James Gultry uses the keen policy analysis skills he learned at the La Follette Institute every day as he prepares a contract or agreement between the U.S. Agency for International Development and nongovernmental organizations working in Ghana, Liberia, Benin, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Pakistan, Afghanistan and most recently Ethiopia.
"The contracts and grant agreements I prepare for USAID have to be consistent with the host government's overall strategic goals and U.S law," the 1995 alum says. "I use the same tools I learned in the policy analysis classes at the La Follette Institute every day to make sure the work NGOs and other implementing partners perform on behalf of the U.S government is consistent with both U.S. goals and those results sought by the host nations where I serve. This job is extremely analytical."
Serving as a member of the U.S. Foreign Service for the last 10 years completed a circle in Gultry's career goals. "I recall when I was back in Chicago at age 13, I watched a late-night commercial for the Peace Corps on WGN," Gultry says. "I was enamored by the idea of living abroad to help people in poverty depicted in that commercial. Immediately the following day I called the Peace Corps to find out what I needed to do to join that effort."
The person who took his call advised him to go to college. He eventually left Chicago for Milwaukee and Marquette University, which graduated a large share of Midwestern Peace Corps recruits among private schools. Gultry joined after he graduated and headed off to live three years on an island in Equatorial Guinea, a small country in central West Africa. "At that time, the country was extremely poor — the nation had not yet discovered the oil they currently exploit," Gultry says. "As a community development/ health volunteer, I was the lynch pin in a grassroots campaign to help 22 impoverished villages of approximately 8,000 people establish and manage their own independent health clinics with zero external funding. Yes, this was a genuine Peace Corps challenge!"
Gultry helped 18 of those villages establish their own clinics. Gultry's volunteer service ended abruptly after three years when the heated political situation in Equatorial Guinea prompted the Peace Corps to withdraw and never return.
Gultry had already been contemplating graduate school and decided to return to Wisconsin, where the La Follette Institute had offered him a two-year fellowship. During his studies in Madison, Gultry worked as a budget analyst with the Department of Natural Resources' Parks and Recreation Bureau. "Working at the DNR while studying at La Follette was a perfect combination," he says. "I applied the government policy and budgeting taught at the Institute to my everyday work for the Wisconsin parks system. I searched for innovation and efficiency while visiting every fabulous park in the state."
With the support of the La Follette Institute summer internship program, Gultry returned to Equatorial Guinea, interning with the U.S. State Department. Gultry was tasked with helping to shut down the small U.S. embassy because diplomatic relations had completely deteriorated. He arrived only to find his supervisor getting on the plane from which Gultry had just disembarked, telling him Gultry was now in charge.
"That summer, the No. 1 benefit of my La Follette training was a focus on thorough analysis and clear, concise writing," Gultry says. "All I did each day that summer was economic analysis reporting sent by cable to DC. These assignments were just like what I had been doing as homework my first year at La Follette. I felt well prepared and very comfortable; moreover, I did not feel I was out of my league."
During the internship Gultry visited the villages where he had helped to set up health clinics as a Peace Corps volunteer. The infants born to the mothers he had helped were now toddlers. "That was a pretty unbelievable experience," Gultry says, "to see the people who remembered me and brought their children to see me. It was emotionally overwhelming to see so many strong and healthy children who might never have survived the endemic diseases like malaria without those village health clinics."
Back in Wisconsin that fall, Gultry continued to focus on finance, landing a job during his last year at La Follette with the City of Milwaukee. "Fellow La Follette Institute alum Mayor John Norquist hired me to join his budget and management shop while I was still completing graduate school," he says.
After two years there, Gultry took a call from then-Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, who had read an article on performance-based budgeting that Gultry published in a government finance publication. "She called me herself," Gultry says, "and shortly thereafter I became her new deputy budget director."
However, that job lasted only a year when Gultry took a call from someone who claimed to be Governor Tommy Thompson. "We had met once back in Madison, but I thought the call was a prank," Gultry says. "Nonetheless I played along and listened to an attractive job proposal back in Milwaukee. My immediate response to what I though was a joke was that I am happy in Minnesota and didn't want to go back to Wisconsin so soon. I said 'Thanks for the offer, sir,' and hung up."
The next call was from Robert Trunzo, chairman of the special purpose district responsible for the construction of Miller Park, the new baseball stadium in Milwaukee. "He told me Tommy Thompson seriously wanted me to be the chief financial officer of his pet project," Gultry says. "I was shocked. … The opportunity for me to run the Miller Park project was completely due to the connections and relationships I had established through La Follette."
After the Miller Park project was completed, Gultry wanted to return overseas, so he took a job with the Peace Corps as an associate director, overseeing programs in Ukraine, Papua New Guinea and Guyana for a couple of years. Then another Wisconsin governor, Jim Doyle, sought his services, this time as division administrator for state and local finance in the Department of Revenue. For two years Gultry oversaw the state's property taxation program, then again turned his attention to international public affairs.
He joined USAID in 2004 as a controller and was based in Ghana for four years as the regional controller for West Africa responsible for USAID financial operations in that country along with Liberia, Benin, and Ivory Coast.
Gultry decided to augment his international development and financial management skillset with procurement and supply chain management in order to serve in some of the world's "hot spots" like Islamabad and Kabul. In Afghanistan he served as a contracting and agreement officer, charged with establishing contracts rather than ensuring the contracts are followed as he did as a controller. "I managed a portfolio of $1 billion in contracts and grants for the USAID-Afghanistan's Office of Social Sector Development which included health and education activities," says Gultry, who also has served in Madagascar and Pakistan. "For example, we collaborated with several universities to develop school curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade, then we had the educational material translated into local languages. One of my roles was to contract the subject matter experts in the field to write and translate books into Pasho and Dari, then printing and disseminating those books to schools throughout the war-torn country."
Gultry was supposed to head to Liberia next but the Ebola outbreak canceled that assignment. He is spending the fall of 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, completing an assignment of a colleague who had to leave for personal reasons. "In Ethiopia, I am able to directly interact in the field with our implementation partners, the people who do the work — unlike in Afghanistan where I could not leave Kabul and usually met with our partners at the U.S. Embassy," Gultry says. "Again, I am working with a team of subject matter experts to put together agreements between the United States and local organizations, mostly for health and education programs."
Everywhere he goes, Gultry applies his La Follette training in economics, policy analysis and critical thinking. "I recommend the La Follette School for people who aspire to do the work I do in the Foreign Service," Gultry says. "When I look at my peers who went to the Kennedy School or Berkeley, I feel I am more grounded with the Midwestern approach La Follette's small program offers, along with my internship opportunities and the countless connections I made in Madison."
Above: James Gultry wears the handwoven clothing traditionally worn in the village of the Larabanga in northern Ghana. During his visit, Gultry received two handmade gift baskets on behalf of the U.S. Embassy for American support to the Amunibisi Basket Weavers Association, a women's cooperative in West Gonja district of Ghana that exports products to Target and World Market stores in the United States. Below: James Gultry (seated, second from left) represents the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana at the inauguration of the Lambussie Tungnuo Haala Rural Women's group's shea nut and peanut production facility in northern Ghana. The project was partially funded by a small grant from the U.S. Ambassador's Special Self Help fund in Ghana to assist this women's cooperative purchase the machinery and storage facility for its shea butter and peanut products. "This project enabled the small women's group to begin exporting tons shea butter to the U.S. cosmetic companies annually," Gultry says. As a token of their appreciation, the women's group rewarded Gultry with the traditional hand woven vest worn in the photo.