Sherry Stephenson | PhD Political Science ‘87

Senior Fellow, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), Head, Institutional Relations, Organization of American States (OAS) until 2013


Why did you choose to study at the Graduate Institute?

I knew early on that I wanted to pursue an international career. After learning about the Institute, I was determined to study there. The former Director gave me a trial in the Licence programme. I ended up spending five years at the Institute in the Licence and PhD programmes (1973–1978) and nearly another decade associated with it while working full time in Geneva and Paris before defending my thesis in 1987.

What are your foremost memories of Geneva and the Institute?

I remember the excellent faculty and the small PhD classes, which made for very close interaction between students and professors. The Institute was a magnet that attracted top scholars and practitioners. My most vivid memory however is defending my thesis in the “Salon Vert”, which was one of the high points of my life.

What course has your career taken since leaving us?

For over 30 years I have worked as an expert on international trade policy, mostly in multilateral and regional institutions. I began my career in Geneva at UNCTAD and GATT. I then moved to Paris to work in the Trade Directorate of the OECD. This was followed by a year teaching at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and three years in Jakarta where I was an adviser to the Ministry of Trade and also assisted in the APEC process. My last career move was to Washington DC to work on trade at the OAS.

Was the knowledge acquired at the Institute useful at the beginning of your career?

"The knowledge and the exposure that I gained from my years at the Institute laid the foundation for what I have achieved throughout my career"

The knowledge and the exposure that I gained from my years at the Institute and in Geneva laid the foundation for what I have achieved throughout my career. My studies instilled in me a belief in the benefits of free trade as a positive stimulus to economic growth and development that I was determined to work to promote wherever the opportunity arose. I have enjoyed being part of the alumni community and am currently an active member of the Steering Committee of the Washington chapter.

Was it of use in your employment at OAS?

The knowledge I acquired at the Institute helped me transition to that position that encompasses a broader, more political focus within the OAS. My academic training has given me the interest and tools to work on other important areas of the inter-American agenda. Also, I have always felt most at home working in an intergovernmental, multi-lingual, multi-cultural environment that mirrors my student days in Geneva.

What advice would you give our students for their future career?

I would advise students to choose work in which they are passionately interested and wish to make a difference. A half-hearted approach to a career, even with great technical training, will be a liability to overcoming obstacles along the way.