- Gemma Preston was seconded to the IMF in 2016 and is now based in Washington D.C.
- She says it’s a challenging time to be in the US, personally and professionally.
- Preston helps countries strengthen their economic and public finance capacity through technical support and training.
Story Susan Muldowney
Photo Elliott O'Donovan
Before COVID-19 put the brakes on international travel, Gemma Preston CA had spent the previous six months flying to Malawi, India and Mozambique, among other places, to provide public financial management advice.
Preston, who works with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was preparing to fly to Ethiopia from her Washington DC base when the COVID-19 stay-at-home order was issued for the District of Columbia. Since then, she’s been working from home about 2km from the Capitol during one of the most divisive times in recent US history.
A world turned on its head
“Personally and professionally, it’s both a very challenging and exciting time to be based in the US,” Preston says.
The upcoming US election, the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID have pushed politics to the fore. At the end of July, about one person in the United States died every minute from COVID-19.
The pandemic has disrupted the world’s social and economic order on an unparalleled scale. At the start of this year, the IMF predicted positive annual per capita income growth in more than 160 countries. Within a matter of months, that projection changed to more than 170 countries experiencing negative per capita income growth in 2020.
Picture: Gemma Preston CA.
Part of the IMF team pushing progress
As a public financial management expert in the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department, Preston is playing a role in the global recovery effort by helping countries to strengthen their economic and public finance capacity through technical support and training. She calls it a “global firefighting role at the centre of the crisis”.
“The global macroeconomic implications of the pandemic are unprecedented and I think it will test the world’s ability to maintain economic progress in some areas,” she says.
“The IMF provides support through debt relief and emergency financing as well as support to improve public financial management systems and tools. I feel incredibly privileged to be contributing.”
History plays an important role
Preston began her career in KPMG’s Financial Management Services Group before moving to the Australian Public Service. She held roles across the Department of Defence, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Commonwealth Treasury. In 2016, she was seconded to help represent the 16 members of the Asia Pacific Constituency at the Executive Board of the IMF.
“I expected to learn about global economic issues, but not about how important a role history plays in shaping people’s perspectives,” she says.
“Recognising people’s backgrounds and their culture is important in general, but it’s so important in being able to bring people together. Also, being in a room with someone like Christine Lagarde on a weekly basis was pretty incredible.
“I’m an accountant among a bunch of economists and I continue to push myself,” she says. “It doesn’t always feel comfortable, but I think that’s a signal you are growing.”
“I’m an accountant among a bunch of economists and I continue to push myself.”
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