The Seventh Cohort
Stockholm School of Economics Fellows
Thomas Atherton is a Masters student at the Stockholm School of Economics, currently pursuing a degree in Economics. He previously graduated from Durham University with a BA in Economics, and is one final exam away from becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst.
Mr. Atherton’s experience is varied, beginning with an internship in a Kosovan think tank and continuing with a graduate role on the London trading floor of U.K. investment bank HSBC. For 3 years, Mr. Atherton worked at HSBC in the Equity Sales team as well as building and leading the industry’s first ESG Sales franchise. In this position, he brokered sustainable investing trade ideas to institutional investors and advised global corporates on ESG considerations in strategy and capital markets transactions. Subsequently, Mr. Atherton created an ESG advisory franchise for corporates and investors at Global Counsel, a political consultancy.
As a Wallenberg fellow, Mr. Atherton hopes to have a positive impact at the intersection between business, politics, and sustainability, including via an internship at GEF Capital Partners, a sustainable private equity firm. Mr. Atherton is a native English speaker, with working proficiency in Swedish and basic French.
Başak Edizgil is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Stockholm School of Economics with a specialization in International Economics. Before coming to Sweden, she studied at St. Lawrence University in Upstate New York where she majored in Economics and Mathematics with a minor in Arabic Studies as a Davis United World College Scholar.
During her time at St. Lawrence, Ms. Edizgil studied abroad in London where she interned at Afghanistan and Central Asian Association working on issues affecting the refugee community in London and in greater Europe. She also completed an Independent Research Project on the Turkish government’s specific agenda behind pursuing EU membership.
Ms. Edizgil sees growing wealth and income inequality as the defining feature of the modern world. Therefore, her work experiences have generally been concentrated on inequality as a political and an economic problem. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she worked as a program associate at BOC Capital, a microfinance institution dedicated to bettering the lives of disadvantaged communities in New York City.
This summer, Ms. Edizgil will be interning at Limiar Capital where she will be researching several emerging markets to evaluate macroeconomic conditions and political risk in order to develop an investment thesis for these countries. She is very excited for the internship; it will be her first experience in the area of investing in emerging markets. She is also looking forward to the case intensive classes at Georgetown University and to leveraging them to become better at turning ideas into projects. Ms. Edizgil grew up in Turkey and is a native Turkish speaker. She is also proficient in English and Arabic.
David Huber is a Master of Science in Economics with specialization in International Economics and Data Analytics candidate at the Stockholm School of Economics. He previously graduated top of his class with a Bachelor in Economics from the University of St. Gallen, where he was also a member of the University’s talent coaching program, and spent one semester studying at Bocconi University in Italy.
Mr. Huber’s professional working experience includes working in both the private sector and diplomacy. Before starting his master at the Stockholm School of Economics, he spent six months working for the diplomatic corps at the Swiss Embassy in Argentina, where he advised the Ambassador and the first Diplomat on economic and political topics and represented Switzerland at diplomatic events.
Alongside his studies in St. Gallen, he co-founded the global umbrella organization of all WTO student simulations and presided over the biggest simulation worldwide taking place at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. On the private sector side, David worked for seven months in financial consulting in Zürich and São Paulo and three months for a healthtech startup in Geneva, completing the Future.Preneurship program in social entrepreneurship.
Through his experience in the private and the public sector, David saw the potential of an improved cooperation of the two sectors in solving many of our most pressing problems. He hopes that his studies at Georgetown and his internship at the IFC will help him to further deepen his understanding of the complex relation between the private and the public world. David is a native Swiss German speaker, fluent in German, English, Spanish, Portuguese and proficient in French, Italian and Swedish.
Georgetown University Fellows
Justin Faulhaber is a 26-year-old Master’s candidate in German and European Studies at Georgetown University and will be beginning his studies toward a dual degree in Law in the fall. At Georgetown, he is also pursuing a certificate in International Business Diplomacy. Before coming to Georgetown, Justin worked as a paralegal at a preeminent immigration law firm in Cleveland, Ohio, where he prepared applications for asylum and cancellation of removal as well as writing legal briefs and motions under the supervision of senior attorneys. Previously, he taught English for a year in France and China. For his undergraduate studies in History and French, Justin attended The Ohio State University, graduating summa cum laude in 2017.
Justin is interested in international law and environmental policy and is planning on a legal- focused internship in Stockholm this summer at EQT. Adding to his fluency in French and advanced proficiency in German and Spanish, Justin has been working to pick up some Swedish before the trip. He is excited about the opportunity to work and learn beside eminent international leaders and likeminded students while exploring Swedish culture.
Jessica Meyerzon is a Masters candidate in Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where she is also pursuing a certificate in International Business Diplomacy. Her academic and professional interests include public and cultural diplomacy, business relations in Eurasia, and building private-public partnerships to help combat complex global issues.
Ms. Meyerzon previously graduated from Lewis and Clark College in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs and Foreign Languages (Russian/Spanish). After graduating, she spent one year teaching at Baranovichi State University in Belarus as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. She has also worked for American Councils for International Education, where she was a participant recruiter for their Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Estonia. Ms. Meyerzon has also worked at the University of Washington in Seattle as the Program Coordinator of the Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies and the Center for West European Studies. She also enjoys dancing salsa and bachata, as well as hiking in different parts of the world.
Ms. Meyerzon is a native English speaker, and is fluent in Russian and Spanish. Her fellowship internship in Stockholm this summer will be at Ericsson, where she will be supporting the internal incubation hub Ericsson ONE. She is looking forward to gaining experience and practical skills in an authentic international business environment.
Iris Thatcher is a Masters candidate in German and European Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign service, where she is pursuing a certificate in International Business Diplomacy with a particular interest in economic policy within the Nordic and Arctic regions.
Ms. Thatcher graduated magna cum laude from the University of Washington (UW) in December 2019, where she majored in Political Economy and Finnish Language and Culture, along with a minor in Scandinavian Studies. She was also a recipient of the Kalevala Scholarship, awarded by the UW Scandinavian Studies Department in winter of 2019 due to her academic achievement and abiding interest in Finnish studies.
While at UW, she studied abroad in Berlin, where she examined transatlantic populist rightwing movements. This experience inspired her undergraduate senior capstone, where she wrote about the development of the Finnish populist right-wing party, the Perussuomalaiset. In March 2020, she subsequently won the Gurli Aagaard Woods Publication Award for the best essay written for an undergraduate course relating to Scandinavia by the Association for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies in Canada. Ms. Thatcher was also awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Finland for the 2020-2021 school year, but turned it down due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Upon graduation from the UW, Ms. Thatcher stayed in her hometown of Seattle, Washington and pursued nonprofit opportunities both with The Borgen Project and the World Affairs Council in Seattle. Both experiences enhanced her understanding of social justice issues, where The Borgen Project allowed her to make an impact in addressing global poverty through advocacy work, and the World Affairs Council allowed her to explore the importance of international exchange programs in fostering inter-cultural dialogue.This summer, she will be working with Ericsson’s Partnership and Ecosystem for IoT Team this summer, and she is looking forward to enhancing her understanding of private-private and private-public partnerships. Ms. Thatcher is a native English speaker and is fluent in Finnish, with a basic understanding of German.
The Sixth Cohort
Stockholm School of Economics Fellows
Alfred Hedlund is a Masters student at the Stockholm School of Economics pursing a degree in Finance. He also holds a Bachelors
degree in Business & Economics from the Stockholm School of
Economics, with a concentration in finance. During his bachelor he
spent one semester studying at Smith School of Business at Queen’s
University in Ontario, Canada.
Alongside his studies, Mr. Hedlund works at the management consultancy firm QVARTZ as a Junior Consultant. During his time at QVARTZ he has discovered an interest in how businesses and financial institutions can drive sustainable development, and has also come to realize that there is a huge need for collaboration between the private and public sector. His intention is to develop an in-depth expertise at making these partnerships as efficient as possible.
Mr. Hedlund is fluent in Swedish and English, and has a basic understanding of Spanish.
Mr. Hedlund’s summer internship was spent at Albright Capital, an emerging markets private equity firm, where he was fortunate to work with a range of questions relating to potential investments, portfolio investments, and marketing. The internship allowed him to put his theoretical learnings from his MSc in Finance program into a practical context, while also learning about entirely unrelated topics, such as political risk considerations.
Nastassia Rudak is a Masters student pursuing a degree in Economics and a recipient of the af Jochnick Foundation scholarship at the Stockholm School of Economics. She previously graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in Economics and Government.
Nastassia Rudak is a Masters student pursuing a degree in Economics and a recipient of the af Jochnick Foundation scholarship at the Stockholm School of Economics. She previously graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in Economics and Government.
Ms. Rudak’s professional experience has been concentrated
mainly in the field of education. She has taught in Bosnia and
Herzegovina, working in a program focused on delivering
education in a post-conflict context. For two years Ms. Rudak
taught Economics in Costa Rica. She worked with various NGOs
to create after-school programs for children from at-risk
backgrounds. Ms. Rudak came to SSE with the goal of ultimately
using her education to create evidence-based policy, addressing the issues of transition economies such as the disproportionately large involvement of the state in the economy, lack of diversification and openness, and corruption. She believes that her experience as a Wallenberg fellow will allow her to develop a global perspective on the issues of transition economies while allowing her to refine the narrow expertise she is looking for.
Ms. Rudak is fluent in Russian, Belarusian, and English, proficient in French and conversational in Croatian, Ukrainian, Polish, and Spanish.
As a Wallenberg Fellow Ms. Rudak interned for the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. As part of their Strategy and Design Team, she explored the potential for the Fund’s intervention into Eastern Europe as well as assisted in framing the directions for their projects in East Africa. The most important milestone for her was the final presentation she did for the Fund, which has the potential to translate into real action a year or two down the line.
Nicolas Powell is a Masters student at the Stockholm School of Economics pursuing a degree in Economics. He also holds a degree in Computational Math from Stanford University.
Following graduation from Stanford, Mr. Powell spent two years in London and the Bay Area working as an engineer at tech startups. Much of his work experience has focused on big data, specifically on realizing solutions to fundamental problems that businesses and governments face in the modern era. Mr. Powell is interested in intelligent policymaking, with a particular passion for alleviating global inequalities in wealth and productivity. He hopes to address these problems through trade policy as well as domestic solutions. Mr. Powell also plans to leverage his experience with information architecture in the pursuit of these goals.
A dual Czech-American citizen, Mr. Powell was raised in California and Colorado. He is fluent in Czech and English and conversational in French.
Last summer, Mr. Powell worked at AES, the energy company, working on a machine learning approach to predict interest rate and currency exchange risks for the company’s portfolio. He was working remotely, as the DC office was closed due to coronavirus.
Georgetown University Fellows
Ellie Durling is a Masters candidate in German and European Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where she is pursuing a certificate in International Business Diplomacy with a particular interest in transatlantic trade policy. Ms. Durling graduated summa cum laude from Carleton College in 2017, where she majored in French & Francophone Studies and History and minored in German. She is also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honors society. While at Carleton, she studied abroad twice in Berlin and Paris, where she completed an internship at a legal aid society focused on supporting undocumented immigrants. She also received an Independent Research Fellowship to return to Berlin in order to conduct research for her senior History thesis on the Weimar German gay rights movement, for which she received distinction.
Upon graduating from Carleton, Ms. Durling returned to her hometown of Washington, D.C. to work as an international trade legal assistant at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, where she gained extensive experience in the fields of export controls and customs. Ms. Durling is a recipient of a full tuition scholarship to Georgetown as a Flynn Memorial Scholar. While at Georgetown she has interned at the French Embassy. She is fluent in French and proficient in German.
Last summer, Ms. Durling interned at Electrolux focusing on sanctions compliance, which ultimately inspired her masters thesis on the impact of extraterritorial U.S. sanctions on European companies. Her studies at Georgetown have been focused on Europe and the challenges facing global businesses, and this semester she is taking courses in government affairs, international trade law, and investment negotiations. After graduation, Ms. Durling is pursuing a career in regulatory compliance and policy in the private sector in Washington, D.C., and is looking forward to one day getting to visit Stockholm and connect with Wallenberg International Fellows Program fellows living there!
Yinuo (Jenny) Zhang is a Master of Science in Foreign Service candidate at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, concentrating in Global Business and Finance. She is also pursuing an honors certificate in International Business Diplomacy. Ms. Zhang studied Science, Technology and International Affairs at Georgetown University as an undergraduate, focusing on food and agriculture’s role in sustainable development.
Ms. Zhang has previously pursued professional opportunities that furthered her interests in agriculture and development. During her study abroad in Australia, Ms. Zhang worked on a consulting project evaluating blockchain’s potential to improve financial inclusion within the local dairy industry. She also worked on the Digital Agriculture research team at the World Bank, examining the potential for digital technologies to transform the food system and improve agricultural development outcomes. Through these experiences, she became interested in different vehicles to finance sustainable development and social impact. Most recently, Ms. Zhang interned at the Milken Institute’s Center of Strategic Philanthropy, analyzing philanthropic capital’s potential to catalyze social change. Professionally, she is interested in leveraging private capital and expertise to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and generate social impact. A ballroom dancer and philosophy enthusiast, Ms. Zhang also enjoys cooking and experimenting with new recipes from different parts of the world.
Ms. Zhang is a native Mandarin Chinese speaker and fluent in English.
As a Wallenberg International Fellow, she has been working with Ericsson’s Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility team since last summer. At Ericsson, Ms. Zhang supported its partnership with UNICEF to bring internet connectivity to schools, researched business models for rural connectivity, and she’s currently supporting its work with the Broadband Commission on digital learning.
Amanda von Trapp is a Masters candidate in German and European Studies in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where she is also pursuing a certificate in International Business Diplomacy. She is interested in transatlantic relations and building partnerships between the public and private sectors to develop innovative tools and systems that solve global issues. Ms. von Trapp previously graduated summa cum laude from Portland State University with a B.S. in Political Science and International Development. After receiving a high distinction for her honors research in European Union defense integration, she was selected to author a public opinion project on the same subject for the European Union Studies Association. Through her diplomatic work with the World Affairs Council of Oregon, she received the 2018 Global Ties Emerging Leader Award and seeks to use that responsibility to build relationships and both find and champion cooperative solutions to international problems.
Ms. von Trapp’s interest in international politics, business, and diplomacy have been inspired by her fifteen-year career traveling the world as a professional musician. Since age eleven, she has been performing with major symphonies such as the New York Pops, South Korea Symphony, and National Symphony all around the globe on stages like Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall, as well as within Beijing’s Forbidden City. She has been featured in domestic and international press and has collaborated with numerous artists, including Wayne Newton, Pink Martini, and NPR’s Ari Shapiro on a variety of projects. After growing up as an ambassador of music, Ms. von Trapp has merged her experience of carrying on a legacy with that of a personal interest in seeking optimistic and creative solutions to the international issues of today.
Ms. von Trapp is a native English speaker and proficient in German.
Last summer, Ms. Von Trapp worked on a research project for Saab concerning EU industrial policies initiatives. Her interest in joining the Wallenberg International Fellows Program started with her love for ABBA and the exciting opportunity to work with a Swedish Company in Stockholm over the summer
Changing your perspective in Washington D.C.
By Mats Kröger
No one arrives in a city like Washington, D.C. without a prefabricated image in their head. We have all seen countless portrayals of the city in movies, TV shows, books and news articles. Washington, the city of fictional president Frank Underwood and actual President Donald Trump. Washington, the city where history was made when Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and when Martin Luther King gave his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. Washington, the city where the future of the world is shaped by institutions like the World Bank and the IMF.
Looking out the window of the Wallenberg Fellows’ shared flat perfectly reinforces these expectations: Located next to Arlington cemetery with a view of the Washington monument, the scene reproduces images we have seen a thousand times. However, the city presents itself in a nuanced way that challenged both my traditional perceptions of America in general and it’s capital city specifically.
Being the political center of the United States, Washington D.C. is a city that encompasses people of all viewpoints. Over the last few months, chance encounters with a variety of people ranging from congressional aides of both parties, to Black Lives Matter activists, and devoted Libertarians, exposed me to a variety of unique opinions and world views. This diversity constantly provokes discussion and a city shared by loyal supporters of both American political parties presents a brilliant opportunity to step out of one’s bubble. Additionally, Georgetown’s diverse student body guarantees that you will always find someone to discuss even the most specific issue with. This exchange is further facilitated by D.C.’s cultural events. I will never forget the theater play “The Bitter Game” on police brutality that Agris and I watched together, which provoked an all-night discussion on issues of race, social justice and inequality.
Being located geographically in between the historical North and South, Washington D.C. is also the perfect city to explore the American past. Over a dozen free museums around the National Mall provide information on every crucial event in American history. Even the physical locations where these historic events took place are not far. The Wallenberg flat lies not only within a short bike ride of the Lincoln memorial, but walking ten minutes in the opposite direction, one discovers General Lee’s mansion. Within a three hour bus ride lie both the historic Northern city of Philadelphia and the old confederate capital of Richmond. Besides appealing to the history geek within me, this exposure to American history helps to explain how the American mindset came to be and how American institutions where shaped.
Finally, interning in Washington, D.C. is more than working at the State Department, World Bank or IMF. Instead, the city is home to a wide range of institutions of every size and form. In our internships, the current cohort of Wallenberg Fellows has worked at institutions ranging from a 700-employee think tank, to a 40-employee NGO and a even 5-employee hedge fund. Given the nature of the program, we are exposed to all of these worlds and meet representatives of an even wider spectrum of organizations. A lot of this happens by coincidence: quite often, the person you share an Uber Pool with turns out to be a speech writer working in a ministry or an engineer working on new infrastructure projects for the federal government.
All these components make participating in the Wallenberg International Fellows Program more than just an excellent academic or professional experience. It goes without saying that the internship opportunities are unique and that the teaching at Georgetown is amazing. But more than that, the program helps to facilitate a better understanding of the fascinating country that the United States of America continue to be.
Working at a research institution in post-factual times
By Beatrice Gohdes
On a day in early November of 2016, Stockholm experienced a rare moment when the public transport system broke down under a mountain of snow, not witnessed so forcefully in early winter during the last 100 years. The chill factor was compounded by the news of the presidential election in the United States. That icy-cold November day exemplified the attitude most European media and mainstream politicians held towards the political reality unfolding in Washington: namely the feeling of a looming catastrophe and the bewilderment at the endless blizzard of tweets coming from the president-elect.
About six months into his divisive presidency (it was the Monday after the US withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement), I arrived in Washington, D.C., where I could only describe the atmosphere in the Capital – with the prevailing weather conditions – as steaming-hot. A mere 4% of Washingtonians had voted for the new president. And yet he now lives in their midst – as do I. Biking to work every morning along a truly picturesque route, I cross the Arlington Memorial Bridge, roll past the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, and on to the Washington Monument. Even along this route, I can feel the tension, as I have been repeated spectator to fellow commuters raising their fists in frustration at the White House when it comes into view just before they turn around the Monument.
Against this backdrop I started my internship, the first leg of the Wallenberg International Fellows Program, at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank focusing on how to tackle environmental issues by leveraging economic opportunities to create human well-being. In the discussions I have had with my colleagues on the new political reality here, I have been surprised once again: the underlying mood is calmly-collected and focused on how to deal with reality – quite a contrast to the incessant media outrage at home. The strategy appears to be a calm focus on a structured approach to achieving long-lasting impact in times of political turbulence.
Admittedly, the mood at WRI is far from jovial. My colleagues are especially frustrated by the new administration’s open ignorance towards science and facts. Yet there is a sense of quiet optimism and the will to focus on the silver lining that this situation has brought with it. For example, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement galvanized almost all the other signatories to publicly re-declare their intention to fulfill the targets set for themselves. This new-found sense of global unity is quite encouraging when working towards environmentally healthier and more prosperous communities.
Still, I asked myself, how can a think tank create change in such an unfavorable environment? Over the course of my summer internship I believe I have been fortunate enough to find an answer: First, optimism is essential, as it helps to conceive a strategy bold enough to make a difference. Quite naturally, this avoids paralysis. Second, in times when facts seem to become irrelevant, a consistent output of messages that are backed up by solid research and facts is even more important. This builds trust in the long term for the simple reason that it aspires to truth. Moreover, if these messages are strategically placed, they can go a long way towards influencing the right decision makers, now and in the future.
Data Analytics: Bridging the Language of Academic and Business Worlds
By Christian Conroy
“Well, I mean, it can’t really technically be predictive, you know,” I stated plainly to my boss, assuming he would understand given the type and quality of the data we were working with.
“But it has to be. We want to be able to use this as a practical tool,” he said back, his eyebrows raised almost as if to say, “How are you not getting this?”
Coming from a meager data analysis background, it was only natural that one of the main roles I would fill within the Business Market Intelligence & Strategy team at Electrolux during my tenure as a Wallenberg Fellow would be one focused on elevating team capabilities from data management to data analysis. The task was to use historical macroeconomic indicator data for multiple countries across multiple years to make inferences about country market size using future projections of the same macroeconomic data. While I was happy to have the opportunity to apply the statistical analysis skills that I had spent the past few years cultivating through both a Fulbright Research Grant at an experimental economics institution and a first academic year of a public policy program at Georgetown, I knew that trying to even approach something that could be labeled as predictive would be a difficult challenge.
Unlike previous roles I have had in risk analysis and business intelligence, the human capital that comprises modern business intelligence teams is no longer centered on qualitative expertise in the political nuances of specific foreign governments, the unique cultural aspects of consumers abroad, or the drivers of non-market economic policies in protectionist economies. Instead, modern teams consist of experts in IT integration, statistical analytics, data visualization, and project management. Similar to most industries – roughly 47% of jobs in the US are expected to be automated over the next two decades according to a study from the Oxford Martin School – business intelligence as a sector is now focused more on cost and labor saving tools than it is on human labor. Hence, it was my task to further this trend within the Electrolux business intelligence team and pave the way for the company to begin investing in advanced data analytics tools that would automate the predictive model I had been tasked with creating.
Responding to the point made above by my boss and later discussing the issue with colleagues, I defended my doubts about any model’s predictive capabilities by ignorantly spewing off a hodgepodge of esoteric econometrics terms to try and prove that the word predictive was often overused in the business world – autocorrelated errors, multilevel fixed effects, bias and endogeneity, statistical significance and hypothesis testing, multicollinearity. At a company retreat, I proudly showed scatter plots and regression equations and explained how two-way fixed effects regressions on panel data worked, only to be met with relative silence and mild confusion from the audience. Of course none of these words meant anything in the context of business intelligence. The words, perhaps subconsciously spouted off more to make it seem like I knew what I was talking about than to actually demonstrate it, naturally fell on deaf ears.
Discontent to let the business world triumph over the principles the last few years of training had taught me, I reached out to a number of professors at Georgetown to either help me understand the best methods to use in building a predictive model or at least join me in looking down upon a money-hungry business world that cares more about selling a product to an equally uninformed audience than it does in demonstrating real statistical validity. To my chagrin, I received no such support. Instead, the professors I reached out to responded back with a bunch of case-by-case jargon, emphasizing in the end that what methods I used in the analysis ultimately rested on what the end goals were. One professor even advised me to “impose minimal restrictions on the underlying causal relationships,” focusing instead on using a guess and check strategy that attempts to match up predicted values to the actual values to the greatest extent possible.
I was shocked. I was frustrated. If the model is not causal in some way, then what is the point? Even if they weren’t going to directly provide me any code to do the analysis, I had hoped that they would at least provide me with a cookie-cutter solution that I could later google enough about to figure out how to operationalize. Instead of receiving such guidance, the professors were essentially telling me that all of those rules that I had thought were ironclad – errors cannot be correlated with your independent and dependent variables, something must be controlled for when the value of time period 2 is based on the value of time period 1, a model is not predictive when there is no random sampling and the creation of control and treatment groups – were all flexible. What they were telling me was that it was more important to tailor any analysis I do to the end goal of the business, namely to make a practical predictive tool, than it was to demonstrate statistical validity.
In the end, despite all of the self-learning I had to do in order to attempt to develop an even partly workable model, all I had to do was try to create something that predicted market size numbers that were as close as possible to the actual market size numbers of the historical data. Though it was difficult to let myself sleep knowing that the model I was developing was full of statistical faux pas, it was also liberating to move beyond an academic world often defined by rules and textbooks and into one of money-making decisions defined more by the ends than by the means. The entire experience has caused me to rethink exactly what I am learning within my graduate programs and hopefully start a positive dialogue with colleagues and professors at the McCourt School of Public Policy about how coursework can focus not just on empirically evaluating government policy interventions but also on leveraging predictive analytics for business applications.
The takeaway is that new experiences often remind us of how constrained we are by the environment that we have previously been in and developed a comfort for. Just as it is easier for a child to learn a language than for an adult who has already built up rigid sets of rules in his or her mind, it is often easier for someone to learn something when they come in with a blank slate. Putting oneself in an environment where everyone is effectively speaking a different language – that held doubly true for a team here that was comprised largely of Italians and Swedes – can actually be constructive, especially if it forces one to challenge their assumptions or admit that they don’t understand something as well as they thought they did.
Stockholm’s Solitude: A Visit to Artipelag
By Kathleen Burke
Minutes away from the city of Stockholm, Sweden lies a labyrinth of 30,000 islands. Despite the intricacy of the archipelago, the evergreen covered rock formations form a uniform landscape. In doing so, the plethora of islands evoke an undeniable sense of minimalism. Situated amidst the calm, dark Baltic Sea where Viking ships once reigned, the archipelago invites sailors, family vacationers, and tourists (like me). Historically and culturally, the Stockholm archipelago is as central to Swedish identity as the legendary Vasa ship or taking a fika, or coffee break. The seafaring nation relies on the archipelago for business and leisure alike. As home to summer cottages dating back generations, as a destination for ferry tours, and as inspiration for artists and writers, the archipelago is essential to Sweden’s rich maritime tradition. In fact, Sweden manufactures and sells almost 10,000 and 30,000 boats per year, respectively. But the ratio of adults to pleasure boat is a favorable eight to one — almost three times that of the US. Along with its economic and social importance, the archipelago commands an uncanny tranquility – an abstract quality only perceived. It stimulates and calms the eye simultaneously, inviting both still fixation on one islet and movement across the ornate pattern of islands.
How can such a boundless geographical feature be at the same time simple? The non-obvious reason for this paradox of simple profundity is the Swedish concept “lagom”, meaning “just enough.” While lagom usually refers to portions or objects, it can be applied to the landscape itself. No better example illustrates the notion of a lagom landscape than the museum Artipelag. Situated on Varmdö, the understated cedar and glass architecture absorb the archipelago. In a certain sense, Artipelag reconciles the vastness of the land with sleek lines and modern artwork. Interestingly, the museum founder Björn Jakobson is the founder of BabyBjörn, the innovative child carrier company dedicated to simplifying everyday life. The museum boasts a metamorphic rock originating about two billion years ago, which is placed in ironic juxtaposition to a lively café. In synthesizing forms of old and new, the museum and its works embody and maintain a state of lagom.
Along the same vein, UK-based artist and writer Edmund de Waal (b. 1964) recently debuted a collection of 40 minimalist clusters of ceramic vessels at Artipelag. The artist interprets the vessels after they come out of the kiln. Then, in collaboration with museum curator Bo Nilsson, they arranged the works to optimize the space and light flooding in from outdoors. The result is a greenhouse filled with white porcelain. De Waal insists that whiteness and silence are interchangeable. By extension, reflecting on silence catalyzes progress. The peaceful sanctuary uses uniformity to convey this message.
The next corridor of the museum holds a seamless counterpart to de Waal’s vessels. The exhibit by Giorgio Morandi (b. 1890), a world renowned Italian artist, displayed a series of still life paintings in monochrome tones. The oil paintings provide even more legitimacy to the idea of lagom in practice. Despite the difference between the fine and decorative arts, both Morandi and de Waal complement the museum structure and reinforce one another. Morandi’s internationally renowned still life works capture what de Waal considers “small epiphanies”, referring to the cathartic moment when you allow an object to figuratively “slow into fullness”. De Waal explains, “These objects occupy space in our world and in our thinking.”
Whether produced by the same artist (or tectonic shift), these similar objects (or islands) are impactful repetitions of the same motif. As de Waal reflects himself in his works, visitors at Artipelag can broaden their thinking. When acknowledging that still life happens, the abstractness of reality becomes clear. Still life can then be considered a collection of small serendipities that “tell stories and hold memories.” The avant garde museum is a space that fosters reflection — but not to the point of nostalgia. While the objects and islands may appear homogenous and stagnant, eventually a shift occurs to give them new meaning. The exhibit stimulates personal reflection and new perspectives. Chance error makes these related objects and landforms slightly different. They affirm nature but also contribute to their surroundings in a way that is not overbearing, rather “just enough” to have an impact.
The concept that objects tell stories was foreign to me, but I now relate to the idea that still life can be dynamic. The uniformity of objects (and landforms) allows for acknowledging what is universal before moving forward as an individual. They accept nature but cannot change it. In this way, objects and people relate to one another based on their connection to nature. Stockholm’s 30,000 islands and de Waal’s multitude of sculptures evoke the same sentiment: less can be more. Achieving lagom provides a sense of solitude that is both reflective yet optimistic. In the face of the influx of immigrants to Sweden and changing international pressures, it is humbling and motivating to visit places like Artipelag, where creativity is a platform for building new ways of thinking and adapting to change. The experience extends when you walk onto the Artipelag boardwalk, which reinforces the network between art and nature. De Waal’s vessels can be viewed as books, cityscapes, tree trunks, or chimneys. With “just enough” imagination, still life continues to happen, and perspectives can continually enrich culture.