Each day that Peter Kusek, C'01, enters his place of work, the World Bank Group (WBG) in Washington, DC, he sees the words “Our Dream is a World Free of Poverty” carved in stone, an enduring testament to the nature of the issue and to the elusive solution.

Peter Kusek, C'01
Slovakia
World Bank Group, Washington, DC

Each day that Peter Kusek, C'01, enters his place of work, the World Bank Group (WBG) in Washington, DC, he sees the words “Our Dream is a World Free of Poverty” carved in stone, an enduring testament to the nature of the issue and to the elusive solution.

For Kusek, the search for a solution to that problem and the nature of global citizenship are linked to the same idea: connection. Global citizenship “means taking a keen interest in and concern for what is happening in our world...It also entails an understanding and appreciation that our actions in one country affect citizens of other countries, and conversely, actions elsewhere in the world affect us. And it is very personal, and it affects our daily lives.” As he sees it, our actions are interconnected “economically - through what we buy; culturally - through where we travel and with whom we engage through social media; politically - through how our elected representatives interact with their counterparts in other parts of the world; and environmentally - through how much energy we consume, how much trash we produce, and what we eat.” We don’t live in a bubble; our actions affect others in ways we may never fully know - including poverty. Kusek, a native of the former Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia) with eight languages at his fingertips (with skills ranging from native - Slovak - to basic - Bengali), is well equipped to see this bigger picture.

His time at Sewanee set the tone for what was to come. While it’s easy to think that small-town life can be limiting, Kusek was not bound by Sewanee’s borders; he connected with the wider world. He spent a semester abroad in Germany; one summer, he traveled to St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia as part of the Biehl Program of International Studies (now the Biehl International Research Fellowship), where he “analyzed the effectiveness of Russia’s university programs in business, economics, and finance”; and another summer, with the support of the Tonya program, which provides funding for students who accept unpaid internships, he interned with the Ministry of Finance of the Czech Republic. His coursework across the liberal arts, including his economics major, “provided unique insights into the functioning of a human mind, which [he] has found critical for understanding the causes and possible solutions to various global issues”; combined with his summer internships, this helped to pave the way to his first job out of college with the DC-based think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), working on economic reforms in East and Central Europe.

After his job at CSIS, Kusek went on to graduate school at Princeton, earning a Master in Public Affairs in Economic Policy and International Development, and continued his international work, often better connecting people to their communities and to jobs. In Tanzania, he volunteered with the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA), working “to increase the effectiveness of FINCA’s microfinance programs.” In Bangladesh, he “developed a study on constraints to scaling up women enterprises from micro to SME [Small and Medium Enterprises] level” and made policy recommendations, among other things. Since his graduation from Princeton, he has worked at the World Bank and does an array of things there, including “leading the Applied Research Program on global investment at the WBG Macroeconomics, Trade, and Investment Global Practice.” 

Directly and indirectly, Peter Kusek’s work influences thousands - perhaps millions - of people. He led the publication of WBG’s Global Investment Competitiveness Report 2017-2018, which “has been downloaded over 25,000 times by users in more than 180 countries.” He has been cited in media such as The Economist, The Guardian, and the Deutsche Presse, among others, and he presents at conferences such as the G20 and WTO. A recent project in Ethiopia has led the government there to make reforms related to fiscal incentives. 

With such a wide reach, it would be easy to lose sight of the small picture, the individuals behind the numbers. For Kusek, however, that’s at the fore: global citizenship means to “[d]eeply and sincerely treat all people with utmost respect regardless of where they come from, what...their socio-economic background [is], and what they do.” In one morning, he talked to a laid-off executive working at a grocery store to “clear his head,” a Pakistani chemistry-professor-turned-Uber-drive, and an Indian manager at WBG who went from working the fields in India to being the first in her family to graduate from college. “All this is to say that the paths of our lives are diverse and unpredictable. We need to treat each other with respect.” And that’s what Peter Kusek does. 

Although his work focuses on finance, investment, and economics, it’s all in the service of people, of humans living their lives all around the world. “A World Free of Poverty” is a lofty goal but one well worth working towards. “I keep on my pin board at work a random picture of a group of 3 school kids somewhere in Africa,” Kusek wrote. “They are wearing rugged clothes. Their hands are muddy. They are smiling and giggling. They are being kids. The photo reminds me that the aim of our work is to improve the lives and livelihoods of generations to come.”