Influential Development Economist with a focus on Global Inequality
Ricardo Fuentes Nieva is a Mexican economist with over 15 years’ experience in international development and is currently the Chief Exec for Oxfam Mexico. From 2012 to 2015, he was the Head of Research at Oxfam GB where he led, among other things, the intellectual development of Oxfam’s global work on economic inequality. He wrote with Nick Galasso “Working for the Few” which quickly became the most successful publication in the 70-plus years history of Oxfam. One of the results—the bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world—has been cited and repeated by politicians, practitioners and intellectuals around the globe, including Barack Obama (President of the United States of America), Jim Kim (President of the World Bank), Kofi Annan (former Secretary-General of the United Nations), Joseph Stiglitz (recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) and Christine Lagarde (Managing Director of the IMF). Prior to joining Oxfam, Ricardo was based in New York where he worked several years on the Human Development Report—the most recognised United Nations publication—and led the first Regional Report on Human Development for Sub-Saharan Africa. He also worked in research departments of the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank in Washington, D.C., as well as in Mexico’s Ministry of Social Development.
What is the first website you visit after you get up and why?
The New York Times and Twitter. I like to wake up and have a sense of the big events around the world. The NYT allows me also to stay connected to New York, a city I love. Twitter gives me an update of what people in different places are discussing. Being informed is an important part of my job.
Tell me about a book that has had an impact on your life and why?
This is a difficult one. When I was a teenager I wanted to be a fiction writer and poet so I read plenty of novels at the time. I focused mostly on Latin American and Russian writers, but not only. I read several times And Quiet Flows the Don by M Sholokhov and A Hero of Our Time by M Lermontov. Reading these novels from far away places provided me with ideas and desires and an ever present bug for traveling.
Who are your favourite authors?
I’ve been deeply influenced by economist/philosopher Amartya Sen. He’s a giant thinker of our time. Fiction authors I’ve enjoyed recently are Julian Barnes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Colson Whitehead. Non-fiction includes Francis Fukuyama and more recently the work of the late Elinor Ostrom.
What historical figure do you identify with?
I respect and admire characters that pushed both knowledge and progressive values. Leonardo and Galileo for instance. More recently, Bertrand Russell did that in a way I deeply look up to.
Who are your heroes in real life?
The bravery of Malala, the decency of President Obama, and the deep love of my late mother haven’t gone unnoticed in my life.
What is your favourite occupation?
I like to read and think. I’m a very inward looking person and when I get tired and bored of myself, I share a nice meal, a laugh and a bottle of wine with good friends.
What influenced your career path?
The enormous bliss of having an elite education financed by the Mexican State. Opened up dozens of doors. And coming from a working class background pushed me to use that education in something that made societies better, more inclusive, with more opportunities for everyone.
What do you like about what you do?
I get to use the voice of a powerful organization to challenge privilege, challenge injustice and promote the rights of everyone. It’s an enormous responsibility and in itself an enormous privilege.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I’m very proud of the contributions I made to put the inequality problem in the global development agenda when I led the research agenda for Oxfam. It wasn’t enough though, as right-wing populism not only understood the problem but created a powerful narrative to seize power around the world. It was a painful learning for me: we should not only understand the global economic trends but actually create (and fast!) political tools to better channel the voices of those often forgotten.