A product of the thousand-year-old Law School at the University of Bologna in Italy, Associate Professor and Programme Director of Globalisation and Development Dr Edoardo Monaco – simply "Edo", for most – was never interested in a comfortable career as a lawyer in his own country.

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Dr Monaco joined UIC in 2009

Upon graduation from his LLB, he trained in various law firms, including KPMG in Milan, but his aim had always been that of working in international governance abroad, most specifically in Asia, where many countries of his interest had been undergoing dramatic social and economic development.

Indeed, he was not content with looking at things "from afar", so after a double Master's Degree in International Management at University of Bologna's School of Economics and ICN Business School of Nancy in France; he was determined to move to Asia.

"I began my Asian adventure as a researcher at an Indian law firm in Delhi, where I conducted the fieldwork related to my MSc final thesis, collecting data on foreign direct investment policies in India. I still remember my office address with excitement: Himalaya House, in Kasturba Gandhi Marg, at the heart of bustling New Delhi. The commute every day was a challenge, to say the least, given the terrible traffic, but my time there was highly rewarding: besides the research itself, the interaction with colleagues and the daily exploration of such a complex context made me realize the immense value that direct experience and close, first-hand observation can add to the understanding of socio-economic development dynamics."

After completing his oral defence in France, Dr Monaco immediately decided to go back to the region: he first spent a couple of months in a consulting firm in Beijing, but soon received a "proposal he could not refuse", to work for the Italian Chamber of Commerce in India ahead of a year, 2007, in which trade relations between the two countries were expected to boom.

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Dr Monaco in India

"I packed my bags and from Beijing moved to Mumbai, first, then again to Delhi. Life there was exciting, complex in the best of ways, and dense of profound experiences. I enjoyed working for an institution with a broad scope of action, providing me with major international exposure to both public and private sectors.

"However, working in bilateral relations at some point felt limiting, so when the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea expressed interest in my profile, I was happy to move onto a multilateral organisation and experience yet another market with a different level of economic sophistication. Working in Seoul brought me to collaborate with some of the biggest corporations from EU and Korea. I was in charge of Energy and Environment, Automotive, Logistics and Agro-Chemicals and other sectors."

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Dr Monaco presenting the EU Pavillion to the Korean audience

While he was still very committed to remaining in Asia, at some point Dr Monaco realised that being an advocate for big businesses was not what he wanted to do in the long term: so, after contributing to the very establishment of a European trade association in Thailand, he answered the calling for further studies, for a more in-depth understanding of development as a universal societal pursuit, and in general for the boundless world of academia.

"The idea of studying the Kingdom of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness paradigm was in me since I first visited the country from India, years before. I was keen to explore the underpinnings of this unique holistic development paradigm, its possible measurements (the 'GNH Index', based on the same Oxford University Poverty Initiative methodology behind the Multidimensional Poverty Index) as well as its possible applications elsewhere.

"In that regard, I had the idea of conducting those studies in China, where development governance had achieved unparalleled results and where similar studies may – at some point like today, when sustainability is high on policymakers' agenda – become even more relevant. My contacts led me to Yunnan University, where a department of South Asian studies appeared interested in housing my research."

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 Dr Monaco in Thimphu, Bhutan

It was while attending a conference in Hong Kong that he crossed paths with UIC's senior managers of the time. They quickly enlisted him within the college's international studies' platform - it was the year 2009:

"The unique educational mission of this college was immediately a major draw. Year after year, I grew exponentially with the college and its students, through teaching, development of new courses (and, lately, entire programme), research and further studies.

"I received, for instance, substantial support from UIC for further training at Harvard University, where I conducted first a period of coursework and research during my doctoral studies, and then joined a series of executive education programmes at the Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Centre for International Development, that ultimately earned me a certificate in Economic Development."

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Dr Monaco gets invited to various government agencies and research institutes around the world

Recipient of the President's Award for Teaching and Service in 2016, Dr Monaco, as if constantly eaten by a bug of intellectual curiosity and self-improvement, firmly believes in lifelong learning and in keeping abreast with latest trends and cutting-edge perspective, since, he says, "that is essential to address the complex global challenges of this fast-paced, highly integrated world, and turn them into holistic opportunities for progress".

Over time he pursued specialisation programmes on various aspects ranging from land governance (Utrecht University) to natural resource governance (United Nations Solutions Network) and, most recently on sustainable value chains, thanks to a research-based, bursary-funded programme at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL, Cambridge University, UK):

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Dr Monaco speaks on behalf of Long Service Award recipients of UIC in March 2019

"I am keen to explore examples of South-South cooperation for sustainable development that stimulate pro-poor, green growth across the Global South. I am therefore studying the value chains of bamboo and how the Chinese government is providing expertise and financial assistance to various developing countries – along the Belt and Road and beyond – thus unlocking the sustainable, inclusive development potential of this highly versatile, eco-friendly natural resource."

Dr Monaco’s current research focuses in particular on East African nations like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, which are endowed with large natural stocks of bamboo, but lack capacity for the establishment and upscaling of its many possible value chains.

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Dr Monaco presenting certificates to UIC students

What's the next step in Dr Monaco’s ever intense agenda? What's clear, is that this restless explorer seems to have found a home: he is sure that Zhuhai and UIC represent the best platforms for further personal and professional growth: "This town, this college, this country all embody the very spirit of development. One is simply surrounded by it. Being here is a real privilege and adds so much depth to my understanding of this country's unique achievements, which represent a beacon of hope and a model of success for the whole developing world, its billions of people and its governing leaderships. New, upcoming journeys shall hopefully see me departing from, and returning, right here."

 

Read more:
Edoardo Monaco: [Opinion Piece] Ode to fragility amid COVID-19

 

Editors: Samuel Burgess, Deen He, Lauren Richardson
(from MPRO)