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Andrea Frank
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Suzanne Berger
Raphael Dorman and Helen Starbuck Professor of Political Science Director of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives

What are you working on?

For the last five years, I’ve been working on understanding what the changes in the international economy are going to mean for the general well-being of our own society. I’ve been working on this in two ways.

One is a research project with colleagues here at MIT, involving both engineers and social scientists. The latest product of that research is a book called How We Compete. We did over 700 interviews in which we talked to managers in companies around the world and tried to understand how they decide what they’re going to offshore, what they’re going to outsource, and what they’re going to leave in their own home societies. And what we’ve discovered, which is really quite fascinating, is that even for companies making the same products, there are very diverse solutions. I think what makes us all feel very anxious about globalization is the possibility that it may limit our choices as individuals and as citizens. Maybe it forces all countries and all companies onto the same very narrow path and into a race to the bottom on wages and standards. But our research shows that there really is space for choice, and the different choices companies make can have very different and signifi cant implications for quality of work, levels of employment, and
innovative capabilities.

The second project has to do with education at MIT. If you understand the tremendous transformation of the international economy, you realize that twenty years ago when students graduated from MIT and went to work for a company, most or all of their activities would take place between the four walls of that one company. Furthermore, that company was quite likely to be within the United States, so people didn’t think they needed to know very much about the rest of the world. But over the last twenty years, there has been a fragmentation of production systems, so that today, even when someone goes to work for an American company, how well they do over their lifetime will have to do with how well they coordinate resources and capabilities that are distributed around the world. That means that people have to understand in a very deep way how people in the rest of world create products and knowledge. Without that international understanding, it will be impossible to do a job well. So we’ve created at MIT a program called the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives. Currently, we’re focusing on eight countries. We’ve started with Japan, China, India, Mexico, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. The idea is to give our students a chance, in their own disciplines and in the areas of their own interest, to gain hands-on experience as interns or in research teams outside
of the U.S.

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for full text see VISIONS - MIT Interviews book

Andrea Frank