Her apartment is close to the Divinity School, the original “department” of Harvard when it was founded in 1636, and she walks through a bit of Americana every day on her way to the Kennedy School.

“It’s a vibrant village — expensive, modern, dynamic, filled with young people,” she said enthusiastically.

Now in the final phase of her doctorate, she expects to teach in Boston, Washington or Ontario.

World Bank applies pressure to improve governance

Theodora Welch’s internship in Washington brought her into direct contact with the World Bank, which is headquartered there.

She says that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are linked in the public mind and operate in tandem, but seen at closer range, they are also often in conflict.
“The IMF is a bank that helps countries tally up what they owe. Countries trade with one another, and at the end of the day, or the year, some owe money to others,” she explained.
“In fact, some may owe a lot. Some may not owe so much, but still may be unable to pay. Others are always being owed by other countries.

“The World Bank is set up to help redress these imbalances over time, to support economic development so that trade balances will be more rather than less advantageous for developing economics. Unlike the IMF, it is a policy organization; a development policy is always attached to its lending actions.”

Welch said that in the past few years, since its policies went so drastically wrong in post-communist Russia, there has been a shift in orientation.

“Until the mid- to late 1990s,” she explained, “privatization initiatives were aimed largely at poverty reform. Now there’s an emphasis on governance. That means that loans to governments in support of safeguards to check corruption and other inequities.”