How Childhood Curiosity and UWC led to Working in the UK Government

Alice Pilia (Italy, UWC Adriatic College, 1996-1998) says her memories of her UWC days are so vivid that it seems strange to think it was “so long ago”. Since then, she has become a civil servant in the Cabinet Office of the UK government.

In my job I identify policy challenges and advise ministers on strategies to address them. In the past few years I worked on a number of prime ministerial priorities including referendums, strategic reforms and landmark legislation. And I have been lucky enough to work on some high profile policy areas. In this context, I’ve learnt how to make the most of big data analysis, behavioural economics or open policy making. I love developing innovative policy solutions and designing more efficient public services.
Previously, I worked on policy making at city level, including in Barcelona and London. During a recent career break from the civil service I developed and influenced policies from within international organisations and the private sector.

Alice’s interest in politics began very young and grew whilst at UWC. “Barack Obama once said that public service is a ‘noble calling’. I don't know if it's noble, but it's certainly a calling. If you catch the bug when you are young, that's it. For me, the passion for policy making was a byproduct of my stubborn curiosity - I want to understand how things work. My interest to define and interpret how society works lead me to politics. I want to find out what's the best way of doing something.

I come from a very political family and I have been passionate about politics for as long as I can remember. As a child, I remember being very aware of the Cold War, for example, and when I was in middle school I was obsessed with Gorbachev. I remember persuading my mother to take me to see him speak - it was a 2.5 hours drive each way... I probably understood very little of what he said, but I remember the very intense feeling of witnessing something incredibly important.

I often say that UWC changed my life. Perhaps, in terms of career choice I'd be doing the same thing, but life in Duino was a crash course in diplomacy and problem solving. I regularly used those skills when I started working in government. Every day at UWC was somewhat humbling and exhilarating. I felt very lucky for the privilege of learning something from everybody, everyday. I still try to learn something new from every person I meet. At UWC I also discovered that genuine flexibility, empathy and intellectual curiosity are the keys to making change.

Many people think that public servants are boring, grey bureaucrats obsessed with procedures, but they are wrong. Policy making can actually be an incredibly creative process. Coming up with innovative and effective solutions for what are often immensely complex problems can be very difficult, but to know that your idea is somehow improving people's lives can be supremely rewarding. I get frustrated that I'm not doing enough to tackle the challenges society faces, but thinking that I can contribute to finding a solution keeps me going forward in my work.