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Students Explore the EV Mineral Supply Chain in MA-IBP Social Action Project

As part of their Social Action Project, students in the Master of Arts in International Business and Policy (MA-IBP) program at Georgetown McDonough researched critical mineral resources and their role in EV energy transitions and technology innovations, as well as the role international relations plays in the broader context of the mineral supply chain. 

Joel Burke (IBP’21), Sheila Casserly (IBP’21), and Alexander Wofa Kyerematen (IBP’21) presented their project findings at a policymaker and opinion leader roundtable discussion earlier this year, which detailed the critical mineral resources that are needed for electric vehicle batteries and an ecological transition in the defense industry. Their research also concluded that the number of critical minerals required for the battery-need expectations of the electric vehicle and defense industry are in short supply.

Georgetown McDonough recently spoke with Joel Burke about the project and how the Social Action Project has influenced his professional endeavors.

Please describe your MA-IBP Social Action Project. How did you and your teammates execute the assignment? 

Our Social Action Project started with our mutual interest in Africa and how commercial ventures could be leveraged to increase prosperity on the continent. After discussing options with Professor Michael Ryan, we reached out to Chis Beatty, the founder of a boutique political risk consultancy focused on Africa, who was a speaker during our first module in the MA-IBP program. 

Chris was kind enough to loop us in with one of his clients, TechMet, an innovative mining and investment firm that supplies critical minerals for the energy transition and tech products to the United States and its allies. We discussed projects with TechMet and decided to focus on one that was quite broad but that captured something they were struggling with as a business: how the United States government should counter China’s stranglehold on the global critical minerals supply chain; the role Africa should play in the energy transition and the dramatic ramp up in needed minerals; and what lessons we should be learning from China, Japan, and beyond.

When you reflect on your Social Action Project, what are some of the biggest takeaways and learning experiences? What surprised you the most about some of the project outcomes? 

The biggest takeaway for me was just how far behind the United States was in the critical mineral competition with China and how much work the country would need to do to catch up. A close and related second was our Africa strategy, which was woefully underdeveloped and seriously lacking when it came to the commercial side of things. The United States is great at development aid on the continent but not so much at helping to develop real economic progress through investment, infrastructure development, and so forth – precisely the areas where China is exceedingly strong.

Regarding the project outcome, I was pleased to see that people in Congress, the Biden Administration, and the industry were all well aware of the issue and, in most cases, are doing their best to solve it. Our recommendations still seem valid today.

How has the Social Action Project influenced your career to date? 

It has been hugely influential. I now work in Congress as a tech policy fellow. While most of my colleagues are working on tech issues such as antitrust and Section 230, I’ve been able to have a dramatically expanded portfolio partly because of my work on the Social Action Project, which allowed me to demonstrate knowledge internally about non-traditional energy and global affairs. 

Concretely, this means that I was able to spearhead the development of legislation introduced in Congress and lead on a few other critical minerals and international affairs-related issues. I think doing the program at Georgetown gave us a real differentiator and increased access, not only because of the Jesuit values but also because of the deep international connections that could be brought to bear on the project.

For those considering pursuing the MA-IBP program at Georgetown, what would you share with them regarding your overall experience? 

If you plan to work in government or any related industries, I couldn’t recommend the MA-IBP program highly enough. It gave me a much stronger understanding of that sector of the business world, it helped me to forge deeper connections, and it allowed me the space to explore and develop real expertise both inside and outside of the classroom settings.

M.A. in International Business and Policy