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Dr Eduardo Hernandez-Salazar

Dr Eduardo Hernandez-Salazar is a senior leader with 20+ years of professional experience, currently transitioning into an academic career after having graduated with a PhD in international development studies in 2017 in Canada.

His research explores unconventional approaches to development, building on a Wittgensteinian ontological and epistemological framing of the social sciences. The findings of this work will be presented in a forthcoming book entitled Development as Limits. At the Intellectual Forum, Eduardo’s research focuses on how our choices about language impact our ability to understand and manage the process of socio-economic and political progress, particularly as it relates to the sustainable management of our environment and the other assets that constitute the wealth of nations.

Eduardo has held director positions at the International Rescue Committee in New York, as well as at The Jane Goodall Institute’s headquarters in Virginia. Previously, he had a long career at the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C. where he served as a senior specialist in development effectiveness. Eduardo has worked as well as an evaluation expert for several organizations of the United Nations; advised non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on development effectiveness matters; and led his country’s—Costa Rica—investment and export promotion efforts in North America and in the Caribbean, respectively. Before his career focus shifted to international development, Eduardo held senior management positions at several multinational corporations, both in Costa Rica and in the United States. His initial academic background is in management, holding both a BSc and an MBA in International Business.

What are you working on now?

Our system of national accounts needs urgent revision, not only in view of the current issue of global warming but in view of broader environmental and human issues that are becoming more and more relevant. My research is applying Robert Luca’s Nobel Prize-winning insight about the need to anchor our understanding of an economy on its micro-foundations, to analyse the ways in which our top-down approach towards solving global warming remain disconnected from our bottom-up actions, leading to an overall ineffective dealing with the environmental crisis.

How has your career to date led to this?

It has been a mix of accident and design; a bumpy ride for sure! I always wanted to be an economist but being limited by the practicalities of growing up in Costa Rica, I chose management. After a 10 year career in the private sector, I had the chance to transition into the international development field via an exciting role promoting foreign direct investment. This led to a long career at the World Bank and several NGOs. In 2013, I decided I wanted to move to academia so I packed my bags and went to Canada to do a PhD in international development. I graduated at the end of 2017 and then took a year off to write my book, Development as Limits. In the book, I offer a conceptual framework on which a revision to our system of national accounts and other economic measurements could be anchored.

What one thing would you most want someone to learn from what you’ve done or are doing now?

Actually, there are three interconnected things I feel are important. First, that categorising countries into developed and developing, is nonsensical; what we have is not a distinction in overall quality but of degree: poverty in better-off nations might be less prevalent but it can be even more heartbreaking than that in worse-off ones. Development is a never-ending process as it is evolution and none of us can escape from it. Second, that as biological beings we are built to make efficient use of scarce resources. As a consequence, we are built to move things into ‘autopilot’ mode because it saves precious resources not to have to think and re-evaluate every decision over and over again. Language is one of the tools that allows us to do this, and language includes not only the written word but the quantitative ways by which we represent our economy, our societies, and our political processes. We can’t assume that these language choice are always faithful to the underlying truth. Continuously questioning our language choices might not be individually feasible but it is, for sure, an unavoidable and desirable social task. Third, and finally, that we must thrive to keep our individual and collective actions connected. Despite the apparent current uproar about the environmental crisis we are in, every year we are adding about 60 million fossil-fuelled automobiles to our existing fleet. Even if a million people are out there in the streets pushing for political action, a bigger number of people are saying something different through their consumption choices. We can’t blame only private companies or governments because we are also active participants through our daily consumption choices. Union, not division, will get the job done.

What do you think of Jesus College and the Intellectual Forum?

I have felt at home since the day I arrived! The most evident reason is, of course, that the College is beautiful and lends itself as an inspiring and cosy setting for thinking, writing, and having stimulating conversations. However, the most important reason is its people! Everyone, particularly at the Intellectual Forum, has been so welcoming and thoughtful. Being here has allowed me to further my research and to collaborate with others in ways that I did not even expect.


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