Executive MPA Gabriela Andrade brings an engineer’s tools to public management

Recipient of the Scholarship for Public Servants in Brazil funded by República.org focuses on digitalisation and human resources. 

A civil engineer by training, Gabriela Andrade brings the strength of a pragmatic problem-solver to her project management role in the People Management Secretariat of the Brazilian Federal Government. So in taking time off to join the Hertie School’s Executive Master of Public Administration programme since fall 2019, Gabriela has been especially fascinated by the political angle on solving big public problems that some of her fellow Executive MPAs brought to their class debates.

That has made her think differently about how she will approach her job when she returns to Brazil after completing the programme in 2021. In Brazil, Gabriela notes, the environment is quite politicised, and the bureaucratic bodies need strengthening to have a more active voice in decision-making. She hopes to play a role in that when she returns.  “When you are working in public administration, it’s not enough to just have good technical arguments and show the positive results to sell innovative solutions and projects.  You need to assess how they would work in a much bigger picture, and, when advising, consider the level of politicisation and the political context.”

Indeed, there are a good many voices to be heard in the Brazilian bureaucracy: Gabriela’s agency is responsible for managing 600,000 Brazilian civil servants – handling the second largest primary expenditure of the Brazilian government. Fourteen years into working in public administration, Gabriela found she had gained many new skills and work perspectives – in compliance, accountability, control and risk management. But it was project management, something her work on big infrastructure projects as a civil engineer had prepared her for, that interested her most.

As General-Coordinator of Workforce Dimension and Allocation, Gabriela has coordinated the implementation of a model to distribute the government workforce more efficiently. She notes that even as new technologies are dramatically altering the workplace, government agencies continue to replace each retiring worker with another in the same job, without thinking how trends like digitalisation may affect the future of work. About 40% of public servants are slated to retire in the coming decade – an issue Brazil faces, as do other countries like Germany, Gabriela notes. And Brazil is also grappling with stretched budgets and the need for fiscal tightening.

A good match

Looking around for an executive programme that would improve both her theoretical and practical skills, Gabriela heard from a friend about the Hertie School in Berlin – and about a scholarship offered in conjunction with the Brazilian foundation República.org, specifically for Brazilian public servants interested in human resource management. “I feel like my professional background is very closely aligned to their objectives. When I learned about their works, I discovered we had a lot in common. Like me, República.org thinks public servants can transform Brazil,” she says. The foundation is a non-partisan, non-corporate entity that trains and empowers civil servants.

Gabriela was especially drawn to the Hertie School’s interdisciplinary approach, the flexibility to design a course load tailored to her interests, and the possibility to study an area of emerging importance for public administration – digitalisation and the use of big data. “In Brazil, we have this challenge of doing more with less. The Brazilians have been asking for a more productive public service, so we need to increase efficiency in the public sector. Digitalisation is expected to help face the issue of enhancing organisational capacity in the public sector. That is one of the reasons I was interested in the Executive MPA, and more specifically in one of its three different concentrations – which is digitalisation and big data.” The Hertie School recently founded a new research centre, the Centre for Digital Governance, which focuses on the implications of the digital transformation for policymakers. The school has made digital governance one of five key challenges it will focus on in the future, for example in courses such as “Artificial Intelligence for Decision-Makers” and in founding a new Data Science Lab.

Peer learning

Some of the problems Gabriela has faced as a public administrator are similar to those of her fellow students, even though they come from vastly different backgrounds and their countries face different economic and political situations. “When I discuss with a student from Singapore, which is a very small country with a very efficient public administration, I see that our perspectives are very different. I can also see the role of culture in decision-making and this is definitely a very enriching process that I will also use in my day to day work, even just being able to listen and to understand very different points of view.”

Peer learning is a big part of the Executive MPA – the chance to exchange views with mid-career professionals from different academic, career, or geographical backgrounds. Students in the programme come from all over the world. “Some people come from a country that is totally different to mine. So when I think about a problem, maybe I'm thinking about very different perspectives and variables for the same problem,” says Gabriela. “At the same time, we also see that sometimes different countries have similar problems. My friend from Georgia, for example, recently worked in administrative reform in her country. So we've been discussing similar problems regarding people management. And I could see that they have different solutions.”

Gabriela says these kinds of discussions, fresh ideas and access to practitioners and top-notch skills training have given her some excellent tools for sensitising her superiors at the political level back in Brazil to the advantages of the projects she is selling. But she also expects to apply these experiences on a far more elemental level. “I can see how when you understand the whole policy process, it can change each small decision in your day-to-day job,” she says. ”It has been relevant to me to understand and learn about how the level of politicisation can influence advisory services in government. I work on project management, so I'm always in the position of advising for the Secretariat where I work.” 

Learn more about the Executive Master of Public Administration.