Fletcher Features

Where International Business and Development Meet: Isabel Sepulveda (F10) and USTDA

What occupies Isabel Sepulveda’s thoughts most days is developing infrastructure in emerging markets—like improving Internet access in northern Brazil or incorporating smart grid solutions for Colombia’s electricity network. But here’s the wrinkle: she’s doing it while increasing exports and creating jobs in the United States.

It’s a task that requires cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural thinking; cultivating long-term strategic relationships and awareness of a variety of industry sectors. As country manager for global programs at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), Sepulveda (MALD 10) says she’s up for the job, thanks in no small part to her academic work.

“Fletcher opened my eyes to how private companies operate in emerging economies, and in turn how that furthers development,” she says. “My work at USTDA is a real world model and allows me to operate at the intersection of international business and development.”

Since the agency’s inception in 1992, USTDA has generated over $32 billion in exports, orchestrated the creation of more than 100,000 U.S. jobs and has provided a 63:1 return on every dollar programmed. But while the USTDA is one of many U.S. government agencies whose mission it is to increase exports, its dual focus on infrastructure in the developing world attracted Sepulveda to the agency.

USTDA helps build the infrastructure for trade, matches U.S. technological expertise with overseas development needs and creates lasting partnerships between the U.S. and emerging markets economies.

“Governments can play an enabling role, creating the conditions and setting guidelines that allow the private sector to flourish in developing countries,” she says.  “It’s the best mechanism for promoting economic growth, innovation and improving livelihoods at home and abroad.” 

In her newly created position, Sepulveda will be responsible for global operational programming and training on the ground for the agency’s initiatives. She will also concentrate on agency strategy and policy priorities and help ensure there is no overlap between agency projects to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently. She says she’ll have to cultivate trade relationships with multilateral banks, the private sector and other governmental agencies while staying on top of trends in technology and industry.

Sepulveda previously worked as a project analyst contractor for the agency’s Latin American and Caribbean portfolio. She helped the agency establish the U.S.-Brazil Aviation partnership, a public-private venture that will share expertise on industry best practices, enhance technical capacity and develop technological solutions to aviation sector challenges.

Those opportunities should increase in coming years, as Brazilian aviation continues to skyrocket, and the country invests heavily in preparations for major international sporting events—the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics—which will draw millions of visitors.

“It’s gratifying to see that the work I do has a concrete, positive impact on the communities in the countries where we work, as well as on U.S. companies and U.S. jobs,” she says.

A native of Arizona, Sepulveda spent four years working in Chile—she holds both U.S. and Chilean citizenship—at the Center for International Studies in Santiago and thought her graduate work would continue to focus on Latin America. Fletcher opened her eyes to a different world of opportunity that she hadn’t previously envisioned, she says. 

“There is so much in the world that I want to be involved with and I learned that at Fletcher.”  In large part this was because of classmates from around the world that offered international experience and created a special dynamic in the classroom. She believes the global perspective at Fletcher sets it apart from all other graduate programs.

“A Fletcher student can be confident that they can rely on their classmates, professors and alumni for support and expertise on any subject in any country of the world,” she says. “It’s a collaborative environment that stimulates both thought and innovation unlike any other I’ve experienced.”