Shaping the World Through Development Finance

U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Alexia Latortue (F97) speaks to Dean Kelly Sims Gallagher in video interview
Alexia Latortue in conversation with Kelly Sims Gallagher

Fletcher alumna Alexia Latortue (F97) serves as Assistant Secretary for International Trade and Development at the United States Department of the Treasury. During her visit to campus, she sat down with Dean ad interim Kelly Sims Gallagher to discuss her memories from Fletcher, her career journey, and the changing field of development finance. This transcript was lightly edited for readability.


Kelly Sims Gallagher: I'm delighted to welcome Alexia Latortue today at The Fletcher School. She is the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Trade and Development and a Fletcher alumna. Alexia, thank you so much for being with us. 

Alexia Latortue: You're very welcome. 

Tell us what brought you to Fletcher in the first place.

I wanted to go to Fletcher even before I knew where I wanted to go to undergraduate school. It's because my perspective growing up was very international. To me, Fletcher was the school that truly had an international DNA. I was excited about the interdisciplinary approach of the school because I like to connect the dots, and I thought the curriculum offered that possibility. My experience was fabulous. I loved the people. I loved the fact that my colleagues had such different life experiences, so I could delve into different worlds, not just in the classroom, but also with my peers.

What about your professional journey?

It’s been a great ride, including the fact that I never thought I would be working for the government. I think I was just curious about where I could have impact. From a more traditional place, I imagined myself working for development consulting firms or working in development banks. I had imagined that path, and I never imagined the government path. But meeting great, smart people who were working inside Treasury and working on the issues I cared about, I thought, well, I could look at this. So I took a different path, and I really loved it.

As you look back to your time at Fletcher, are there certain experiences that prepared you for different roles that you have played over your career?

I often think about Fletcher and how I felt here, which is very secure, very supported. There’s a mix of confidence but humility, which I didn't see in other schools. I liked that about Fletcher, the sense that we had the world in front of us, that we could do a lot, but we had to remember to tread lightly with our power. That feeling calms me down, gives me a sense of strength. It tells me that if I really listen to what's going on, I will have the tools to respond well.

Tell us about your current job. What do you do in this role as Assistant Secretary?

We're trying to make the world safer, more prosperous. I focus on working with the development banks towards poverty reduction and inclusive, resilient, sustainable growth. I work on climate change. The adaptation side, particularly for low-income countries, is really fundamental. Treasury does not lead on trade, but trade is in my portfolio, so I work very closely with USTR. I also cover technical assistance.

How has this world of development finance changed over the last 25 years?

I think development finance is much more central to what I would call the mainstream agenda, compared to when I worked with Treasury under Obama. Development had its niche; it was important, but it wasn't mainstream Treasury. Now this agenda is mainstream. It's at the heart of what we do because you can't talk about growth without looking at development finance. It really is about how the international and domestic financial capital debt markets come together to help countries fulfill their aspirations and their goals.

While the world has overall made really dramatic improvements in reduction of poverty, we still have some serious challenges before us. What really motivates you?

I would say two things, Kelly. 

First, it’s the people I've met around the world, including in some very small villages in Haiti. I look at them and think, if they had a quarter of my education, they'd be running circles around me. This concept of unfulfilled potential kills me. 

Then I would say in terms of the moment I'm in right now, another driver is that we have made progress, but we've seen pretty massive reversals. I think some of the progress we have made is really at risk, because of certain big trends that don't respect borders. Sustaining forward-moving momentum is at risk right now.

Tell us a little more about how the climate and development agendas are intersecting. 

For me, they are really quite intertwined. One of the big conversations I've been having over the past year is to put to bed what I consider a very false debate about development vs climate. Can you afford climate when you have pressing hunger in your country? The answer is, you can't afford not to think about climate. Look at how agriculture is changing because of changing weather patterns and extreme weather events. For me, this is an absolutely holistic agenda.

I always like to say that climate is like an envelope within which all of our human interactions occur.

I agree. 

Thank you so much. We are incredibly proud to have you as an alumna of the Fletcher School. 

Thank you very much. I'm proud to call myself a Fletcherite.