“I think as an entrepreneur, in the tech field specifically, there is a necessity of knowing the current regulatory landscape. That is a piece of the innovation puzzle that no aspiring tech entrepreneur can afford to ignore.”

Jeffery Gao, C’19, W’19, wants to be at the forefront of using technology to promote social welfare. For him, understanding public policy — the political environment in which innovation occurs — is a key component in getting there.

“I think as an entrepreneur, in the tech field specifically, there is a necessity of knowing the current regulatory landscape,” Jeffery said. “That is a piece of the innovation puzzle that no aspiring tech entrepreneur can afford to ignore.”

Jeffery’s interest in entrepreneurship began at a young age. While still in high school, he founded IonicTechnology.ca, an e-commerce and wholesaling business for mobile data transfer technology. The company utilized search engine optimization and targeted marketing to generate thousands of sales across six countries.

Now at Penn, he is a member of YouthHack Philly, an organization that aims to empower high school and college students to create new, marketable technologies for the social good. As the head of YouthHack’s Freshstart Program, he works with young entrepreneurs to develop their ideas into viable business plans.

A rising junior, Jeffery is pursuing a dual degree in finance at Wharton and international relations at the College. “Because I’m not a programmer, I felt that gaining a better understanding of the policy environment would allow me to work in the industry I want, but in a more unconventional way,” he said.

That’s why Jeffery joined the Public Policy Research Scholars (PPRS) program, an interdisciplinary certificate program run by the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative. It’s designed for undergraduates with a background in economics who want to explore the impact of U.S. public policy on the domestic economy.

The Connection Between Innovation and Policy

Since joining PPRS, Jeffery said he has become more aware of the importance that policy plays in encouraging technological innovation and more attuned to the way some of the most innovative companies in the United States actively pursue their objectives in relation to the policy climate.

Jeffery felt the program’s focus on the quantitative analysis of public policy at the federal level would be the perfect complement to his study of international relations with a focus on international political economy and trade.

“An international relations degree gives a strong cultural and theoretical basis for understanding government actions, but it lacks the quantitative training that allows for measuring the economic impact of laws and regulations — a skill the PPRS program emphasizes,” he said. “By taking part in the PPRS curriculum, I hope to be able to interpret numbers and connect them to regulations, policy, and government action.”

Gaining Real World Experience

In fact, that’s exactly what Jeffery is doing this summer as an intern with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. He is working with their team in data gathering, evaluation, and reporting on various global programs and initiatives that are driving Mastercard’s inclusive growth strategy. An independent subsidiary of Mastercard, the center’s mission is to advance equitable and sustainable economic growth and financial inclusion around the world.

They are partnering with leading economists and institutions to better understand the drivers of inclusion and growth, and advance actionable insights that guide decision-making. Jeffery will help to build the center’s network database and provide research and landscape assessment on various global players in the financial inclusion field.

“I want to be able to synthesize the gathered data into a cohesive and coherent format to inform and drive those to take action in regards to equitable and inclusive growth in developing countries,” he said. “I’m hoping that in this role I will gain a better understanding of how businesses can create tangible social change while creating value for their stakeholders.”

Posted: June 9, 2017

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