February 2018 Alumni Spotlight
February Alumni Spotlight with Benjamin Orr, MPA ’08
For some agents of change, being part of the effort to help underserved populations isn’t enough – they want to build something from the ground up. We speak to Ben about the founding and critical goals of the Maryland Center of Economic Policy and his Marxe MPA experience.
Tell us about what you do as Executive Director at the Maryland Center on Economic Policy (MDCEP). What are your current and upcoming initiatives? Are there any unique challenges are there in the state of Maryland that affect the way you carry out your objectives?
At the Maryland Center on Economic Policy we believe that all Marylanders should be able to achieve their full potential in a healthy economy that supports a widely shared, rising standard of living, and we try to bring that vision to life through research and advocacy on state budget and fiscal policy issues. As Executive Director, my job is to set the overall direction of the organization with guidance from our board, find the resources needed, and oversee the execution of our plan. These days, we spend a lot of time translating federal policy proposals, such as President Trump’s proposed budget or the Affordable Care Act repeal bills into the Maryland context. How much money does the state stand to lose? How many Marylanders will lose their health insurance? Given our proximity to Washington, D.C. we’re a bit different from other states in that so many federal workers live here, so job or pay cuts will have much larger impacts on our state economy.
How did you transition from Policy Analyst at the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute to Executive Director at MDCEP?
In some ways, I fell into it. But chance favors the prepared. We are the spiritual successor to a similar project that was embedded into a larger organization. I worked for that project, and when we had to make the decision whether to close the project down or create a new, stand-alone organization, I volunteered to start the new organization, which became the Maryland Center on Economic Policy. However, I didn’t volunteer on a whim. I had a vision for where I wanted the organization to go and was able to articulate that vision in part because of the skills I acquired at the Marxe School. As a result, I was able to persuade our funders and other partners to join me. In four years we’ve grown from a single employee (me) to five.
What was your experience like with the Marxe School’s MPA program?
The MPA program at Baruch was a great experience. I think often students start these sorts of programs with lofty ideas about how policy should be, and Marxe School professors really challenged us to think those ideas through. While I went through the policy analysis track, Baruch made sure I still got enough exposure to nonprofit administration to be able to figure out how to run a successful organization. I also think it was a great asset that not only did many of my professors have real-world experience to share, but many of my classmates were working in relevant jobs while taking classes. They were often able to provide additional real-world examples to supplement in-classroom learning. I’m still learning from my fellow alums. The diversity of lived experience at Baruch is one of its greatest assets.