Making History in Paraguay

Four years after receiving her Ph.D. from Lehigh's College of Business and Economics, Lea Giménez '12 Ph.D. finds herself far from South Mountain serving her native country of Paraguay in a critical and unprecedented way—as Vice Minister of Economy in the country's prestigious Ministry of Finance.

In a country where women usually do not hold public decision-making and leadership roles, Giménez, who is married with two children, has made history as the first woman in Paraguay to hold the important position. "Most of the decision-making of the executive branch involves, in one way or another, the Ministry of Finance," the 35-year-old said.

Giménez is from Paraguay's capital city of Asunción. She said she always knew she would one day return to Paraguay from the United States.

"I have always wanted to contribute, but I knew that in order to do that I had to prepare well and learn a great deal," she said. "The decision to return last year was the result of a combination of two things. On the one hand, the fact that, like never before, positive things are happening in Paraguay; things that allow many people like myself, armed only with education, experience, and a great desire to work for the betterment of Paraguay, to have the opportunity to contribute.

"On the other hand, the fact that I have two small children and wanted them to have a chance to experience childhood with the extended family nearby played an important role in my decision."

About a year before returning to Paraguay, Giménez had introduced herself to the Minister of Finance via email and congratulated him on his appointment.

"It was a bold move, as I did not know him," Giménez said, "but I was truly excited to see that the government appointed a well-qualified person that had studied in the United States, worked in Washington, D.C., and was at the time of his appointment, like 70 percent of Paraguayans, younger than 35. He replied to my email and told me that Paraguay needed people like me."

The experience that Giménez brought with her included a four-year stint at the World Bank, first as a consultant and then as a staff economist. Associate professor of economics Chad Meyerhoefer, who co-advised Giménez's dissertation with professor of economics Shin-Yi Chou, said that competition for a job at the World Bank is fierce and that it's rare for a consultant to be hired into a staff position. That it happened to Giminéz is a "testament to her tenacity," he said.

At Lehigh, Giménez's dissertation, Shocks and the Opportunities of Children, received the Elizabeth B. Stout Dissertation Award, which is given to doctoral dissertations judged to make unusually significant and original contributions to their field. Her research interests included development, poverty, health and human capital.

Upon returning to Paraguay, Giménez started working as an international consultant for the World Bank, supporting the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning to undertake an analysis of the fiscal system and its impact on poverty and inequality.

"After a few months, the then-Vice Minister of Economy had decided to leave the job for personal reasons, and I was at the right place in the right moment," she recalled.

Giménez said her time at Lehigh helped her to become a well-rounded economist and provided a solid foundation for everything she has done since graduation.

"My dissertation and the applied econometrics courses I took at Lehigh prepared me well to work at the World Bank side-by-side with economists from the best economic programs from around the world," she said. "I can't say that getting a Ph.D. from Lehigh was easy, but the hard work was definitely worth it."

Story by Jennifer Marangos