Start Center - Strategic Analysis, Research & Training Center
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Dr. Carol Levin began her undergraduate education at the University of Colorado, where she majored in South Asian Studies, spending her senior year in a study abroad program in Southern India. In India, she initially wanted to explore social mobility and the caste system but felt unprepared to tackle such a large topic. Following her passion in the arts, she ended up completing a thesis on a form of classical Indian dance. However, she was introduced to agricultural development through a fellow student in India and began to shift her attention from arts and literature toward a field of study aimed at agricultural development and poverty alleviation.

After undergrad, she attended the University of California at Davis (UC Davis), earning her MSc in International Agricultural Development. She chose this program because at the time agriculture was the engine of economic growth in most low- and middle-income countries, with most households dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Her master’s program introduced new concepts in global development, including the effect of the green revolution and agricultural technology on poverty alleviation, food security, and nutrition. Through her studies, she was drawn to agricultural economics and policies to reduce poverty, hunger, and food insecurity. She became aware of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington DC, a preeminent international research agency conducting economic and social science research related to poverty alleviation through agriculture production, trade, and food consumption. She initially joined IFPRI as an unpaid intern, followed by a permanent position as a research assistant after graduating from UC Davis. At IFPRI, she worked in the Food Consumption and Nutrition division, providing research assistance for a study assessing the impact of Sri Lanka’s food stamp program on hunger, food consumption, and nutritional outcomes. Her work experience at IFPRI motivated her to pursue her PhD in Agricultural Economics.

She enrolled in the PhD program in Agricultural Economics at Cornell University in 1985. She spent two years in Indonesia conducting fieldwork as part of her PhD dissertation on seasonal food insecurity and coping strategies in drought prone regions in eastern Indonesia. In 1992, she graduated from Cornell University and accepted her first professional job as a researcher at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) in Washington DC. Although her passion was food consumption and nutrition, she joined ERS’ Agriculture and Trade Division, hoping to eventually align her job description with her interests. She found an opportunity to do this, and was fortunate to visit Vietnam, analyzing global rice markets and exploring Vietnamese food consumption habits.  While this was a good first position after her PhD, she was eager for a new challenge.  Around this time she received a call from a colleague working at IFPRI. He asked if she might be interested to go to Ghana to work on a UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) funded program to support food and nutrition policy with Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). Although she had only studied and lived in Asia up to this point, she was open to a new experience and setting in sub-Saharan Africa (a region of the world she knew little about).  Ghana turned out to be the opportunity and challenge she was waiting for.

From 1994 to 1997, Dr. Levin worked at the NDPC, supporting food and nutrition policy as part of Ghana’s strategic planning. She was fortunate to also work with nutritionists from Ghana’s Ministry of Health and with representatives from the Women in Agriculture Department who were concerned with undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and household food insecurity. It was at this time that she was introduced to the world of public health, as Ghana was designing and implementing a large national program to combat Vitamin A deficiency. She learned first-hand how ministries worked closely with the WHO and FAO to design and implement national nutrition programs, like Vitamin A capsule supplementation and food fortification programs. She also worked with UNICEF colleagues to implement a monthlong course (cooperatively designed by European and African nutritionists) on Food and Nutrition Security. Finally, she also conducted research on urban food security, where she and colleagues from Ghana and IFPRI conducted an urban household survey to analyze determinants of food consumption and child nutrition.

In 1997 she returned to Washington DC and IFPRI, where she was seconded to a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) flagship program on micronutrient malnutrition, thanks in large part to her work with Ghanaian colleagues on Vitamin A deficiency control programs. Eager to return to the Pacific Northwest, in 1998 she serendipitously met a woman at a USAID meeting in Washington DC who was visiting from PATH, an international non-profit in global health, based in Seattle. After that meeting, she kept an eye on PATH, as a potential future employer, and a possible way back to Seattle.

In 2000, PATH was the organization to bring her family back to Seattle. Learning about global/public health was new to Dr. Levin, and the first year found her on a steep learning curve as she shifted to a new professional discipline: health economics.  During her tenure at PATH, Carol conducted economic evaluations for new and underutilized health technologies and interventions for child and maternal immunization, cervical cancer screening, treatment and vaccination, HIV/AIDS and STI prevention and reproductive health.  She also conducted economic evaluations to support health system strengthening for vaccine supply chain logistics, development of rapid diagnostics for infectious diseases and micronutrient malnutrition, and integration of agriculture and nutrition approaches to improve maternal and child health.  Two contributions to global health and development that stand out to her were (1) creating a new opportunity to develop and evaluate an integrated agriculture, health, and nutrition project called Mama SASHA, a project focused on the Orange Flesh Sweet Potato, and improving antenatal and postnatal care of pregnant and lactating women and their children under 2 years of age; and (2) leading a team to develop a rapid Eliza Immunoassay test for assessing Vitamin A status using dried blood spots. And after a decade at PATH, she became a globally recognized expert in costing and economic evaluation.

After an impressive 13 years at PATH, she decided she was ready for her next challenge. In 2013 she joined the UW Department of Global Health, working on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Disease Control Priorities Project. From 2016 to 2018, she led the BMGF funded Global Health Cost Consortium to improve cost data for HIV AIDS prevention and treatment. She is now leading one of her favorite projects, also funded by BMGF, which strengthens economic evaluation of multisectoral approaches to improving nutrition.

In reflecting on her career path, Dr. Levin shared a quote from Oliver Burkeman, that there is an “Irony…in trying to control the future. The things we value most deeply in life didn’t come from exercising control in our unfolding lives. These are usually the result of something that was completely out of our control. If we had control, we may have missed out on a great adventure, profession, love of your life!” She left the group with this inspiration because it has worked for her. There were so many times during her career path where a major pivot in her life trajectory started because she simply thought, “I would like to work here someday.”