Georgetown Senior, Technology and International Development Researcher Wins 2022 Rhodes Scholarship

Technology and international development

Majoring in Science, Technology and International Affairs at the Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS), Gupta immersed himself in international development studies. He was keen to learn how government agencies, global nonprofits, and other international development institutions could impact local economies through technology. He also majored in Mandarin Chinese and minored in Computer Science.

Alongside his studies, Gupta joined Georgetown Global Consulting (GGC), a student-run non-profit organization that provides consulting services to NGOs. There he trained project managers and helped implement a methodology that streamlined GGC’s operations and met customer requirements.

During his freshman year in Georgetown, Gupta worked at the university’s Research and Grants Center, where he met Lauren Tuckley, the center’s director. Shortly after his appointment, Tuckley urged him to pursue one of the grants her center recommends.

“I could see that he was already thinking about life after Georgetown and how he could work in technology and international relations to make a difference in the world – that’s what excited me about him: he’s absolutely motivated to keep going mission-oriented work,” says Tuckley. “To this day I place him in the top two students, among a number of simply outstanding students who have worked for me.”

From research to politics

As a research associate for the Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development and Evaluation, Gupta collected data to inform the allocation of community development funds in Kenya.

As an intern at the World Bank, he experienced international developments at first hand. After a few stints at other international affairs research organizations, he recognized the opportunity for multilateral institutions to support and scale new technologies and start-ups to advance the common good.

In 2021, Gupta received the Paul F. Pelosi Scholarship, which funds a full-time summer internship in public service. He did an internship at the US Department of State’s Office of West African Affairs, where he authored the Department’s first briefing paper on Nigeria’s digital economy.

As part of his research, Gupta interviewed a Zimbabwean entrepreneur who had set up a start-up providing identification services to millions of Africans but was facing an uphill struggle to scale and get funding. He saw that other local entrepreneurs were facing the same challenges.

“The international development sector is slowly embracing digital technologies, but these technologies are often imported from the West and implemented top-down,” says Gupta. “These entrepreneurs are building tools that can create tremendous change, especially in development communities, and I want to help development institutions embrace this.”

Troy D. Fitrell, US Ambassador to Guinea and former State Department director, was impressed by Gupta’s contributions and said his paper helped shape US policy on Nigeria’s digital economy ahead of the annual US-Nigeria bilateral commission inform.

“Atharv embraced the mission of the Governing Board and the department and lived up to the team’s high standard of excellence,” says Fitrell. “With his expertise in technology and international development, Atharv brought his strong perspective to our office and used his own knowledge to guide many policy decisions. I have maintained a relationship with Atharv because he has an intellectual curiosity that is important to engage with and he continues to offer useful insights.”

According to Rhodes, Gupta hopes to build a career in international aid, helping institutions harness the power of technology, just as he learned growing up.

“If technology has the potential to spread agency around the world, then my main question to the Rhodes and Oxford community is where that agency is most needed,” says Gupta. “Surrounding myself with changemakers who are ‘fighting the world’s struggles’ means surrounding myself with the most complex problems facing humankind to understand where this niche of innovators could make the biggest difference if they is equipped with the right support.”

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