Alexandra Bastien’s career in equitable asset-building

By Bethany Romano, MBA’17

“I didn’t know I was going to become super passionate about asset building when I came to grad school,” said Alexandra Bastien, MPP’12, in a career talk with current Master of Public Policy students. “Literally in my first class at Heller, which was with Janet Boguslaw, I learned this language around asset building, the racial wealth gap and the hidden welfare state. It was an amazing experience.”

Since graduating from Heller in 2012, Bastien launched a career focused on equitable economic growth and race and gender equity. First she participated in the Proteus Fund Fellowship for Diversity in Philanthropy, where she held dual placements at the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation and the Davis Family Foundation. “They’re both small, family foundations with big endowments. It was a great experience for me to do that for a year,” she says.

After the fellowship, Bastien accepted a position as a program associate at PolicyLink in Oakland, Calif. Initially her work focused on the organization’s national initiative to build economic security over a lifetime. “My job was to provide direct technical assistance to coalitions working at the state level, particularly in the South,” says Bastien. “I spent a lot of time traveling around the South, working with coalitions around payday loans, which are incredibly problematic. That work was challenging. It taught me that policy doesn’t always translate to the impact it should have on the ground.”

Today in her work at PolicyLink, Bastien helps elevate policy solutions to the racial wealth gap, economic mobility and the inequitable distribution of fines and fees in the criminal justice system. She works with the Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility, whose mission is to advance equity and reduce poverty. “We meet quarterly and discuss the asset-building budget of the tax code, which includes the billions of dollars that go back to households in the form of tax credits and deductions. Those funds are incredibly skewed towards wealthy households,” says Bastien. 

Of her time at Heller, Bastien notes three things that helped her advance her career. “First, being able to talk concretely about how our policy structures actually directly impact the finances of households. Second, Mike Doonan’s infamous ‘road map’ and the strong presentation skills I learned in the MPP program. And third, at Heller I practiced and built experience at calling out policy issues that affect people of color, which has been very important to me in my work.”