Alan Hirsch was born in Cape Town and educated in South Africa and the US, with degrees in Economics, Economic History and History at UCT, Wits and Columbia. He also trained at Georgetown University, and was a visiting scholar at the Harvard Business School. He worked as an economics lecturer and economic policy research director at the University of Cape Town from 1984 to 1986 and from 1989 to 1995.
He joined the Department of Trade and Industry in 1995, and occupied several senior positions in industrial and technology policy until joining the Policy Unit in the Presidency in 2002, as Chief Economist. As part of this position he monitored and evaluated economic policy implementation in the Presidency, represented the Presidency at the G20, and was co-chair the G20 Development Working Group.
He is now Director of the Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice at the University of Cape Town.
He is a member of the board of Trade and Industry Policy Strategies, a Pretoria-based think tank. He has published widely on trade and industrial policy issues, including a book, "Season of Hope - Economic Reform under Mandela and Mbeki". He is a regular visiting professor at the Graduate School of Governance at Maastricht University.