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Sarah Polen

Sarah Polen ’00: International development projects

Sarah Polen has worked at the Urban Institute since she graduated from the School, providing technical support for international projects in housing, local-government reform and municipal development.

On a U.S. government–funded development project in the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Armenia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, Polen assessed the feasibility of using market mechanisms to provide permanent housing to people who lost their homes in a severe earthquake in 1988.

This project provided vouchers, redeemable at local banks, that were used to buy apartments and houses for sale on the private real estate market. “On a typical day,” Polen says, “I discussed housing prices with the governor of Shirak Marz, theories of imperfect markets with my Armenian coworkers and financial regulation with an account manager at a local bank.”

Polen identifies the people she studied with as one of the most important benefits of the MBA/Master of International Affairs dual-degree program: “They not only helped me identify prospective organizations to work for, but also provided moral support and encouragement to pursue my goals when I was concerned about focusing my job search in a sector that offers beginning salaries of less than half my graduate school debt.” Polen was awarded a Public and Nonprofit Assistance Grant, which helps graduates balance career goals and financial responsibilities. “By giving me the means to pay off a portion of my debt, the award has guaranteed that I will be able to continue to pursue my career goals in the nonprofit sector.”

Polen is now based in Washington, D.C., where she continues to work on international development projects, focusing most recently on housing and local government reform in the Balkans.

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