Changing the World
ClassACT HR73 tries organizing alumni in a new way.
Employing the mantra “It’s Not Too Late to Change the World,” some members of the class of 1973 have formed a nonprofit organization to address important local, national, and international issues while simultaneously building relationships among classmates. ClassACT HR73 (“Achieving Change Together”) aims to leverage “classmates’ expertise, skills, time, and goodwill,” according to co-chair Jonathan Sprague, to form effective collaborations that support existing projects or develop new opportunities.
ClassACT’s largest project has been the establishment of the Benazir Bhutto Leadership Program (BBLP), which honors the prime minister of Pakistan assassinated in 2007, who was also their classmate. The program helps support “leadership development in predominantly Muslim countries,” says another co-chair, Marion Dry, and includes two fellowships at Harvard’s Kennedy School, in conjunction with the Edward S. Mason Program for mid-career graduate students. The BBLP is designed to advance peace and human rights in connection with principles espoused by Bhutto, Sprague notes, namely: “democracy, equality for women, reconciliation of religious and cultural differences, and education for all without gender or religious bias.” To date, about 125 classmates have participated in developing this project and more than $540,000 has been raised for the program. Inaugural fellows Natasha Jehangir Khan and Roohi Abdullah, both of Pakistan, matriculated in June.
The nonprofit is also spearheading more than a dozen “Bridge Projects.” These smaller endeavors match needs of socially responsible organizations founded or supported by classmates with classmate volunteers. So far, those versed in grant-writing and the arts have aided a Kenyan organization called Osiligi Hope, which provides educational and health services to Maasai communities. The classmate-founded JusticeAID, which holds concerts around the country to raise money for local justice organizations, has benefited from ClassACT help in promoting concerts and related events. Those included discussions on “Justice, Mental Health, and Incarceration,” moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Michael Winerip ’74, and on “The Criminalization of Poverty: 21st Century Debtors Prison,” hosted by former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman ’73. The latter featured Harvard alumni Alec Karakatsanis, J.D. ’08, of the Civil Rights Corps (profiled in “Criminal Injustice,” September-October 2017, page 44), and Gina Clayton, J.D. ’10, of the Essie Justice Group. ClassACT is also working on a national project to support STEM education through the creation of sports analytics clubs for high-school and middle-school students interested in learning data-management and -analysis skills.
ClassACT HR73 has engaged about 250 classmates in these efforts, according to Dry, who adds, “We believe we are the first class [at Harvard] to ever organize ourselves to such an extent.” In coordinating the nonprofit and regional events, the group works cooperatively with the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), which supports its aims, Sprague says. “One of the long-range goals is to share what we have learned with the HAA and to encourage them to adapt or adopt what we have done and potentially create a ClassACT-type structure, and ultimately connect inter-class endeavors.”