Faces of the Congo

In the heart of the African continent, the province of Équateur is where centuries ago the Sudanese met the Bantu. The story goes that the Crocodile crossed the northerners on his lap to the other side of the Ubangi River. Home to some of the Congo’s darkest figures–such as Mobutu Sese Seko and Jean-Pierre Bemba, it is also the cradle of a vibrant culture that reflects the beauty of its people. These are some of their faces.

Gemena, 2016


Personal Information

  • Name: Laura Montenegro Helfer
  • Date and place of birth: 12.19.1989. Oxford, Great Britain.
  • Citizenship: Colombian & Swiss
  • Cellphone: +1 (312) 3427366

Academic Formation

  • 2017-present: PhD Candidate (Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago).
  • 2017: MA in Economics (Universidad de los Andes).
  • 2015: BA in History (Universidad de los Andes).
  • 2013: BA in Economics (Universidad de los Andes).
  • 2007: Bachillerato Colombiano (Colegio Helvetia Bogotá).
  • 2007: Maturité Suisse/Schweizer Matura (Canton de Berne/Kanton Bern).

Academic Experience

  • 2016 (February to present): Research Assistant for James Robinson (University Professor at University of Chicago).
  • Summer 2016 (June to August): Fieldwork Research Assistant for Nathan Nunn (Professor at Harvard University) and James Robinson (University Professor at University of Chicago).
  • 2016 (February to May): Research Assistant for Leopoldo Fergusson (Assistant Professor at Universidad de los Andes) and James Robinson (University Professor at University of Chicago).
  • 2013 (July)- 2016 (May): Research Assistant for Ana María Ibáñez (Professor at Universidad de los Andes).
  • 2015 (January to May): Teaching Assistant in course ‘Economy of Institutions and Decisions’ given by Juan Camilo Cárdenas (Dean of the Economics Department and Professor at Universidad de los Andes).
  • 2014 (September) and 2015 (February-March): Fieldwork Research Assistant for Juan Camilo Cárdenas (Dean of the Economics Department and Professor at Universidad de los Andes).
  • 2013 (February to May): Research Assistant for Adriana Camacho (Professor at Universidad de los Andes).

Fellowships & Research Grants

  • 2021: Nicholson Graduate Digital Archival Research Grant.
  • 2021: Pearson Institute Research and Innovation Fund.
  • 2020: EHA Exploratory Travel and Data Grant.
  • 2020: BFI New Data Acquisition Grant.
  • 2020: Pearson Institute Research and Innovation Fund.
  • 2019: BFI Summer Research Grant.
  • 2017: Pearson Scholar Research Grant.
  • 2017-present: Pearson Scholarship.


  • Spanish: First language.
  • English: First language, CAE C1, and TOEFL (British Consulate, ETS).
  • French: Maturité Suisse (Main language) and DALF C1 (Colegio Helvetia Bogotá and Alianza Colombo Francesa).
  • German: Maturité Suisse (Secondary language) and Sprachdiplom I (Colegio Helvetia Bogotá and Deutsche Schule Bogotá).
  • Russian: A1+ (basic) level (Academia León Tolstoi Bogotá and Liden & Denz Saint Petersburg).


  • Ibáñez, Ana María; Montenegro, Laura ¿Qué pasó en las áreas rurales entre 2010 y 2013?: Contribución del acceso a tierras, choques negativos y programas estatales dirigidos al bienestar de los hogares [What happened in the rural areas between 2010 and 2013?: The contribution of land access, negative shocks, and state programs on household welfare]. In: Colombia en movimiento 2010-2013. Los cambios en la vida de los hogares a través de la Encuesta Longitudinal Colombiana de la Universidad de los Andes [Colombia in Motion 2010-2013: Changes in household living standards based on the Colombian Longitudinal Survey by the Universidad de los Andes]. Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes, 2014.

Working Papers

  • Ibáñez, Ana María; Montenegro, Laura. “Is Migration Welfare-Enhancing? The Impacts of Economic and Forced Migration amid Conflict”.
  • Arjona, Ana María; Ibáñez, Ana María; Cárdenas, Juan Camilo; Justino, Patricia; Montenegro, Laura. “Examining Forced Displacement beyond Violence: The Effect of Violence and Control of Armed Actors in Colombia”. 2015.
  • Montenegro, Laura. “Forming State through Land Reform Policy: The Dynamics of Baldío Allocation in Peripheral Colombia”. 2016.
  • Montenegro, Laura. “Pensando el Campo Colombiano: La política del desarrollo, las tierras, y la vida del campesino en el diseño de la Reforma Social Agraria (1960-1961)” [“Reflecting on the Colombian Rural Areas: Policies of development, land, and the life of rural workers in the designing of the Social Agrarian Reform (1960-1961)”]. 2014.


  • Montenegro, Laura. Is migration welfare-enhancing? The impacts of economic and forced migration. January 2016, Puebla, Mexico. Presented at the RIMISP International Conference of Territorial Inequality and Development.

Summer Courses Abroad

  • 2015 (July 13 to July 23): Conflict and Political Violence. Olympia Summer Academy. European International Studies Association. Nafplio, Greece.

Skills (Systems)

  • GIS (ArcGIS, QGIS)
  • GeoODK

Examining Forced Displacement beyond Violence: The Effect of Violence and Control of Armed Actors in Colombia

This paper examines the effect of conflict on internal migration. We uncover the mechanisms through which the presence of non-state armed actors cause migration: direct exposure to violence, uncertainty and fear, and the non-state armed actor exercise of control over the community. We use panel data for households in Colombia before and after migration and exploit the variation in the incidence of community violence and control of non-state armed actors within municipalities. The results show that households are willing to trade reductions in per capita consumption for improvements in security conditions. Direct victims of violence migrate to urban areas, while individuals living in communities with high control of armed groups are less likely to migrate within their municipalities. Stayers are presumably better able to cope with conflict induced risks by negotiating their daily lives with armed actors, adjusting their behavior to abide by the rules they impose, changing their economic behavior, or forming alliances in exchange for protection and economic and political benefits.

Take a look in: migration-and-conflict-20151103