Grad’s Global Focus Expanded at UVA Law

Rachel Davidson Raycraft ’20 Co-Authored World Economic Forum Paper, Journeyed to Nepal
Rachel Davidson Raycraft

“Having the opportunity to go to Nepal with the Human Rights Study Project is by far my most interesting law school experience,” Rachel Davidson Raycraft said. Photo courtesy of Rachel Davidson Raycraft

June 26, 2020

As a student at the University of Virginia School of Law, Rachel Davidson Raycraft ’20 explored her interest in international public policy while working for the greater good — and even co-authored a new report for the World Economic Forum on how blockchain can curb corruption.

Raycraft served as president of the Public Interest Law Association, articles editor of the Virginia Journal of International Law, a Monroe Leigh Fellow, a Domestic Violence Project board member, and became a member of the Raven Society. She was also a student coordinator with the Human Rights Program and ventured to Nepal with the Human Rights Study Project.

The Bethesda, Maryland, native earned her undergraduate degrees in international relations, and government and law from Lafayette College, and a master’s in public policy from UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

In our occasional series “Star Witness,” Raycraft discussed the WEF report, highlights of her law school experience and how a trip to Germany connected her with family history.

Tell us more about your report with the World Economic Forum.

As a 2019-20 World Economic Forum research assistant, I co-authored the forum’s recently released report, “Exploring Blockchain Technology for Government Transparency: Blockchain-Based Public Procurement to Reduce Corruption.” The report assesses blockchain’s anticorruption potential using a pilot designed to run the vendor bidding and bid-evaluation stages for the Colombian public school meals program, Programa de Alimentación Escolar. This project was made possible through the Forum’s partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank and Colombian Inspector General’s Office.

Public procurement, or government contracts, is estimated to be the greatest source of government corruption worldwide. Governments collectively spend approximately $9.5 trillion annually on public procurement, but the United Nations and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimate that 10% to 30% of each contract’s value is commonly lost to corruption. Procurement corruption is far more than government money down the drain. It erodes faith in elected officials, wastes taxpayer dollars, and reduces the quality of government-funded projects and services.

Our report represents the most comprehensive feasibility study and analysis of blockchain-based public procurement, and blockchain for anticorruption more generally. I primarily focused my efforts on the policy and legal realms of this project — mapping accountability gaps in existing legal frameworks, developing a catalog of complementary policy recommendations, and proposing a variety of similarly corruption-prone areas of governance that might also benefit from blockchain solutions.

Blockchain has high potential to address public-sector corruption, including in procurement, because of its unique combination of permanent and tamper-evident record-keeping, real-time transaction transparency and auditability, and automated smart contract functionality. It essentially reduces opportunities for illegitimate tampering and radically increases procedural transparency, allowing anyone with the internet to monitor the procurement process.

We hope the report cuts some of the hype that generally surrounds blockchain in order to provide a realistic assessment of its anticorruption potential and the steps governments must take for this potential to be fully realized. Our ultimate vision is to inspire other governments to leverage our research and analysis in order to assess the utility of a blockchain-based procurement solution and potentially reinvent such a system to best fit their own needs.

What were some of your accomplishments as president of PILA?

To be honest, with our fundraising obligations and various schoolwide events, just keeping the PILA trains running on time is a huge accomplishment each year — but the praise for all of that goes to the rest of the PILA board. We packed the house at the public service kickoff, hosted two successful auctions and service days, facilitated a thought-provoking Shaping Justice conference, benefited from the highest-earning restaurant fundraiser night in memory, and facilitated 2,050 hours of pro bono legal work through the Alternative Spring Break, even amidst the insecurity of a global pandemic. Beyond our regularly scheduled events, I was particularly proud to be part of a team of student leaders, faculty and administrators who conducted an extensive review of the PILA grant process. Recognizing the limitations of our current system, we hoped to effectively understand and respond to student concerns. While this review will continue into next year, it was exciting to work with an amazing group of people toward tangibly enhancing students’ law school experience.

Describe your most interesting law school experience.

Having the opportunity to go to Nepal with the Human Rights Study Project is by far my most interesting law school experience. In January of 2019, 12 other Virginia Law students and I flew to Kathmandu to learn about the human rights context in Nepal, with a particular focus on the newly implemented Nepali Constitution. Learning from a wide array of practitioners, walking the crowded streets of Kathmandu, traveling to villages in the Himalayan foothills and ultimately making the nine-day trek to Everest base camp are experiences that enriched my legal education and life in ways I never could have conceived when I was applying to law school.

What did you learn from studying both for a J.D. and M.P.P. at the same time?

I was intent on pursuing degrees in law and public policy because my interest in the law is entirely grounded in a desire to help improve people’s lived experiences. My education at Batten provided the insight I had hoped for and more. I took courses in behavioral economics, social psychology, political analysis, statistics and policy writing — each of which opened my eyes to an essential aspect of how laws are made and how they affect people’s day-to-day lives. Because everything in this world is multidisciplinary, what I most appreciate about obtaining both degrees is my ability to now leverage various complementary lenses, frameworks and tools when presented with a problem or project. 

What’s something your classmates don’t know about you?

Last August, I and my extended family went to Munich, Germany, to participate in a ceremony commemorating the lives of my great-grandparents, Sabine and Leopold Schwager. The city of Munich recently started a program placing plaques in front of the homes of Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, and my great-grandparents were amongst the first to be memorialized in this way. I have always felt very connected to my family’s Holocaust story and to my maternal grandfather who survived the war but passed away when I was 2. Even though Munich was the epicenter of Hitler’s political movement, there is shockingly little commemoration of the Holocaust in the city at present. Particularly as xenophobic rhetoric has begun to reemerge in Germany and elsewhere, it felt very powerful to be a part of this act of remembrance for my family personally and for the city as a whole.

Where are you working after law school?

Beginning in the fall, I’ll be working for U.S. Judge Bernard A. Friedman in the Eastern District of Michigan.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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