Dr Ingrida Kerusaukaite
With a PhD, an affiliate lecturing role at Cambridge, and a British Expertise International award under her belt, Dr Ingrida Kerusauskaite has an impressive resume. Add the fact that she’s accomplished it all by the age of 32, and you have one self-proclaimed “all or nothing kind of person”.
Recognised as an expert in the anti-corruption space, Kerusauskaite currently leads four Palladium programs across the globe focussed on illicit financing and corruption. From Ghana, Nigeria and Jordan to the Caribbean, her portfolio spans the gamut, but she notes that no matter where she is, corruption and integrity are global issues.
“It’s interesting to see that the issues and problems faced in Montserrat on one of my projects are quite similar to those in Nigeria on another.”
The daughter of a Lithuanian foreign service officer, Kerusauskaite says that her career in development work felt like a given based on her international upbringing. But her focus on anti-corruption came from an unexpected source.
“As I was doing my undergrad, there was this one article I read about why countries abide by international agreements and conventions, which argued that some conventions in reality can have opposite to the intended affect in some countries, while having little influence in others” she recalls. The career-changing article was Political Institutions and Human Rights: Why Dictatorships Enter into the United Nations Convention Against Torture by James Raymond Vreeland, and it sparked her interest in what makes anti-corruption and other international frameworks work – or fail.
“I wanted to know what role international legal documents and conventions play and do they actually make a difference, particularly in places when they may have the opposite of the intended effect.”
But the answer isn’t clear. “It depends,” she concedes. “In more difficult environments, if you look at it from a positive perspective, the interventions we work on deliver discreet improvements and pave the way for change, but you can’t expect a complete change from within the scope and constraints of our programs. I choose to take the more optimistic approach.”
“Bad Things and Crime”
Kerusauskaite has been with Palladium for nearly two years leading the anti-corruption and illicit financial flows portfolio. She sums it up simply: “Anything that has to do with bad things and crime usually comes my way.” Before the COVID-19 restrictions, she spent at least three weeks of each month traveling to her portfolio countries, and though she’s missed seeing her colleagues in person, she says “it’s nice to not live on a plane.”
When offered the opportunity to join Palladium, Kerusauskaite jumped at the rare chance to combine both aspects of her PhD – anti-corruption and international development – in one job.
Initially, her role was to build out Palladium’s portfolio in the anti-corruption field and establish the organisation as a true player in the space. Since then, the team has developed seven successful programs. “I think we’ve demonstrated that we can deliver these projects really well,” she says. “Next we’ll build out the portfolio further to deliver even larger programs.”
Kerusauskaite is well aware that she is younger than other project leaders. But she’s found that the most effective teams she’s worked on are made up of people with a wide range of experience, bringing diversity of thought to the challenges they’re solving.
“It’s strange when development programs want to find new and innovative ways of solving very important and often deeply engrained issues, but will only hire experts who’ve been doing the work for 30 years,” she observes. In her experience, the answer is to combine the perspectives and contributions of people newer to the field who might approach the issues in different ways, with those who bring more experience.
She notes that Palladium deliberately excludes “years of experience” from job ads so as not to discourage potentially qualified candidates. Dr. Rosanna Duncan, Palladium’s Chief Diversity Officer, agrees that hiring diverse candidates across a spectrum of qualifications only serves to improve business practices and performance.
“Diversity of thought adds real value to the bottom line of any business, as a range of perspectives improves decision-making at all levels,” Duncan says.
Discussing the Bigger Questions
Beyond her life at Palladium, Kerusauskaite is an affiliated lecturer at her Alma Mater, Cambridge University, where she gives lectures to graduate students on justice and international development, anti-corruption, and empowering vulnerable individuals. This gives her a chance to get back in the classroom, which she admits she loves, as working with the students adds another layer to her work in the development world.
“It’s really interesting to take a step back from the work that I do and think about it from a more philosophical, theoretic, and academic perspective – discussing some of the bigger questions with students about various types of interventions.”
For Kerusauskaite, having a full plate of both work and extracurriculars adds fuel to her fire, rather than burning her out. “I work well under pressure,” she explains. “It’s a personality thing, I think. I’m an all or nothing kind of person, so if I’m doing a lot, it helps me better organise my time.”
Young Consultant of the Year
This year, Kerusauskaite was nominated by her team at Palladium for British Expertise’ notoriously competitive Young Consultant of the Year Award, and won.
“It’s nice to get some recognition for the work you’re doing,” she says, grateful for the opportunity to reflect on her impact and career. “Especially this year in lockdown, when so many of us have just been heads down in the work, this gave me a chance to take a step back and see that there are good things happening.”
The experience has also inspired her to build more reflection into the scope of her projects and spend time recognising what the teams have achieved on a quarterly basis.
As for what’s next, Kerusauskaite has considered an MBA from an American university, but has no immediate plans. For now, she intends to keep one foot in academia while continuing to expand Palladium’s portfolio in anti-corruption and influence in the sphere.
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