Looking back on the Salus Populi Foundation's first year
by Daevan Mangalmurti and Bilal Moin
May 24, 2023
Economics has been the most popular major at Yale for more than a decade: in Fall 2022, one in ten Yale undergraduates was majoring in Econ. The university's expertise in the field is comprehensive, spanning everything from corporate finance to domestic policy and international development – the last of which is exemplified by the storied legacy of Economic Growth Center. But few Yale undergraduates studying economics go into development. Many pursue careers in banking, private equity, and management consulting. The allure of these paths is burnished by ubiquitous campus recruiters and the promise of lucrative salaries, and there are fewer visible guides to careers in economic development. That is a problem for a world with a pressing need for talented development thinkers.
In our first two years at Yale, we observed widespread interest in development but few pathways and mentors for pursuing those interests. Looking around campus, we also saw a plethora of clubs devoted to facilitating students’ interests in areas like finance and consulting. Why not create a student organization that could do the same for development? During the summer of 2022, five current Yale College juniors – the two of us, Bilal Moin and Daevan Mangalmurti, along with Jean Wang, Braden Wong, and Aryan Sehgal – devised a blueprint for a new organization. Our president, Bilal, who studies Economics, Mathematics and Global Affairs, gained experience as an intern at the EGC during his freshman summer.
We christened the new organization the Salus Populi Foundation (SPF). The name came from a maxim attributed to Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher: salus populi suprema lex esto, which translates to “the welfare of the people should be the supreme law.” The concept of “Salus Populi” encapsulates our aspirations: to encourage students with an interest in economics and development to explore their passions and to convince them of the profound fulfillment inherent in working on projects that can improve the lives of others at scale.
We decided on three pillars of the program: a fellowship program to introduce first-years to the principles of international development, a year-long speaker series to bring in prominent thinkers in development, and a long-term effort to make research and internship opportunities more widely known among the student body. We sent countless cold emails to economists around the globe, compiled extensive lists of opportunities in the field, and sought support from EGC. With the advice of Jillian Stallman, an Economics PhD candidate whose detailed feedback both demolished our plans and built them back up, we designed a 13-week fellowship curriculum that we would run for the first time during the fall of 2022.
Our year began with a booth at the fall Extracurricular Bazaar. Going in, we had anticipated 40 or so students expressing interest in our group. We ended up with 165 people signing up for the SPF newsletter. As we had hoped, there were students interested in learning more about development economics.
Our first task was getting first-years who might have a tentative interest in the field firmly hooked. We selected 10 students for our inaugural fellowship via a competitive application. Over the course of 13 weeks, we went over the ethics of international aid, analyzed the flaws of randomized controlled trials, and questioned the premise of endless growth. We were grateful to have EGC’s support throughout the process. They facilitated visits like that of Dr. Antonella Bancalari, a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, who discussed her work on infrastructure and development in Peru with our fellowship class in October. That month, SPF fellows were also invited by South Asian Studies Council to participate in a small lunch with Ramachandra Guha, the acclaimed Indian historian.
In November, EGC invited the fellows to a breakfast-and-learn with Barkha Dutt, a renowned Indian journalist. We welcomed Harvard Assistant Professor Jie Bai – who visited EGC as part of the Kuznets Visitors Program – for a small-group discussion on the microeconomics of firms in developing countries.