INTERVIEW with Hélène Djoufelkit: "A school of life"

Published on September 5, 2023 Updated on September 5, 2023

on the April 8, 2022

Some career paths of CERDI alumni. Interview with Hélène Djoufelkit, Director of the Economie Diagnostics and Public Policies department at the French Development Agency (AFD).

INTERVIEW : Hélène Djoufelkit "A school of life"

Why did you choose CERDI during your studies? 

I was determined to study at CERDI. I actually changed direction for that. I was in HEC preparatory class in Lyon when I found out about CERDI thanks to a special issue of L'Étudiant. I discovered its course in economics applied to development, and it really interested me a lot. In parallel with the business school competitive examinations that I sat, I took the CERD I exam and chose CERD I. I arrived with the equivalent of a bachelor degree without having done a DEUG (undergraduate diploma) but with an exemption from Patrick Guillaumont. I was not there at all by chance. I was extremely determined, I liked it a lot. I was interested in the course, be it in Clermont Ferrand or elsewhere. 

CERDI was more than a school, it was truly "a school of life." Beyond a place of learning, it is a place of conviviality and cohesion. I remember that there were only a few of us, thanks to the recruitment of small classes through competitive examinations. We were all, or almost all, "foreigners" in Clermont Ferrand. lt was extremely convivial. Relationships are extremely important. At CERDI, we forge relationships worldwide, and as soon as we do missions, we can be hosted all over the world by someone who has passed through the school. This is what impressed me. lt's a big family. lt is a state of mind, and it is mainly intended to form a large network. 

Then there are also all the actions that we carried out in addition to training for development. We had links with very active associations. We talked about African literature, and we sent books to Africa. There was a lot of energy and positive spirit that came out of all the activities. I hope that CERDI has many more years ahead of it! 

Finally, studying at CERDI opens up the possibility of traveling. Travel is a real plus. You must be aware of this opportunity, CERDI is a place unlike any others. You have to make the most of it. Afterwards, with hindsight, I tell myself that we don't necessarily have these opportunities any more. 

What role does CERDI play in international research? 

There is CERDI but also FERDI, which acts as a think tank, and the Labex. lt's quite a project. Ail this results in an extremely active pole of international development research with a twofold dimension: influence and teaching. 

Through FERDI, the government finances strategic research to give France the means to have influence independently and sustainably on international development issues with strategic dimensions and increasingly on sustainable development. 

The teaching component is extremely active, with initial training courses and specializations on training for executives from Southern countries. This teaching component generates a lot of influence. CERDI has trained generations of African executives. This is part of France' s influence on the topics of development economics and public policy with an important macroeconomic dimension. In general, CERDI alumni are found in ministries of finance or central banks, in key positions of macroeconomic decision-making. We are very present in international forums. When I was stationed in Washington, I led the network of CERDI alumni, we were about 50 at the IMF and the World Bank! lt is a fairly extensive network in its disciplinary field of international macroeconomics and development.

What are your research topics? 

At the time, I was one of the few French development economists focusing on Egypt. CERDI was not very open to the Middle East, it worked much more on Africa. CERDI opened up little by little, creating a China Masters degree and developing more research on the Middle East and Latin America. The research has progressively expanded in scope. What I remember is the excellence of the teaching in macroeconomics. CERDI is not "Development Studies." lt is cutting-edge economic training applied to development. I think it's very good to have strong fundamentals, to have a very specific know-how. 

When I was in Cairo, I was in a multidisciplinary research center and having the contributions of other disciplines interested me a lot. Without straying too far from my initial expertise, it provides strength. You can't be very well trained in several disciplines, but you can surround yourself with very well trained people. This is what I apply in my research department at AFD. I have a team of people who are extremely specialized in their fields, but who corne from different disciplines. Certainly, there are many economists, there are modelers, but we also have demographers, sociologists, and geographers. People who are extremely well trained in their discipline and who work together, this is what gives a navel result, and which makes it possible to move forward on research themes that may be broader than if we only had economists. It is this wealth that makes CERDI. CERDI is synonymous with excellent research in international macroeconomics and development recognized by international bodies. 

How do you put this into practice in the field? 

Concerning AFD's research, I have a mandate that is quite new, beyond the production of research, we want to put research at the service of public policy dialog. If we do research on Morocco or Niger, we co-develop it with the panner country. 

I now refuse to embark on a research project completely initiated from Paris. Our agents on site must confirm its relevance. When we engage in this exercise of public policy dialog, the authorities must also confirm the relevance of the subject. Once the subject has been clearly defined, we work with local researchers, in the field and on empirical dimensions. Discussion groups must then be set up with relevant stakeholders. For Tunisia, for example, we worked on territorial inequalities with the Tunisian authorities, with the Ministry of Social Affairs, trade unions, other ministries, etc. 

We genuinely try to bring together as many representative actors as possible so that they can discuss the intermediate results and react to them. So that, this research participates not only in its production but in dialog through its very development process. For us, it is important, and it's a long-term job, it's how we work. We do not provide very high-level advice to ministerial offices without involving researchers. We are here to strengthen the capacities of researchers and to put expertise at the heart of public policies, to provide tools for decision-making. Decisions that may or may not be made by decision-makers.