Barbara Dutzler has been a Senior Economist at the JVI for the last three years. She spoke with JVI Newsletter staff about her experience and views on the JVI and Vienna, on her achievements and new challenges.
Barbara, you worked for three years as a Senior Economist at the JVI. Can you please give an overview of your role and key activities during this period?
As a Senior Economist, I was part of a team of seven economists, who contribute to delivering the JVI’s training program and developing the curriculum, and engage in other activities such delivering webinars, conducting research, or participating in technical assistance. Out of these responsibilities, for me, teaching was at the core. While the JVI courses cover a broad range of economic topics, in line with my background and specialization, I mostly delivered courses in the fiscal area. Key topics in this regard were sound fiscal institutions, debt sustainability and public financial management (PFM) reform questions. It goes without saying that with the COVID-19 pandemic, fiscal policy questions came back to the forefront, and long-standing pertinent advice such as the need to strengthen rules-based fiscal frameworks, adopt a long-term perspective, ensure good public investment governance, soundly manage fiscal risks, or put a primer on fiscal transparency, was reinvigorated.
I contributed to course development by setting up a new JVI course on current issues of tax policy and tax administration, the Future of Tax course, a collaborative undertaking with the Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance (Tax Division), Economic University of Vienna (Tax Institute), the Vienna University, and the IMF (Fiscal Affairs Department), which was successfully delivered this year for the second time. Another course I helped develop is Future of Work, which the JVI delivers together with the International Labor Organization.
Other topics I am particularly interested in are structural reforms and inclusive growth, as these touch upon my previous experience as technical advisor on PFM reforms in developing countries. Being course director, e.g. for Tools and Policies for Inclusive Growth, was a very rewarding and demanding role, as I was responsible for its overall design as well as ensuring the course delivers on its objectives. It enabled me to interact with all participants, lecturers, and contributors, which was a hugely enriching experience. This engagement also spurred my participation in an important IMF project, the soon to be published book on How to Achieve Inclusive Growth. It was a great opportunity for me to delve deeply into the topic of political economy in a comprehensive manner, explore the limits of our knowledge, and discuss findings and conclusions with Fund colleagues and renowned academics.
Finally, leading an IMF technical assistance mission on debt sustainability was fascinating. It entailed a lot of hard work, but I was impressed by the interest and commitment of the participants, as well as the support and team spirit of my IMF colleagues. There is so much to learn and understand, and it is but a truism that there is as much to teach as to be taught by peers.
How would you describe your work experience at the JVI?
First, let me start by saying that I greatly enjoyed working at JVI. It’s a very special place, a happy ensemble of IMF expertise and teaching input, Austrian commitment and sharing of experience, and a broad range of technical input and supporting contributions by our core contributing members and partners. This comes together in the best possible way, allowing JVI to deliver a core body of knowledge while inspiring innovation— truly enriching experience.
Naturally, changing from classroom teaching and intense two-week courses to a purely virtual teaching environment was not easy at all. I have to admit that I felt a real loss, not seeing my colleagues, not meeting the course participants in person, but being confined to online conversations. At the same time, the need to adapt opened up new avenues, and I am very proud of the “can-do” attitude that allowed the JVI to put up a system for online teaching and organize webinars quickly, in our usual, highly professional, way of working.
Was there a specific highlight for you during this period? Any anecdote you would like to share?
Although most of my time at JVI was characterized by the pandemic environment, the most intense moments I had happened during teaching face to face in my first year. One memorable incidence occurred at a Financial Programming and Policies course, where the country case focused on Georgia. The sub-group of participants I supported as a counsellor decided that as a reward for all the intense work effort, the group would end the course with a visit to a Georgian restaurant. I was happy to provide a good address for this endeavor. However, when on our last day of the course, we gathered outside the restaurant, it was closed on this particular day. We agreed this did not denote a rejection of the group’s policy advice, but rather an invitation to broaden our horizons, and we concluded the course in a nearby, non-Georgian, restaurant.
What are you looking forward to after the JVI?
I am leaving with mixed feelings. It was great to have a teaching and research focus, to update myself with new knowledge on fiscal policy and PFM, IMF tools and policies, and insights from practitioners on the field. I highly appreciated the time and opportunity to read and digest, debate with peers, and reconsider policy options and practical approaches. Finally, having worked and lived in Montenegro, it was a great pleasure to reconnect with the region.
After three years, however, I long to go back to the field to try and make a difference. As I am moving to Zambia, I will be embracing the positivity and sense of optimism coming from the recent elections and regime change. As an old-timer once told me, Africa definitely got under my skin, and I am looking forward to returning to the continent.
What will you miss the most from Vienna?
There is no doubt that Vienna is one of the most livable cities on earth. This list is literally endless. For me, it starts with nature like Wienerwald (the forests surrounding Vienna) or public parks like the Prater, where I loved to spend time with kids and friends; the super-efficient public transport that allowed me to not own a car; the richness of cultural offers, including my all-time favorite cinema festival (Viennale); or that special allure of grumpy old-school coffee-house waiters. But, as it is home, I will most certainly be back.
Barbara Dutzler, Senior Economist, Joint Vienna Institute