A Professor in the Practice of International Affairs, Erwin R. Tiongson is also the Chair for International Development Concentration in the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is concurrently serving as Deputy Director of the MSFS program since 2015.
Prior to joining Georgetown, Tiongson was a senior economist at the World Bank serving in Europe and Central Asia Region and later, in Latin American and Caribbean Region. He joined the World Bank in 2003 through its Young Professional Program. He was a staff member of the International Monetary Fund from 1997 to 2003. He was an associate professor at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati from 2009 to 2011. He is a research fellow of Das Institut zur Zukunft der Arbeit (Institute for the Study of Labor), external research fellow of the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at the University College London, and senior fellow of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM).
He was born and raised in Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines. His parents are Rogelio A. Tiongson and Marina R. Tiongson.
Your Doctoral Thesis was on migrant and trade, how do you see yourself as a migrant contributing to the United States’ economy?
Like other migrants in the US, I think I contribute by doing my work well and by paying taxes. There is an extra benefit of working at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in that I would like to think that my colleagues and I are helping prepare the next generation of leaders in the US and global community.
What was your most uplifting experience(s) working as an economist at the World Bank?
Some of my most uplifting experiences, unfortunately, involve very low-key confidential work that I am not allowed to discuss in public. But I will say this: They were about analyzing proposed policy reform programs, anticipating possible negative social effects, and then working with governments to redesign these proposed reforms so that people are protected against likely adverse consequences. It was deeply rewarding experience, but also odd in many ways—because the satisfaction came from knowing that something awful never materialized.
As a research fellow for international institutions located outside the United States, how do you submit your findings and recommendations to any problems they pose to you for solutions?
International research fellowships are nonresident research affiliations, platforms for distributing our draft research papers to a broader research community. They also help us connect or interact with other researchers overseas interested in the same issues. However, a number of my research papers—especially those related to migration and international development—do have policy relevance and are meant to address very specific practical problems faced by migrant workers. One recent paper that I co-wrote is based on the field work that we did among the Overseas Filipino Workers in Europe. In Rome, some of those in the OFW community complained that the money they had sent home for the specific purpose of paying children’s school tuitions was never used as intended. Worse, many of them went home after being away for several years found out that their children were never in school. We then worked with a bank and designed and pilot-tested a new financial instrument called “EduPay,” allowing OFW parents to remit directly to any school in the Philippines. Through this new instrument, the schools also send parents on a regular basis electronic reports on the status of their children, including attendance and grades.
What was your motivation for shifting from working with professionals to sharing your knowledge and experiences with aspiring university students?
The Master of Science in Foreign Service program is a professional degree. My leaving the World Bank to join the MSFS program was not a complete break from professional practice. The MSFS program aims to prepare young men and women to become leaders in global affairs; courses are taught by scholars and practitioners and are often very much practice-oriented. As such I still interact regularly with practitioners. I also created “Conversation with Practitioner Series,” seminars featuring leading practitioners or informal conversations between graduate students and visiting practitioners. My students and I also collaborate with my former colleagues at the World Bank to do joint research, organize conferences, etc. Everything I enjoyed doing at the World Bank I still get to do. What I did not enjoy as much, such as dealing with a large bureaucracy, I no longer have to do.
Are there educators in your family line?
Yes. On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a school principal and my grandmother, a school teacher who taught me how to read before I reached age 5. My mother was a college teacher in literature and theology. On my father’s side, there are teachers too. My brother Hector, who works at Georgetown University as a senior grants administrator, used to run Human Resources training program in the Philippines; whenever he can, he volunteers to help run some of the sessions of the undergraduate orientation program or gives presentations about his work. My wife taught creative writing in the Philippines a few years ago; our older son, Nicolas, is a volunteer Algebra tutor in the middle school; and our younger son, Rafael, creates PowerPoint presentation to explain, for example, the history of Sonic video games.
The “Philippines on the Potomac” is your and your wife’s community service, how did this project evolve?
My wife and I wanted to tell our children more about the Philippine heritage. We sat down one evening in late 2012 and listed all the places in Metro Washington, DC area which can be linked in some ways to Philippine history and culture. We listed about 30 places. We thought we had enough for a walking tour, but we also thought we could do better. We then spent the last few years collecting more information. We now have a list of over 200 places. We never thought of our Philippines on the Potomac project as a “community service.” It has been fun tracking down all these places and collecting archival information. To share our discoveries with other people, we created a website and articles for publication.