Anjali Chainani earned her MSW and MPH degrees at Temple in 2010 while working in the office of Jannie L. Blackwell, Councilwoman for the 3rd District of Philadelphia. Anjali focused on legislation and special events related to homelessness, education, public health, immigrant affairs and veterans. In January 2016, Chainani became director of policy in the Office of Philadelphia Mayor James F. Kenney.
What happens in a typical day at the Mayor’s Office?
As director of policy, I work closely with the executive team to forward the administration’s priorities, and I help coordinate policy development to ensure the success of important long-term investments such as universal pre-K, community schools, and systemic improvements to parks, recreation centers and libraries. I was absolutely thrilled to garner support for Mayor Kenney’s first budget proposal, which introduced a new revenue source, the Philadelphia beverage tax. This is because sugar-sweetened beverage taxation in local cities has been my doctoral dissertation topic for the last few years.
In an effort to improve local quality of life outcomes through evidence-based tools and tactics, I am leading a citywide behavioral science initiative in partnership with academic institutions. I also work closely with City Council to sustain a shared agenda that will improve the education, health and prosperity of children and families across the city of Philadelphia for years to come. I’m not sure I can say there are “typical” days. No day is the same, and it keeps me and my team on our toes.
What role does research play in formulating social policy?
Research is crucial to the development of social policy. Research allows us to assess the risks and benefits of policy proposals, implement evidence-based interventions, and evaluate what works best. Ideally, we want to do what works. Because the government has limited resources and service provision is a huge priority, we don’t always have time to reflect and trace effectiveness to its causes. We place as much emphasis on research as we can, and I’m working on a number of research projects now.
I am currently representing Philadelphia as a Results for America local government fellow, among a cohort of 15 cities across the country. The focus of this fellowship is to develop a two- to three-year policy roadmap using data and rigorous evaluations to improve outcomes. Currently, we are developing a rigorous evaluation of WorkReady, Philadelphia’s summer jobs program, in a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. The goal of this evaluation is to identify if participation leads to improved academic, social and behavioral outcomes.
Through the Philly Behavioral Science Initiative, I am also working on strengthening our external partnerships with behavioral economists at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple, Swarthmore, and Princeton to increase the development of innovative solutions in government. We are looking at public programs that the city has invested in—such as BikeShare, the City’s Wellness Program, and the new Water Revenue Assistance Program—at what the utilization rates are, and ways that we can use behavioral incentives to increase participation in those programs.
What makes a social worker a good policy administrator?
A social work background has helped me to approach policy with important foundational knowledge about the history of social welfare, and how the provision of services developed in this country. As a social worker who focuses on policy, I am charged with understanding how policy impacts communities, and particular sub-populations, and I am charged with ensuring that we as a city implement programs and practices that work to improve access to resources in our city’s poorest areas to improve the quality of life for all Philadelphians. As a social worker, I am confident in my abilities to authentically connect with individuals and with the communities to which they belong about what really matters to them, and how we can work together to make a real and meaningful difference for one another.
How did Temple help you prepare for your career?
I went to school in the evening, and I was surrounded by other students who were working during the day, which allowed me to build valuable connections. I was also always able to relate my work, and the issues going on in our city, to my coursework. I enjoyed my teachers as well. They shared themselves with us, and in addition to the coursework, I learned from their experiences. The employment-based internship option really worked for me.
What does it mean to have a degree from Temple?
Temple’s School of Social Work connects students with local organizations in every area. To me, being a Temple graduate means being: equipped with the skills to succeed, disciplined, connected and being able to provide connections, noticeable, and overall, it just means that you, as a Temple graduate, are quite lovely.