Cheryl Lo (MPP 2018) currently works at the Cabinet Office in the UK government.
She started in the priority projects unit – a team of policy and strategy professionals who work on the highest priority and most complex issues facing the UK. Yet Cheryl’s experience before the Master of Public Policy was in an altogether different field.
“Before the MPP I spent seven years working in wildlife conservation, focusing mainly on saving the elephants and combating the illegal wildlife trade. I was working globally, starting in Asia to close down ivory markets and then in Africa to follow the whole supply chain of the illegal wildlife trade.”
By gathering evidence of the illegality of the trade, strategically exposing the evidence to the media and lobbying the Chief Executive and MPs in Hong Kong’s legislative council, Cheryl’s team managed to secure a majority vote banning the ivory trade in Hong Kong in the context of a highly polarised parliament.
Despite her success in changing policy in Hong Kong, when campaigning internationally Cheryl was met with much more resistance. Along with these setbacks at work, she also began thinking about what the next steps in her career would be.
“Working for seven years in my dream job was amazing but I was also thinking how do I expand beyond this, where can I go and what can I do? I felt the need to push both myself and my career further and that’s why I started thinking about Oxford.”
Cheryl chose the MPP for its international outlook and because she felt it would take her out of her comfort zone in terms of the knowledge and skills she would develop. Despite this, Cheryl had never even thought about working in a government before the MPP, having enjoyed the flexibility and strategy focus of working in an NGO.
“During the MPP I learned a lot about how government works. I did my summer project in Israel working on national security. It was really eye-opening seeing how the conflict had affected civilians, how they built resilience and how the government envisions the end of such a long conflict.”
After this experience, Cheryl felt the time had come for her to join a government to learn how it really works and continue to drive change. When Cheryl began her post in the Cabinet Office it was “a steep learning curve”. She began in the middle of the pandemic and on her second day, was assigned immediately to the UK’s COVID-19 taskforce – the government body within the Cabinet Office coordinating the country’s policy response to the crisis. She has since been deployed to work on Brexit and border issues.
“The structure of the Cabinet Office and the work I’m doing changes all the time which actually suits me. I’m used to working with a lot of uncertainty and without structure, and I enjoy an ever-changing working environment. I get exposed to a lot of challenging issues which has given me a real insight into how policies are made and what government needs to consider.”