Interview with Matthew Fischler ’10 and Rahul Rekhi ‘13
Roosevelt alums in Forbes 30 Under 30 for Law & Policy 2015
Interviewed by Joe McManus, Special Initiatives Director
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Joe McManus: How did you first get involved in Roosevelt?
Rahul Rekhi: I reached out to Rajiv Narayan, the healthcare strategist at the time, completely by chance. There was no hesitation on his part to share with me what was going on in the healthcare center, and how to find ways to get involved, and encourage me to take on more responsibility over time.
Matt Fischler: The first time I heard about Roosevelt was through a conference on violence prevention hosted by the University of Chicago’s Roosevelt chapter. I was really interested in going into a career in public policy, but I felt like my campus didn’t have any kind of extracurricular group that was solely focused on policy development and publication. After that conference, my friends and I were like, “Oh, we could really do this at Northwestern.”
JM: What are you currently working on?
MF: I work for the Mayor of Chicago’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety to help coordinate, develop, and support a number of initiatives. Specifically, I’ve been knee-deep in building and launching the Mayor’s Commission for a Safer Chicago, which is an almost 200-person-strong community advisory board to help build our youth and violence agenda for 2015. Ultimately my dream job is chief of policy or senior advisor to a big city mayor.
RR: I’m serving as an advisor to the Chief Medical Officer of England. My main responsibility is to help draft an international treaty on antibiotic resistance. One of the major issues facing global society is that bacteria have gradually built up resistance to drugs like penicillin and other antibiotics that have been overused. I’ve been charged with coming up with a blueprint for the treaty, a legislative strategy, a political strategy, and how you would maneuver this through an international legal organization like the UN or the WHO. I don’t have a background in international law, so it’s a great opportunity for me to bring an outsider’s perspective on an issue of great global importance.
JM: How did you land that position?
RR: It’s a little unconventional. I was a grad student at Oxford and had reached out to a few folks at the Department of Health – this, by the way, is something that Roosevelt passed on; I wasn’t even remotely gun-shy about who I reached out to! I actually e-mailed the Permanent Secretary of Health, the highest-ranking civil servant, and said, “Here’s my background, here’s what I’ve worked on in the past, and here are some areas of mutual fit.“ After that I had a chance to meet with the CMO and her staff. The real emphasis here is that willingness to engage with folks at the very top that carried forth from my undergraduate years.
JM: How do you see the political landscape changing, and what kind of shifts do you see as our generation continues to gain more and more control?
MF: I’m biased because I work at the city level, but I do think cities are America’s laboratories for innovation because there is so much gridlock in DC, in Congress, and in the state legislatures. For instance, all these conversations around police-community relations and police misconduct: cities are on the forefront of figuring out that solution. That’s where the White House and the Justice Department and others are looking for solutions.
I think our generation is really focused on moving beyond partisan rhetoric. If we really care about progressive values, we need to have rigorously researched, well implemented policies. And so I would hope that our generation is more focused on getting results and getting stuff done and taking off that ideological hat.
JM: Rahul, you’re almost at the complete other end of the spectrum from the city level. How do you think these issues affect the platform you’re working on?
RR: The issues may be different but the trends are similar. Increasing demand for rigor and empirics and accountability in public service and public policy extends globally, and I think we’re seeing that play out in all kinds of places. For the issue I described earlier with the antibiotic resistance, you’re starting to see a constellation of very passionate, data-wielding non-profits and other groups come together to press for progress. With documents or data that show unassailably that an issue needs attention, you have a lot more power and sway, and that has allowed young people to use collective force in a way that maybe wasn’t possible a few years ago.
JM: What do you think makes Roosevelt special?
MF: For me what’s really incredible about being involved in Roosevelt is that it’s a great training ground if you’re interested in public service and public policy. It’s a great learning community of other young people committed to actually realizing progressive ideals, not just talking about them. You’re building a core of young people across the United States who are engaging very thoughtfully and passionately about progressive issues and policy, and they’re likely to dedicate themselves to a career in that field, and do it in a way that’s more thoughtful than the current status quo.
RR: I couldn’t agree more. What I would add is that I think Roosevelt is special because despite the fact that it’s been 10 years since it was founded, there’s still nothing else like it. And I think with young people there is this innate hesitation to get involved in public policy because it’s such a hierarchical field. But Roosevelt is this machine that can bring in young people with a lot of passion and very clever ideas and turn out actual impacts that are very visible on a local or national level, and I think that’s really empowering. I think for a young person that’s what you want – the ability to make a dent in the universe, even if it’s a small one, right out of the gate – and that has enabled me and others to pursue careers in this space and not be daunted by it.
JM: Well thank you both so much. Good luck and congrats again!