Hitachi Alumni Spotlight: Andrew Bennett

Hitachi’s Alumni Spotlight aims to highlight alumni who were involved in studying and working with technology in diverse capacities during their time at Fletcher and their post-Fletcher careers. For our first Spotlight, we sat down with Andrew Bennett, current Director of Global Public Policy at Disney, to learn more about his journey in the sector and the path that Fletcher, and the Hitachi Center, helped him to create. 

What did you study while at Fletcher? 

I came into Fletcher with an ICT4D lens, focusing on communications policy and development economics. However, my interest and focus area started to shift. By the time I graduated, I was able to engage on a broad range of technology policy topics, particularly public policy to facilitate broadband access. This was the focus of my thesis which I’m grateful to Carolyn Gideon for advising me in. It was essentially an econometric study of broadband development and OECD nations and the policy recommendations for how to achieve it. 

What are you currently doing for work, and how did you get there? 

My first job out of Fletcher was in trade and technology policy with the U.S. Department of Commerce. I really felt trained for what I was doing, thanks to the experience I got at Fletcher, my thesis, and my work with Professor Gideon and others. I was able to be really versatile within the agency and work on different tech topics as an industry analyst and specialist. I was also able to return to my interest in ICT4D  to some degree when I worked on the Power Africa initiative at USAID. 

After that, I was looking for roles in the private sector where I could still be engaged on global issues and a company’s policy interests abroad. I found that at the Walt Disney Company: following a major merger and the launch of its digital streaming platforms, the technology, and digital economy policy issues of the day are a major factor for Disney’s global business. 

What makes you most excited about your current role? 

Technology, for better or worse, is the most important and prominent point of connectivity for people today, and I think on balance it’s for the better. There are so many opportunities to make that an even greater good. There are technologists in the trenches, there are companies making incredible innovative products, there are users and creatives who are capitalizing on them like I never could. Being able to use my skill set where we can help shape the policy environment to facilitate the development of the innovations and the connectivity for the people who are best able to use them is what’s most exciting for me.

What global challenges would you want to help solve through your current role? 

I definitely think about globalization, and the retraction of it to some degree, that we’ve seen over the last five years. Reform was needed of the globalization project, if we can call it that — but I do not think it is a failure and further retraction will have greater harms. I’d like to help ensure that doesn’t happen, which means staying grounded in local issues as well and understanding and being mindful of local impact. Global economic integration does and should have benefits for everyone, and the globalists need to step up, make sure everyone is benefitting. This isn’t necessarily something I’m going to solve through my role at The Walt Disney Company, but it’s something I think about trying to contribute to as a global public policy specialist and also as a citizen.

From your perspective, what’s your vision for the future of technology and international affairs? What changes do you anticipate? 

I like to leave that to the technologists, but I do think about the future of technology in terms of the problems that need to be addressed, and where do the incentives need to be for certain benefits of technology to emerge or get stronger. For example, AI is an area where I see a lot of potential for positive innovation. There could be amazing, transformative benefits in terms of our day-to-day living, from urban development to health. But I think we’re already seeing the problems of where certain incentives might take the technologies and the need to get right the economic models surrounding AI, insofar as policy can impact them . We’re starting to see where all the pressure points are emerging and issues around governance on a multistakeholder level- including technologists, users, industry coalitions, governments- who are all trying to navigate the benefits, challenges, and threats that are emerging. I can say we are primed for a ton of change.

What class, or professor, influenced you the most while at Fletcher, and how? 

The thesis that I did with Professor Gideon was just really career-changing. She encouraged me and helped me enter it into a conference, where it was awarded. And I really enjoyed Analytic Frameworks, which showed me how to break down issues for government or corporate executives. The late Professor Martell’s classes were more about the organizational structure of effective government policymaking and more focused on defense policy but they had the nuts and bolts for policy analysis that I’ve used in my career since. Joel Trachtman’s classes on international trade were extremely influential on me looking back as well. 

What advice do you have for Fletcher students interested in technology policy as a career field? 

I would recommend trying to get to know that technical side as best as you can. Do your best to avoid being a bureaucrat or a political animal who’s engaged on those issues but removed from the technical- or product work. Avoid being the globalist who doesn’t understand the local effects of your work, and know the top to bottom impact on the global supply chain side. I also think it’s great to have at least a conversational understanding of the issues driving the news — and as broad a set of issues as possible — because they could and often will come back and relate to your niche interest. There are so many different news sources now, and it’s a better world because of it. Think about what your information diet is like and how is it cultivated. And make that adaptable. Don’t only consume news on that little corner of your industry or in the tech you’re an expert in because these topics are going to evolve and connect with each other. 

What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

Ultimately what gets me out of bed, and I think for us all, is my family and my community. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen the value and importance of the local community and its own governance, politics, and policy issues. That’s another recommendation I would make: to always vote in your local elections and know your local politics. 

Who is your favorite Disney character? 

We ask this question in our interviews! I’ve really come to like Vision after watching the new WandaVision show. I think he’s interesting to me because you see where technology meets the human side. So he’s a really good one for the Hitachi Center as well!

Written by Maalana Hislop

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