Emil Stavrev, a CERGE-EI PhD graduate from 1999, shares his inspiring journey from engineering to economics in the new alumni interview, done by our current PhD student Mari Mtchedlishvili. As the Deputy Division Chief at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Emil discusses the valuable influence of his studies at CERGE-EI on his career trajectory. He also sheds light on some economic challenges that the IMF has been addressing in the post-COVID period.*
What led you to choose CERGE-EI for your doctoral studies? What parts of the program did you find most valuable, and how have they influenced your career trajectory?
To answer the first question, let me start by providing a bit of context to better understand why I had to switch to economics, from my engineering degree. Back in the early 1990s, when Eastern European countries started the transition towards market economies, many, including Bulgaria, my native country, experienced high degree of unemployment and a significant deindustrialization, in the aftermath of the collapse of socialism. Just as an example, the factory in my native town Sandanski, where I worked as an engineer, employed over 3000 people at the end of 1989. By 1993, while I was doing my PhD of Engineering at Sofia Technical University, its production collapsed, and it employed just over 350 people.
It became obvious to me that I should consider other professional opportunities, and I explored various options, including getting an economics degree from US universities. At that time, my wife mentioned to me that there was an ad on the Bulgarian National Radio about a PhD program in economics in Prague, called Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education. The ad noted that the program was a joined venture between Charles University in Prague, and US universities. The curriculum sounded very interesting and I decided to give it a shot.
On the second question, I liked all courses at CERGE, microeconomics, industrial organization, international trade, and notably macroeconomics. All proved to be very useful in my future career. Of course, macroeconomics was key for my current job, but the other courses helped me shape as an economist. Indeed, the rigorous education I got at CERGE, allowed me to get my first job as an advisor to the Chief Financial Officer at the Czech Telecom. After that, at the Czech National Bank, where I worked in the monetary section for over 5 years, and later on at the International Monetary Fund, where I have been for over 22 years now.
Before joining the International Monetary Fund, you had working experience at the Czech National Bank as a senior economist. Could you describe the differences between your role at the Czech National Bank and your current position as Deputy Division Chief at the IMF?
I had a great time at the Czech National Bank (CNB). While there are differences working as an economist at the CNB and at the Fund, both positions require strong knowledge of economics.
My job at the CNB was more narrowly focused—most of the analyses were related to monetary policy. For example, under the guidance of the then Unit Chief, Milan Klima, we were involved in the initial stages of introducing inflation targeting at the CNB. I led a small team which was responsible for putting in place macroeconomic models needed for operationalizing the new monetary policy regime. I had the privilege to learn a lot from my colleagues at the CNB, as well as external experts, including from the International Monetary Fund. This was a fun time at the CNB!
Work at the Fund has a much broader coverage of economic issues. Just by way of example, key core areas include fiscal, monetary policy, financial sector, external sector, and structural issues (for example, related to labor market reforms, institutional reforms, etc.). Moreover, our work has recently expanded to include issues related to climate change, gender gaps, and inequality. This allows the economists to broaden their knowledge immensely. Another specificity at the Fund is that assignments change every couple of years, which gives one the opportunity to work on countries with very different economic issues and constantly learn new things.
You started working at IMF in 2001. Could you walk us through your journey of obtaining your current position and how your studies at CERGE-EI prepared you for this role?
On the first part of your question. I started at the Fund in the European 2 department, as a desk economist working on Russia. After about 3 years, I moved from the largest emerging economy in the department, Russia, to be a desk on one of the smallest, Estonia. While working on Estonia, I have participated in missions to Finland, Latvia, and Armenia, working on different sectors. This was intensive, but also very interesting.
After Estonia, I moved to the European Department as a desk economist on the euro area and after that, I moved to the Multilateral Surveillance Division of the IMFs Research Department, where I got promoted to a Deputy Division Chief. I was leading the work on G-20 economies and at the same time, I did a one-off mission to Iceland, assessing the IMF’s program with the country, as a part of an internal process of assessing IMF’s program engagement with member states. My area of responsibility in the Multilateral Surveillance Division was wide and very interesting.
After having spent over 6 years in the IMF’s Research Department, I moved back to the European Department. I joined as a Deputy Division Chief of the Emerging Economies Unit, where my responsibility was regional surveillance of European Economies. A few years ago, I was appointed Mission Chief for Luxembourg and after that I got a second assignment as a Mission Chief for Norway. I have led 5 Article IV consultations for Luxembourg, and I will soon have my second consultation with Norway. Both countries have very interesting and unique economic issues, and I have enjoyed working on both of them.
On the second part of your question, I am grateful for the robust knowledge I received at CERGE. The strong economics courses, both macro and micro, have been very valuable during my entire career, not only at the Fund but also at the CNB.
Could you give us an overview of some of the major economic challenges that the IMF has been addressing in the post-COVID period? What do you see as the most pressing policy concerns for countries around the world as they navigate the ongoing impacts of the pandemic?
There are short-term and longer-term challenges. Let me start with an example of a short-term challenge. In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic the challenge was how to recover the lost output during the pandemic. One example of how the Fund helped the countries in need is the established special lending tool (to lend member states most affected by the pandemic and in need of help) so that they can better deal with the impact of the pandemic.
There are also longer-term challenges. Let me provide a couple of examples. One is related to climate change and how to mitigate its impact on member states. This is particularly important for small emerging economies with high risk to climate change. Another important topic is how to close the gender gap and increase work potential across many economies. Yet another important topic is related to inequality, which has increased because of the COVID pandemic in many countries. So, what policies should be implemented for people across income groups to benefit more equally from growth is an important area for the Fund and the member states.
All these areas are in addition to the Fund’s core work of being a trusted advisor for the member states to achieve macroeconomic stability and prosperity for their citizens.
Can you provide some information about a project that you are currently working on? Could you describe the research focus, the objectives of the project, and any potential policy implications that could arise from this work?
As I mentioned earlier, the fun at the IMF is that one can work on topics that are quite diverse.
For example, for Luxembourg, as I mission chief, I managed the work on a few topics. One was related to the pension system and how to make it more equitable and more sustainable. Another was on what policies should be implemented to make housing in the country more affordable. This is very important to ensure that the country could continue to attract talent and enjoy strong growth. Yet another topic was how to improve wage indexation system in the country so that workers could be protected, while the competitiveness of the country sustained.
Regarding Norway, this is one of the richest countries in Europe and has very strong fiscal position. Yet, as in other advanced economies, the country is going to face large costs due to aging of the population. So, we have done work on how to improve Norway’s fiscal framework so that it meets the long-term challenges.
What advice would you give to aspiring economists interested in working in international organizations such as the IMF? What would you say are the most important qualities to succeed in this field?
My advice, irrespective of whether one would pursue a career at an international organization, Central Banks, or private sector, is to invest in very hard work during the entire course at CERGE. That’s how one builds up her or his human capital, which later on would be very useful, anywhere one applies for jobs. In addition to the high professionalism, perseverance is also very important. There will be difficult moments, but one should never get discouraged or give up!
*The views expressed herein are those of the author and should not be attributed to the IMF, its Executive Board, or its management.