Aluminary: Tarek Ghani

A Personal and Professional Commitment to Development

Ashraf Ghani
Tarek's father Ashraf Ghani (left), former finance minister and presidential candidate of Afghanistan in 2009. (Huffington Post)

Tarek Ghani’s dedication to global prosperity and poverty eradication is not only part of who he is; it is also a large part of where he comes from. While an undergraduate at Stanford University, he took a year off to live in Afghanistan and serve as an assistant to his father Ashraf Ghani, who served as the country’s finance minister after the fall of the Taliban. Witnessing the process of nation-building in a fragile state clearly had a profound impact on him, as it serves as a defining aspect of his promising career.

Training smart, passionate young people is seen by some as one of the Center’s greatest contributions to the development community. Tarek is no exception to this. A special assistant to Nancy Birdsall from June to December 2005, he recalls that although his time in CGD was brief, it “provided a rich source of inspiration for the important work that has yet to be done on global poverty issues, as well as a great support network of mentors, peers, and friends that I value to this day.” He adds in retrospect, “I only wish that I had landed there earlier in my career!”

Being part of CGD in its earlier years, Tarek remembers how many of the “heavy hitters” in development have been engaged in the Center from the very beginning. When asked about his favorite CGD memory, he wrote, “This is slightly embarrassing. We had organized a CGD Board dinner with Timothy Geithner as the speaker, and I'd never met him before. Walking up to the restaurant, I saw a few CGD senior fellows speaking to a well-dressed, young-looking stranger. So I introduced myself, and was surprised to discover that it was Tim—he barely looked a day over 30! He proceeded to wow the entire group that evening with an incisive and prescient analysis of the global economic landscape.”

Even in his subsequent role in the private foundation Humanity United, Tarek stayed connected to the Center’s work and his former colleagues. While overseeing a multi-million dollar grant to promote transparency and accountability in developing countries, he worked closely with former senior fellow and current chief economist of USAID, Steve Radelet and his work in Liberia—a great example of how the connections one makes at the Center can last a lifetime.

Tarek Ghani, former special assistant to Nancy Birdsall

After three years at Humanity United, Tarek “fulfilled his pledge to Nancy,” and started a PhD in Business Economics at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, in part made possible through the Soros Foundation’s prestigious New American Fellowship. Currently in his third year, his research focuses on development and political economy issues such as institutional corruption in fragile states and developed economies; a theme reminiscent of many aspects of Tarek’s life. “One highlight of last year was co-authoring an article with Nobel Laureate Oliver Williamson on the uses of transaction costs economics (TCE) in marketing research,” Ghani said. The piece, which was published in the Journal of The Academy of Marketing Science, has already made significant strides in the field of business policy and economics.

Tarek’s unique perspective from living abroad, experience with a think tank, and working in the private sector will undoubtedly provide many great contributions to the world of public policy and development.

If Tarek were to take on the role of his former boss and become president of CGD for a day, what would he do? “I would start a fellowship program to bring a small group of young researchers and junior policymakers from developing countries around the world to DC for a summer to benefit from the rich intellectual environment and incredible range of development institution connections that CGD has now built,” he said. “Think of it as a mini-Rhodes scholarship for the CGD global community!”

A creative idea like this is yet another reason why Tarek Ghani is one of many CGD alums to watch. We look forward to the completion of his PhD program, and his many contributions to the global development community in the near future.

Tarek currently lives in Berkeley, California and is looking forward to getting married in September 2012.