Betsy Williams ’98, like every incoming freshman at Princeton, received a little pamphlet over the summer with offerings for freshman seminars. One on doctors, democracy, and the developing world piqued her interest. Taking that course led her to major in anthropology, to write her senior thesis on health and human rights in South Africa, and eventually to found Emerging Public Leaders (EPL), an organization dedicated to placing young local leaders in government positions through two-year fellowships, prioritizing several African countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Guinea.
EPL, founded in 2016, is modeled after the President’s Young Professionals Program (PYPP), a civil service program in Liberia created in 2009, also by Williams. “The idea was to create a very competitive, meritocratic recruitment process to bring young people [into government] ... but more importantly, not just get them interested in applying for jobs in government, but then really giving them the skills and support they needed to be successful,” Williams said. “And so in Liberia, that meant everything from really basic computer skills to how to run meetings effectively, or how to interact with donors, or how to do a really great PowerPoint presentation.”
Williams did not always intend to take on this project full time. After graduating from Princeton, she completed a fellowship with Physicians for Human Rights, earned a master’s in public health from Columbia, and then worked in New York for four years with the Asia Society, working to raise awareness of potential HIV and AIDS epidemics. Even when she was working on PYPP, she still had a job with USAID until she realized she wanted to be all in.
“I just never let it go,” she said. “It became a real passion of mine, and so for the last decade, I’ve just been driving this and I think it’s really just the last couple years that I’ve really owned it as something that I founded.”
Two other Princetonians have coordinated with Williams, helping EPL’s development. Andrew Stern ’97 is on the board and is the founder of Global Development Incubator (GDI), which gives support to EPL, PYPP, and other projects in areas ranging from sustainable development to microfinance. Sara Wallace Beatty ’12 is the communications lead at GDI.
For Williams, her career choices have been aimed at how she can make the most tangible impact, and for EPL and PYPP, government is the key player.
“If you’re really going to have impact at scale, government has to be a piece of the discussion,” she said. “So it’s really an exciting time to be part of this, because, from a different perspective, I think the community is starting to recognize that as well.”