Chelsea Phipps ’13, EU policy consultant for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on her passion for international development and moving abroad to London
Written by Laurelle Maubert ’25, Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team Member
For Chelsea Phipps ’13, her passion for global studies has guided not only her career, but her life path as well. As the EU international development and global health policy consultant in London for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the alumna has been able to apply her interests in international issues within a global context.
During her time as a Morehead-Cain Scholar, Chelsea knew she wanted to study international development. She didn’t know, however, if moving in the direction of policy was right for her.
“I was interested in tackling problems from a more structural perspective, but still wasn’t sure if implementation or project management might be what I was interested in,” she said.
After graduating, the alumna moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) global policy advocacy team. There, she had an opportunity to attend meetings at the United Nations during the development of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Although she found these discussions engaging, Chelsea wanted a more interactive approach.
“At that global level, the discussion was divorced from what happens on the ground, and it felt too far away for me,” said Chelsea, who majored in international studies and political science at UNC–Chapel Hill.
This realization led her to switch from global advocacy to political work with the NRDC Action Fund, an affiliate of NRDC, helping to elect politicians who supported environmentally friendly policies.
Connecting with her roots
While Chelsea enjoyed her environmental focus, she wanted to reconnect her work to international development. She applied for and was accepted to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where she completed a two-year master’s in public administration.
Attending LSE allowed Chelsea not only to pursue her passion for international development, but also to connect with her familial roots. The alumna grew up with an English father and a U.K. passport.
She recalled fond memories of visiting her family in England throughout her childhood.
“I’ve always felt a connection to the U.K. and London,” she shared. Advancing her education at LSE felt like the perfect fit.
Something old and something new
Midway through the graduate program, Chelsea had the opportunity to pursue a summer internship. She joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a global policy and advocacy intern, followed by part-time position there during the final year of her master’s.
Although international development was a familiar subject for her, she was assigned to work with the organization’s head of European Union relations, a new topic for Chelsea. The role in a new department gave her the space to learn and become knowledgeable on the subject.
“I had the chance to play a more minor role initially in the work. I got to observe, learn, and figure out this was something I was interested in,” Chelsea said.
With a newfound interest in the field and a positive relationship with her boss, Chelsea decided she wanted to continue pursuing this work. In her current role, she’s completed multiple consulting contracts supporting the Gates Foundation’s EU relations.
Despite her family’s English background, Chelsea describes her move to London as “an unlikely journey.”
Chelsea grew up in Appalachia, graduating from Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva, North Carolina. She noted, “There are not too many people from Appalachia who decide to move to London.”
However, she shared that the opportunities she had as a Morehead-Cain Scholar helped with the move from a small, mountainous town to the bustling big city of London.
“Being a scholar made the idea of moving abroad almost normal because so many people had done it and because we got the chance to try it out through the Summer Enrichment Program experiences,” she said. “Because this was not my first time spending a significant time abroad, thanks to the Morehead-Cain Foundation, I did not feel I was coming into this unprepared.”
Life in London
Chelsea’s new life abroad hasn’t come without difficulties, particularly in administrative work, making friends, and learning about the cultural norms of customer service, she said.
Despite these challenges, living in London has given her priceless experiences outside her work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, including the ease of traveling to other countries.
However, Chelsea emphasized that while it’s tempting for ex-pats who come to the United Kingdom and Europe to travel frequently, it’s essential to also “invest in your life in the country you’re living in . . . and become a part of your community to whatever extent you can.”
For example, spending time in her new home of London gave Chelsea a deep appreciation for its pub culture and “having a pint” with friends.
“Creating a community here is what has made London feel like home to me, and why I have no interest in leaving. I feel quite settled here,” the alumna said.
More about the author
Laurelle Maubert ’25 of Frederick, Maryland, covers the alumni beat for the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team, with a focus on law and politics.
In addition to writing for the Scholar Media Team, the second-year scholar is a business analyst for Consult Your Community, a UNC—Chapel Hill student organization that provides pro-bono consulting to local businesses and nonprofits. She also served as a vendor relations associate for Carolina Women in Business’s annual fundraiser, Jewels of Hope, and is a member of the Phi Mu sorority.
At Carolina, Laurelle is pursuing a double major in French and business administration at the Kenan-Flagler Business School.
About the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team
The Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team is an extracurricular program and internship run by the Foundation’s communications team. Scholars of all backgrounds and class years collaborate to produce multimedia content on the topics and issues they’re passionate about, as well as support Morehead-Cain’s institutional communications.
Members cover the following beats, tied to Morehead-Cain’s departments: selections and recruitment, the scholar experience, development, and alumni engagement. Scholar-generated content is distributed across all of Morehead-Cain’s channels, including social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube), the Catalyze podcast, email newsletters, and the website (moreheadcain.org). The team’s audience comprises more than 3,300 scholars and alumni and their constituents.
Current members of the team for fall 2022 include William Dahl ’25, Laurelle Maubert ’25, Cate Miller ’25, Ria Patel ’25, Tucker Stillman ’25, Flavia Nunez Ludeiro ’26, and Elias Guedira ’26. The team is led by Sarah O’Carroll, Content Manager of the Morehead-Cain Foundation.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Scholar Media Team, contact the communications team. Participation is a semester-long commitment.