UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


Meet the future of public value: Spotlight on MPA student… Gwendolyn Casazza

26 November 2020

Introducing Gwendolyn Casazza, 2020-21 Master of Public Administration (MPA) student at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP). We get to know more about her, while discussing public value and why she chose IIPP and our MPA.

Spotlight on Gwendolyn Casazza

What were you doing before you joined the IIPP MPA?
I was part of a UK local government transformation team, working to expand public sector capacity and capability to meet complex social challenges through change and innovation. In this role, I led a place-based, systems change initiative focused on redesigning ‘upstream’ support for children under five. 

Why did you choose to apply to the IIPP MPA?
I joined the IIPP MPA to expand my thinking of what is possible to achieve through policymaking, and to build a new set of skills and competencies to increase the impact of my work. I also chose to apply to the IIPP MPA because there is no programme like it around. It’s focussed on exactly the kinds of mindsets, theories and practice that are needed to tackle the social challenges of our time.  

What challenges or topics around innovation, public policy and public value concern/interest you the most
For me it’s all about children. Throughout my career in US education reform and UK public sector transformation, I’ve been deeply committed to designing child-centred policy, places and systems for social change. Like the former Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa said, "Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people."

What do you hope to get out of the IIPP MPA?
I want to connect with people and organisations making the world a more just and equitable place. Professionally, I hope to open doors to UK-based values-driven organisations dedicated to social change policy and practice. Ideally, I’d like to stay within the public sector, but am open to opportunities in foundations, consultancies and think tanks. I’d also like to explore whether it’s feasible to establish my own practice close to home. 

Why do you believe it is important that we change how public value is imagined, practised and evaluated?
The current economic model is not working. It’s created stunning wealth for a select few at a huge social and environmental cost. In my corner of the world, people living in the most affluent ward in Cambridge are expected to live a decade longer than people living a few miles away in the least affluent ward of the city. The pandemic will likely worsen inequality. As Arundhati Roy brilliantly said, "the pandemic is a portal." This is our opportunity to redesign how public value is imagined and practiced so that more people can live with dignity.  

What is your favourite album, film or novel?

Jorge Drexler’s Salvavidas de hielo

Jorge Drexler’s Salvavidas de hielo. I’ve loved his music since Eco came out in 2004 and his amazing London concert was the last big public event I attended before the lockdown. 

If you had to remove one social media app from your phone, which would one would it be and why?
As much as I love staying on top of the news, I am sure deleting The Guardian news app would increase my peace of mind!

Who would be your top three dream dinner guests (dead or alive)?
My dream dinner experience would be with Frida Kahlo, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jorge Drexler. We’d cook together in Frida’s kitchen (she was an amazing cook in addition to being an exceptional artist), talk politics and social change at length, and dance and sing into the wee hours. I was born in Honduras. Although I only lived in Latin America until I was eight, it’s in my heart.

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Jorge Drexler
Jorge Drexler

If your fellow MPA students were to visit you in your city, where would you take them and what is a local dish they would have to try?
I live in the Cambridge area so punting is a must on warmer days. First, a stop at Cambridge’s market square to pick up locally grown and prepared treats. Then we’ll punt past the beautiful University of Cambridge college backs and end up at Grantchester for a riverside picnic. 

What is your life motto?
With inspiration from the Dalai Lama, "Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive."

Learn more about Gwendolyn

Learn more about the IIPP MPA