PhD in Public Policy Candidate Lisardo Bolaños: An Ambition to Change a Nation

Lisardo Bolaños left Guatemala to acquire the knowledge and skills to return to his home country as a pioneer for economic development. While obtaining his PhD in Public Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, Bolaños has studied the successes and failures of trade partnerships aimed at driving economic growth. 

“[In Guatemala], the policies are not addressing economic growth,” said Bolaños. “The government is trying to attract investment into agriculture, and I don’t see how this creates development.

“There is an inability to plan sensible policies, and very few people are thinking about implementation,” he said.

Bolaños, who graduates this summer and will return to Guatemala in July, will return home with new policies in mind.

“We need to create jobs through new urban areas and invest in ports and secondary education,” he said.

As a student, Bolaños worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Schar School’s Center for Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy.

“I have been given the freedom to explore new areas of public-private partnerships,” he said. “My favorites are the ‘black sheep’ projects that face contract renegotiations, bankruptcy, or could be cancelled. There is so much we can understand from these projects.”

Bolaños came to the Schar School with a Master’s of Public Policy degree from the University of Maryland and a bachelor of arts degree from the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City.

“I initially came to the Schar School because of the [Washington, D.C. area] location, and it is a very competitive program,” he said. “I learned more than I expected and had some of the best conversations about economic policy and development.”

Bolaños found himself being challenged around every corner by expert faculty and well-informed peers. “We have tough professors that broaden perspectives on economic development,” he said. “They have taught me to be critical of my ideas and the ideas of others. I am better able to understand the nuances of the gray in the world.”

When asked about his future, Bolaños said, “I move back to Guatemala in July, and I would like to work for a think-tank or my friend’s campaign for president.”

Bolaños, first met Julio Hector Estrada, in college, but their paths crossed again on his friend’s road to the presidency. Estrada had been Secretary of the Treasury and the public-private partnerships agency in Guatemala.

“My support has focused mostly on his political platform and his policy proposals,” he said. “We both agree that the main challenges in Guatemala are to create jobs and increase productivity.”

Because of his time in the Schar School’s public policy doctoral program, Bolaños feels he has a better understanding of economic development, and he is ready to face new challenges head on.

“I have made friends here that will go salsa dancing, get Korean barbeque, and Indian food on my birthday,” he said. “While I will miss the Schar School, I am excited for cheaper avocados in Guatemala.”