Student Spotlight: Toran Labhaya Seth ’20, ’21 MPA

Toran Labhaya Seth is a Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) Scholar. The EDB Scholarship program sponsors undergraduate and graduate education to prepare Scholars to be leading thinkers to advance Singapore’s economy.

Policy interests: 

Social and income inequality, job creation and career mobility through upskilling and education




Shimmy Technologies, New York, New York

You majored in economics and anthropology at Brown. Why did you decide on a fifth year of study to earn your MPA?

During my undergraduate studies at Brown, I grew to appreciate the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to understanding and solving societal issues. In addition to economics and anthropology, I also had the privilege of taking courses in physics, Slavic studies, international relations, and Russian. The experiences and lessons learned from this broad variety of classes made me want to further my studies in another field that would also be relevant to my work in the Singapore Public Service. The fifth-year MPA provided me with the opportunity to do just that. Furthermore, given the unique pandemic situation that we are in when comparing the different graduate programs to which I had been accepted, I felt more certainty in trusting Brown University and the Watson Institute to continue to provide a world-class education. Thus far, the MPA has certainly been an enriching experience!

What sorts of tools and knowledge have you gained so far in the MPA?

One tangible skill that I picked up so far is the ability to write concise policy memos that effectively convey information to a particular stakeholder. Another would be the ability to draw on the “best practices” in different countries and compare how different countries handle similar situations given their unique contexts and stakeholders. Some examples from class were Uber and the handling of COVID-19. For the case of Uber, we compared how the U.S., Sweden, and Germany used policies to manage the potential market conflicts between existing taxi services and the new and rapid expansion of ride-sharing entrants.

Guest speakers, be it during class lectures or the MPA speaker series, all brought invaluable insights with key takeaways that students will definitely find useful in their careers. Some notable speakers include Danielle Cerny and Professor Rebecca Henderson. Danielle Cerny, Chief Performance Officer for the State of Rhode Island, spoke to our Policy Analysis and Problem Solving class. She shared key insights based on her experiences crafting performance management frameworks and effective methods in project management in the public service. Rebecca Henderson, a professor at Harvard University and an expert on innovation and organizational change, gave a guest lecture in our Politics of Policymaking in Comparative Perspective class. She discussed the conditions and structural changes necessary for capitalism to help produce solutions to climate change, rather than exacerbate the climate crisis.

“ The scope of the program is very expansive, covering topics from policy analysis to management and implementation in public and nonprofit organizations. This breadth of learning highlights the numerous considerations that have to be made when making effective improvements in public affairs. ”

Toran Labhaya Seth MPA Class of 2021

What advice would you give to incoming MPA students who aren’t familiar with Brown?

Brown University has a fantastic environment for dialogue between students and professors who come from very different backgrounds. Coming in with an open mind toward learning and understanding the various lived experiences of my fellow classmates and faculty definitely has helped me gain the most out of my time at Brown. Go to class prepared with the readings and your thoughts about it to get the most out of discussions. The MPA courses are structured such that group projects form an integral part of the program. Working on projects on Zoom and across different time zones poses a challenge at times. However, based on the interactions I have had with my MPA cohort mates, their varied academic disciplines and career backgrounds bring highly perceptive insights that enrich the entire MPA experience.

Coming into Brown, alleviating income and social inequality was already a key policy interest for me, based on my experiences in Singapore. My favorite classes with the Economics Department, which would make great MPA elective choices, were Economic Growth (Professor David Weil) and Economic Development (Professor Aaron Weisbrod). These classes not only provided me with economic models, but they also showed me practices from around the world. This global perspective highlighted why some methods had worked and why some are part of a failing system. Economics gave me a more quantitative way of thinking about societal issues. While I acknowledge that there are many assumptions that go into economic models, we must not delegitimize the ability to distill very complex problems into frameworks, which allows us to develop tangible solutions to implement policy that puts society on a more positive trajectory.

What advice would you give to Brown students considering the fifth-year MPA?

I think it is definitely a fantastic program to consider if you plan on pursuing a career in public service/policy consulting. The scope of the program is very expansive, covering topics from policy analysis to management and implementation in public and nonprofit organizations. This breadth of learning highlights the numerous considerations that have to be made when making effective improvements in public affairs. Being a fifth-year program, I also see it as a great opportunity to pick up relevant and necessary professional skills to transition from undergraduate studies to the workforce, such as critical thinking, effectively and persuasively communicating ideas, and project management.

What are you working on during your consultancy?

I am working with Shimmy Technologies, an enterprise that harnesses the capabilities of industry4.0 technologies in the apparel industry to improve the future of work. Industry4.0 in manufacturing broadly refers to the transformation journeys taken by companies to combine operational technology to create a system that has greater technological capabilities (such as predictive technologies). Shimmy develops applications that improve developing design, data management and workforce development in the apparel industry. The company takes a keen interest in the developing world where the manufacturing end of the apparel industry is mostly located. By using their applications to upskill workers (workforce development), the company protects the jobs of these workers as manufacturers push forward in their industry4.0 transformation journeys. Furthermore, through Shimmy’s work, opportunities are created for these low-income workers to achieve career mobility, better standards of living, and income equity. Income equity for women is particularly important to Shimmy’s work, given that a large proportion of garment factory workers are women.

There is currently a limited understanding of how garment factory owners see the future of work and how post-COVID-19, the garment industry will rebuild with automation, and how they can intervene to support equal female worker participation in the new, more technical roles in the near future. My task is to analyze data sets about trends in automated equipment purchases, what happens to workers when the machines go online, workplace trends, and finally, how COVID-19 and other macroeconomic factors are impacting investment in automation. I am excited to work on this project and further the use of this data to help Shimmy advise policymakers internationally on developing roadmaps related to the future of work.