Club exposes students to economic ideas aimed at forging a better world
Yale College seniors Bilal Moin and Daevan Mangalmurti have a mutual interest in international development, a branch of economics that examines the forces affecting economic development and individual wellbeing in low- and middle- income countries.
But when they arrived on campus, they found few avenues to feed their curiosity. While there were plenty of extracurricular opportunities for students interested in finance or consulting, the same wasn’t true for those curious about development economics.
“There just wasn’t much opportunity to study development economics unless you were well advanced in the economics major,” said Moin, who is majoring in mathematics, economics, and global affairs.
Not being “pure economics majors” — Mangalmurti is pursuing a degree in ethics, politics, and economics — the pair decided in their sophomore year to establish their own official student organization to explore this branch of economics.
The club, the Salus Populi Foundation (SPF), launched at the start of the last academic year, is devoted to offering undergraduates, regardless of their intended majors, a way to learn about development economics, a discipline in which researchers frequently work with policymakers to devise and test policy interventions to raise standards of living in countries across the globe.
“When people talk about Yale, there is a whole discussion of the importance of making interdisciplinary opportunities available to students, premised on the idea that our perspectives grow richer by incorporating multiple fields and disciplines.” Mangalmurti said. “I think that’s true for us.”
In the fall of 2022, the club offered a 13-week fellowship program that introduced 10 first-year students to development economics and a year-long speaker series that brought prominent scholars in the discipline to campus for talks. Both the fellowship and the speaker series will return this academic year, along with stepped-up efforts to create more opportunities for undergraduates to engage with international development.
“A lot of students engaging with the club are not going to pursue careers in development economics, but these are skills and ideas that can be applied in a lot of fields, such as consulting and finance,” said Moin, who is from Mumbai and arrived at Yale with an interest in development economics and public policy. “It’s important for us to be cognizant of how these development ideas impact the world and society and people’s welfare beyond our lives here at Yale.”
Moin and Mangalmurti enlisted three fellow undergrads — Jean Wang, Braden Wong, and Aryan Sehgal — to help them create a blueprint for the organization. The group sought and received support from Yale’s Economic Growth Center (EGC), a hub for economics research and teaching on issues relating to lower-income economies and the advancement of their populations.
Rohini Pande, EGC’s director, says the club complements the center’s efforts to spark an interest in development economics among talented Yale College students.
“The Salus Populi Foundation did impressive work its first year, running a vibrant fellowship program and bringing prominent development economists to campus to meet with students,” said Pande, the Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “I’m seeing how the club, along with the internships EGC offers in communications and data science, is drawing talented Yale undergrads to international development.”
The center’s backing made a difference, helping the students clarify their goals for the club, devise a workable and engaging program, and negotiate any red tape, said Moin, who had an internship at EGC in the summer following his first year at Yale.
“We were held accountable, and I think that’s great because it forced us to think about what we were doing and to articulate the reasons for a program,” he said. “It improved everything we did over the course of the year. We’re very grateful to everyone at EGC for their generous support.”
‘The welfare of the people’..
The SPF’s name is drawn from “salus populi suprema lex esto,” a maxim attributed to Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher, that translates to “the welfare of the people should be the supreme law.”
“We believe that economics, when paired with this ethos, can become a powerful tool for positive change,” Moin and Mangalmurti stated in an article they wrote in May for the EGC’s website recounting SPF’s first year. “By encouraging the exploration of international development, we hope to inspire more Yale undergraduates to choose career paths that prioritize the betterment of society, helping to bring about a more equitable and prosperous world.”
Last fall, the students operated a booth at the annual Student Organizations Bazaar at the Schwarzman Center and were encouraged by students’ level of interest in the enterprise. By the event’s end, 165 students had subscribed to the club’s newsletter.
The SPF Fellowship in Improving Global Welfare, which emerged as a club centerpiece during its inaugural year, provides first-year students with a foundational understanding of international development principles.
The club’s leadership worked with a Ph.D. candidate in economics, Jillian Stallman, to design a curriculum that exposed the fellows (selected through a competitive application process) to concepts and issues important to development economics. These included the ethics of international aid, the question of endless economic growth in a world of limited resources, and randomized controlled trials (a widely used method for evaluating policy interventions). The fellows also had sessions with EGC-affiliated researchers, providing the fellows with firsthand insights into development economics from experienced practitioners.
The club’s affiliation with EGC helped it draw prominent scholars to campus, and onto Zoom, for lectures and group discussions open to all Yale students, said Mangalmurti, who is from Pittsburgh and became interested in development economics after coming to Yale and studying environmental sustainability. And in some cases, club members were able to have dinner with visiting guests — including Ha-Joon Chang, a development economist at SOAS University of London, Nancy Folbre, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and others prominent guests — and learn more about their lives and work.
Club leaders aim to enhance its fellowship program during the 2023-24 academic year. The club and EGC are also exploring a proposal for a Certificate in Development Economics at Yale College, which would offer students a structured, multidisciplinary pathway to explore development economics and its real-world applications.
They’re hoping to expand practical experiences for members, including possible internships created through partnerships with organizations like the EGC and Inclusion Economics — a policy-oriented research initiative with branches in India, Nepal, and at Yale that promotes inclusive institutions, economies, and societies. They’re also considering collaborations with student groups at other universities, including in India and Cuba.
“The upcoming year promises to be transformative for the SPF, its members, and the broader Yale community,” said Mangalmurti.