International PKG Fellowship galvanizes alumna’s interest in public service

MIT DUSP students and the owners and staff outside of Mano Cambiada’s ecotourism guest house along the Pacific Ocean in Parque Utría, a protected national park outside of Nuquí, in January 2017.

Nearly 6 years removed from her PKG Fellowship, Carey Dunfey PCM ’17 still meditates on what she learned during the month she spent in Colombia.

“It is probably one of my top two or three highlights of being at MIT,” shared Dunfey. “The work we were doing in Colombia, collecting the data that we collected, being on the ground with these communities that we were doing work with—it was an incredible experience. I think about that trip a lot.”

Having studied anthropology at the University of Vermont, the idea of how people coexist and develop cities had always been on her mind—but it wasn’t until she spent several years living and working in Mexico City that she really discovered her passion for urban planning.

“I was faced with the challenges of transportation and housing in Mexico City while I worked for a public policy think tank and a nonprofit that specializes in working with migrants and refugees in the city. That’s where I started to learn about planning as a profession,” said Dunfey.

After a friend suggested that she look into MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Dunfey returned to the United States to pursue her Masters in City Planning. Dunfey credits her experience working with MIT Community Innovators Lab (MIT CoLab) under the MIT Department of Planning and Urban Studies for helping her develop her application for a PKG Fellowship.

“People say when you come to MIT, it’s like drinking water from a fire hose with all the opportunities that are available. The first time I applied for a Fellowship was in my first semester. I wasn’t accepted, but after getting more experience, I was able to present a more specific project for a Fellowship opportunity, which made for a better application,” shared Dunfey.

In January 2017, Dunfey went to Colombia with support from a PKG IAP Fellowship and CoLab to study how local economic and community development initiatives would affect residents and small businesses. She and her team spent their days talking with city officials and constituents about the challenges they faced in cities on Colombia’s Pacific Coast.

“We had workshops with organizations who were a part of CoLab’s Inclusive Regional Development Program, focusing on documenting their stories and journeys, and built a stakeholder map for CoLab,” shared Juan Constain PCM ’18, who also participated in the Fellowship.

Constain and Dungey found that businesses in Colombia were facing systemic challenges around structural violence, being excluded from growth platforms, and losing sustainability over time despite contributing to regional innovation.

Constain continues to work in Colombia at the co-founder and chief operating officer of Quipu Market, a nonprofit that is using data from the informal economy to offer a series of small loans to entrepreneurs in Colombia.

Dunfey’s time in Colombia sparked her interest in public service, particularly in how city governments operate and how they help those in need.

“I knew when I left MIT that I wanted to work in city government, and part of that was because of the experience I had with PKG on my Fellowship,” said Dunfey.

Since graduating from MIT, Dunfey has held positions in the Department of Small Business Services of the City of New York as a project manager who oversaw grants for community organization and economic development within the city, as well as in the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation as a business development associate who provided support to small businesses in Boston.

Now Dunfey is hoping to make the transition into private sector, working in public service from a different angle.

Tags: CoLAB, Colombia, MIT, PKG Alumni, PKG Fellowships

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