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Updated: Mon, 07/15/2024 - 16:07

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Meet Our MPPs: Rebecca Kresta

Mechanical engineer turned humanitarian logistician, Rebecca aims to bridge the gap between technical expertise and policymaking.

Not many graduate students have "built a hospital" on their résumé, but for Rebecca Kresta, mechanical engineer turned humanitarian logistician with Doctors Without Borders, it's another opportunity to make a meaningful impact. Rebecca became interested in public policy as a complementary balance to her technical expertise, hoping to contribute to sustainable development initiatives. At Max Bell, she's been involved with the Research Network on Women, Peace and Security, coordinated with fellow MPPs Pallawi Anand and Jamil Tanimu to host ambassadors from the Global South, and quietly assisted with program improvements, the fall trip to Ottawa, and more for her cohort.

Q: First question, what were you doing before Max Bell and what led you to apply to an MPP? 

Before coming to Max Bell, I was a humanitarian logistician, working for Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan. Specifically, I was responsible for a wide range of program support elements: air operations security, ICT electricity, and the major project we were working on was building a remote hospital. Prior to that, I was working in aviation manufacturing in Quebec. 

Q: What led you to apply for a Master of Public Policy and why did you choose the Max Bell School? 

This answer has evolved as I've been in the program, because I've learned a bit more about it. What I said before I arrived is that I had seen so many broken governance systems – because I also worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Malawi – and I wanted to understand how, in a theoretical sense, we could build functional governance systems.

I said at that time, “Okay, if laws tell us what we shouldn't do, public policy tells us what we should do, and helps us decide how to respond to complex challenges.” I'm an engineer, which is applied sciences, and I've realized that public policy is applied humanities, so it's a nice balance to my undergrad. 

Why Max Bell? I love the intensity of the program. I'm blown away by the network that the School has and the community that it brings together. The professors and the speakers that come in and are interested in talking with us is great. The metaphor that I use to describe this degree is it's like a flight of beer. You get a little sampling of a lot of different things in quick succession. And then in your life, you get to decide what you want to order more of. 

Q: With your mechanical engineering background and recent work in logistics, how do you plan to apply your technical expertise to address societal issues? 

Technical experts have a set of understanding and knowledge, and policy professionals have a set of perspectives, and there can sometimes be a gap in between those – either policies get rolled out that aren't informed by the technical piece, or technical people don't know how to write a brief in a way that it can be absorbed into the policy process. I'd love to do a bit of that translation function. 

One of the things that I became frustrated with or excited about at different times is that we know what the technological solutions are – like, solving cholera is actually not that hard, we know how to build water and sanitation systems – but where we get blocked is in creating organizations and governance structures that enable us to implement technology. 

Q: In your opinion, what policy areas or initiatives should governments and international organizations prioritize to better support infrastructure? 

Unsurprisingly, that answer is context dependent. In active conflict zones, it can be a bit futile to invest in infrastructure. So, I think that there is a first step of attaining a certain level of political stability. Then, when you have reached a certain level – it doesn't have to be perfect, but a certain level – of political stability, the economic potential that infrastructure unlocks is so important.  

My first year in South Sudan, I spent managing airplanes and trying to get supplies into the place where we were, because all the roads were flooded, washed out, not maintained, and the vendors in the local market were doing the same thing. We were cut off from other places. The following year, when I came back, the roads were open. The growth that happened just as a result of that was incredible: the market was vibrant, there were products that I hadn't seen there before. When systems are in place that allow people to be resilient, ingenious, and entrepreneurial, they'll use them. When development is collaborative and localized, it’s a respectful approach. Those would be the places that I would focus on. 

Q: What do you like about your MPP experience in Montreal so far? 

So many things! Top three things that I love about the MPP: the intensity and diversity; the network, both at the staff and professor level and at the student level; and the support that we get from the program. I feel really supported here and that is incredibly valuable to me and enables the intensity to work.

I love to be physically active. I biked all through the winter, which was incredibly fun. And, like, coming back to what I love about the program – we're encouraging each other to do a marathon, so I started running more seriously. I also read a lot – one of the commitments I made prior to going into this program was I was going to continue to read for pleasure, not just for coursework. And I have!


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