Nemat Shafik Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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Dr. Shafik, welcome to Berkeley.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Alexandria, in Egypt.
And how, in retrospect, do you think your parents shaped your character?
My parents were very different animals. My father was an Anglophone-trained scientist and my mother was a Francophone-trained literary type, and so that combination of empirical scientific rigor but at the same time being more human and earthy were a big part of my upbringing.
What got you interested in developmental economics?
I was born in Egypt, and when you live in a poor country, you're surrounded by poverty; and so that natural interest in why some people have and other people don't is always there. I guess the particular angle that I have on development comes from the fact that my family was nationalized, and when that occurred, I left as a child and was raised in the U.S. and didn't go back to Egypt until I was a teenager. But that experience of nationalization and struggling with the role of the state trying to take resources, to redistribute them, but at the same time not being very successful at it was a part of my childhood.
Was that a traumatic experience for you?
I was very young, I was four, but it left a strong legacy. My father in particular, I think, never got over that, having lost everything.
Where then were you educated?
As a child in the U.S., but graduate schools all in England.
You did a doctorate at Oxford; what did you do your doctorate on?
Well, funny enough, I did it on the role of the private sector and the public sector in Egypt, and so I was in some ways going back to that formative question from childhood. I actually went and did some high-tech econometric work, which was necessary to fulfill the requirements of a doctorate, but I also spent time visiting a hundred firms and actually went into factories and companies, trying to understand what it was that made the private sector decide to invest and what determined how they operated and how they interacted with the government.
These firms were in what country?
All in Egypt.
All in Egypt. Oh, so you actually went back to study the country of your birth.
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