Hannah Cooper: “I feel deep commitment and attachment to Sciences Po”
Hannah Cooper is the CEO & Co-Founder of Cooper/Smith, a professional services firm that uses data to improve global health and development programs, and a graduate of Sciences Po. She credits Sciences Po in her approach to problem solving that has served her throughout her multidimensional career.
Raised as an Anglophone in Quebec, Cooper was partly drawn to Sciences Po because she wanted to master the French language. “I'm an Anglophone Quebecer, but I really wanted to be as bilingual as possible. And I thought in order to do that, I had to immerse myself in French,” she recounts. Another draw for Cooper was Sciences Po’s “incredible reputation.” She found herself “really excited about being at a smaller institution that was very focused on political science.”
When she arrived at Sciences Po, Cooper loved the international dynamic. In her first year, she joined a small cohort of international students and found it easy to meet people right away. “Everybody was coming looking for a similar type of experience,” she says. “It was a lot of fun.” Academically, Cooper was always interested in international work. By coming to Sciences Po, she was able to hone her interest in international organizations. She also enjoyed the opportunity to “really delve into French and European history.” Cooper was particularly drawn to the French academic approach, “this idea of thinking about both sides and then bringing the pieces together,” she says. She believes that the French academic approach “really informed how I like to think about problems.”
After graduating, Cooper went to Namibia to work for the United Nations Development Program. She then spent time working at the Canadian International Development Agency and the World Bank. At the World Bank, she discovered an interest in trying to quantify the effect and impact of development work. After a stint at the U.S. Department of State working on the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Cooper left with a colleague in 2015 to create their own organization. She describes how they “wanted to focus on working with country governments to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their development programs, particularly health and development.”
Today, their organization, Cooper/Smith, has 18 employees based all over the world, including a technical director based in Malawi who is working with staff on the ground on a COVID response. Formulating a COVID response in Malawi was facilitated by the work Cooper/Smith was already doing. Cooper describes how “We were already on the ground. We have support and we do a lot of support directly with government.” For Cooper, it has been especially interesting to see “global health expanding to everybody’s area of interest.” The importance of investing in public health and systems is really resonating with a lot of people; it is “the one thing everybody is talking about.”
When it comes public health, Cooper feels strongly “that there is a lot of available data already out there, just oftentimes not related or brought together in easy to use ways for decision makers. A lot of what we do is trying to understand how decisions are made,” she says. “How can people really use information? What's the easiest to digest and easiest to use format for them?” She describes how, on the COVID front, Cooper/Smith has a lot of information about the pandemic “at a really granular level.” Using this data, she says, “we can figure out how to target programs that are effective and meaningful at a very local level.” In Malawi, where widespread lockdown could be economically devastating, “there is the ability to really design and tailor very specific targeted policies,” she adds.
When asked for her advice for current Sciences Po students and young graduates, Cooper emphasizes the importance of reaching out and making connections. One of the things she personally took away from the smaller, nurturing environment of Sciences Po was “the confidence to go and talk to people. Cooper describes cold calling and reaching out to as many people as she could, who were doing things she found interesting when she started her own career. “People always want to have coffee or talk or provide advice,” she says, “so don’t feel shy about that.”
It is clear that Sciences Po left a lasting impression on Cooper. One experience in particular that stands out to her was the Grand Oral. “I like to think that the Grand Oral was excellent professional preparation,” she reminisces. “When I’m facing a challenging or tough presentation or moment, I think back to the Grand Oral. I think, if I can pass that experience, I can do this,” she says. Even today, she adds, “I feel deep commitment and attachment to Sciences Po.”