Maria Leslie Villegas (MIA-EPM ’99) has spent the last 18 years at the World Bank Group, most recently as a global infrastructure specialist in the Washington, D.C., headquarters.

What does it mean to you to be a SIPA alumna?

SIPA’s extraordinary sense of community generates a lifelong relationship among its members. There’s a strong bond in the SIPA family that facilitates a common platform of exchange, creates internship and job opportunities, and propels career development. I’m proud to be part of a distinguished global community that is aware and exposed to global issues — a community that’s contributing to a better world.

Tell us about your career since graduating from SIPA.

For the last 16 years, I’ve been working at the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C. As a global infrastructure specialist, I operated on a macro scale with international financial institutions and central governments and on a micro level with local municipalities. I’ve contributed to improved infrastructure for the urban and rural poor in
Asia — clean drinking water, better roads, and safe waterways. Also in Asia and in Africa,
I worked on ushering in affordable universal health insurance, again for the urban and rural poor. In Africa, I spearheaded a business model that brought high-quality, safe birthing care to over 59,000 low-income women through a subsidized voucher scheme. I also helped lead a public-private financial transaction that improved the conditions in an African hospital, reducing death rates in general and especially for at-risk newborns.

In terms of end-user feedback, my global experience in healthcare infrastructure and service provision has provided firsthand feedback about the positive impact of such investments and how they save users’ lives and made their lives easier.

What inspires you to work in your field?

No one changes the world on his or her own. But one person can make a difference, especially when one reaches out to establish common ground and collaborate with others for the common good. In a world filled with conflict and inequities, breakthroughs can happen with hard work, ideas, cooperation, and compassion.

Long-term prosperity is best achieved by fostering sustainable economic growth and broad participation in that growth. Infrastructure is critical not only to propel economic growth, but also to enable the distribution of benefits.

Work on inclusive and shared growth entails increasing access to basic services by the poor. This includes clean water, sustainable and safe energy for lighting and cooking, sustainable and green transportation modes, good quality healthcare, and education.