SIPA | A View from the Class

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students.

April 2022

Hello, I am Xu Zhang, a second-year Master of International Affairs (MIA) candidate concentrating in International Finance and Economic Policy with a specialization in Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis

What did you do before attending SIPA?

I worked in the New York office for the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) as an impact investing analyst. As a member of the UN’s newly established impact investing division (S3I), I had the opportunity to speak with different departments within the UN family and in the private sector. Mostly, I worked on designing a new business platform for the UNOPS to partner with the private sector on infrastructure projects in Africa. I really enjoyed my time at UNOPS, and my UN experience helped me connect with other Seeples who worked at the UN and in other intergovernmental organizations. 

Why did you choose the International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) concentration and the Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis (DAQA) specialization?

I studied political science, economics, and philosophy as an undergraduate at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. My previous studies naturally aligned me with the IFEP and DAQA programs. However, that is not the only reason I chose IFEP. I also wanted to further my studies on how to build private-public partnerships and channel finance to do public good. While working at UNOPS, I learned that even the UN can fall short of financing needed to address global challenges. For example, to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, $5 trillion in annual climate finance is needed. I chose the IFEP concentration to learn more about how the capital market and financial tools can be used to help the public sector in the future.

What has been your experience at SIPA?

I came to SIPA to learn more about using private sector finance to do public good, and I am very grateful that SIPA offered a perfect capstone opportunity with the Ile Dotun agroforestry restoration project in Nigeria. This semester, I am working with five other fantastic SIPA team members for the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) on the reforestation project in Ogun State, Nigeria. The agro-ecological project will restore over 108,000 hectares of degraded land and create over 37 million carbon credits over 20 years. Once completed, the Ile Dotun project will be one of the most significant projects of its kind. However, the whole project will require over $400 million of investment. The best way to finance this project is to sell the produced carbon credits in the international market. This semester, our team has been working closely with the NSIA to evaluate similar projects around the globe, design a financing mechanism, and identify potential investors for the project. We have really dedicated ourselves to the project and enjoyed our time. Our team is excited to deliver our final research to the NSIA in May. 

Has your SIPA Experience made you more passionate about any policy issues?

My capstone project really brought me into carbon finance! In the past few years, the international community has made a lot of progress in this field. Besides the successful COP26 held late last year, China recently started its own carbon market, and Singapore is building the world’s first global carbon exchange and marketplace – Climate Impact X (CIX). I believe carbon finance will be an essential tool for helping to solve climate change. 

What was your experience serving as president of the SIPA Student Association (SIPASA)?

SIPASA really is the most important chapter of my journey at SIPA, and I am honored to have had the privilege to serve as its president in 2021. As president, I had the opportunity to work with twenty other dedicated board members to represent and speak up for the student body. Our board joined SIPASA at one of the most challenging times in the School’s history. Still, we managed to educate ourselves and build a great relationship with the administration to collaborate on projects and fantastic events. I’m beyond thankful to all my SIPASA board members, the SIPA students, and the SIPA administration for their support.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

This semester, I'm honored to serve as a teaching assistant to Professor Taketoshi Ito, one of Asia's most renowned economists. Professor Ito himself was involved in many of Japan's critical economic decisions taught in class. During class, Professor Ito discusses the decision-making processes and the pressures he faced. It feels like we have traveled back in time and are making the decisions with him. I have benefited tremendously from Professor Ito's class, and I highly recommend students interested in economics and finance consider his class.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m happy to share a love story of my own. I met my girlfriend, Lynn, at SIPA. She is graduating with me this May and will be working at BlackRock’s Shanghai Office. Our plan is to be featured in Columbia’s Valentine love stories in the future. Wish us luck and fingers crossed! 

A View from the Class is brought to you by the SIPA Office of Alumni and Development.

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