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Capital Campaign

With IDEASpHERE, Kennedy School Launches Capital Campaign

5.16.14

Dean David Ellwood

Dean David Ellwood

Photograph by Martha Stewart/ courtesy of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

The opening plenary session

The opening plenary session

Photograph by Martha Stewart/ courtesy of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Left to right: M.P.P. candidate Jieum Baek, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia,  Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico, and M.P.A. candidate Amandla Agoro Ooko-Ombaka

Left to right: M.P.P. candidate Jieum Baek, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico, and M.P.A. candidate Amandla Agoro Ooko-Ombaka

Photograph by Martha Stewart/ courtesy of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

With a two-day event styled “IDEASpHERE,” the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) launched its part of the University-wide $6.5-billion capital campaign on May 15 and 16. HKS has set a goal of raising $500 million. Although its graduates do not rank, as a group, among Harvard’s most prosperous—given how many work in government, for nonprofits, and in other public-service positions around the world—its campaign is off to a fine start. On the evening of the first day, a spokesperson announced that the school had already raised $336 million toward the goal.

HKS numbers no fewer than 14 current or former heads of state among its graduates, and two took the stage at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum for the opening plenary session. The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, M.P.A. ’71, LL.D. ’11, and Felipe Calderón, M.P.A. ’00, K ’03, president of Mexico from 2006 to 2012, discussed leadership with two current HKS students. Asked what prepares a leader for coping with difficult decisions, Sirleaf replied, “There’s nothing that prepares you other than your inner will to make a decision. That is difficult. You find out what you have within you.” Calderón noted that “once a decision arrives on your desk, it is there because it is a difficult one. Often, your choice is between the lesser of two evils.”

Sirleaf said that as president, the first challenge “is the team you put together, and how to balance that team. The team needs to reflect the population—and Liberia is, for example, a very young country.” Calderón addressed the problems organized crime presents, which was one of the central challenges of his presidency. He observed that in some places, in Mexico and elsewhere, criminals are taking over towns, including the police forces, mayors, and even higher officials. “If you allow criminals to erode society,” he declared, “you are losing the basis for economic prosperity.” On a lighter note, he later said that while he doesn’t dispute the possibility that cannabis could have medical benefits, citizens should keep their skepticism intact. “We might compare them to the medical benefits of tequila,” he said, getting a big laugh. “Tequila can cure any kind of cold. You will forget the cold.”

President Drew Faust followed the heads of state with praise for HKS and for Ellwood, Harvard’s longest-serving current dean. (He was appointed in 2004.) She noted that HKS is the University’s “first truly global school,” adding that it had also been on the cutting edge of interdisciplinary and interfaculty work: “The Kennedy School embodied ‘one Harvard’ before it was ‘cool.’” Phrases coined at the school, like “soft power” and “bowling alone,” she pointed out, have entered the lexicon.

In an interview before the IDEASpHERE launch events—which drew 700 participants—Ellwood himself discussed the current challenges of governance in the context of a disillusioned public. “The American people have never been enamored with government, but what’s unique about this moment is that we face a series of quite troubling public challenges,” he said, citing middle-class stagnation, climate change, and even threats to democracy itself. Ellwood stressed that HKS students are “people who’ve really been in the world of practice. If we don’t focus on big questions like making democracy work, how will we harness the forces that are really shaping our world?”

During his IDEASpHERE keynote, Ellwood elaborated on these thoughts with examples, after admitting that, as a teenager, his ambition wasn’t to become a rock star, but “assistant secretary of planning and evaluation for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare” (a goal he eventually reached in the Clinton administration). He introduced from the audience Joseph Curtatone, M.P.P. ’11, mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts, who faced daunting fiscal challenges on taking office. So Curtatone worked with Linda Bilmes, Moynihan senior lecturer in public policy, who was teaching a course on “performance-based budgeting,” a system that “focuses on outcomes more than input,” Ellwood explained. Fifty-five students in the course went to Somerville on nights and weekends, giving the city the equivalent of thousands of dollars in free consulting. Some years later, with Curtatone still mayor, The Boston Globe Magazine called Somerville the best-run city in Massachusetts. In the process, “our students got a priceless real-world experience,” said Ellwood. HKS students are now working with six other cities, with 35 more on a waiting list.

Ellwood also hailed audience members Debbie Aung Din Taylor and Jim Taylor, both M.P.A. ’90, who have been helping farmers in Myanmar for years with devices like an inexpensive water pump, as described in Harvard Magazine. In his interview, Ellwood had touched on a theme he also raised in his keynote speech: lowering the cost of education by means of financial aid to ensure that the school can attract the very best leaders as students. “If students graduate with a lot of debt, they’re going to have to make a career choice based not on where they will be most effective, but where they can make the most money,” he said. “Debt interferes with opportunity at all educational institutions, but at the Kennedy School it kills dreams.” 

David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, chairs the campaign, which has set four priorities for the school’s future; Ellwood noted them in his keynote address. First is “reaching the very best leaders,” which involves developing the financial-aid resources (as Ellwood mentioned in the interview) to keep the cost of education manageable. Second is “transforming the educational experience,” referring in part to multidisciplinary and experiential learning, flexible classrooms, and teaching and learning technologies. Third is “generating powerful ideas,” a rubric focused on three areas: “making democracy work; creating shared, sustainable prosperity; harnessing the forces reshaping our world.” The fourth is “creating a campus that amplifies our mission.” This involves the creation of new spaces, including a new building and the reworking of existing spaces to support “active, engaged learning, and group work,” Ellwood explained in the interview.

The IDEASpHERE offered 100 speakers and 48 sessions, including many smaller sessions led by faculty members. In one on “Opportunity and Inequality,” for example, Malkin professor of public policy Robert Putnam, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, agreed that restoring equality of opportunity is one of the most pressing social challenges of our time. Of his home state of Ohio, Putnam remarked, “This is not a Rust Belt story, this is an American story.” His research indicates that the class divide in parental investment in their children's emotional and cognitive development is rising, leading to different educational and economic outcomes. According to Muñoz, restoring equal opportunity is not only about asking “what the government can be doing about this,” but also about investing in local communities and inspiring conversations in neighborhood associations.

In “Should We Fear a Cyber Pearl Harbor or 9/11?” former HKS dean Joseph Nye, now Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, and Alexander Klimburg, research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, teamed to probe the ambiguities and puzzles of cyber-warfare. “Due to low barriers and low costs, these things can be done not only by nations but by non-state actors,” Nye explained. He believes it unlikely that the United States could be hit unawares, as at Pearl Harbor, but also warned that the Cold War principle of deterrence doesn’t work well in the cyber world, where it isn’t always possible to attribute the attack to a specific, known source. “If you can’t attribute,” he asked, “how do you deter?” Klimburg elucidated some of the complexities, noting that there are at least 20 different modes of cyber-attack, and more than 150 million strains of malware—20 percent of which were created in 2013 alone. “The most important weapon in defense is intelligence,” he said. “Defense is complex, but it is still outmatched by offense.”

At a plenary session on IDEASpHERE’s second day, the economics editor of The Economist, Zanny Minton Beddoes, M.P.A. ’92, interviewed former Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers, now the Eliot University Professor. (A video of their conversation is here.) Summers saw some bright spots in the economic picture, in areas such as energy independence (“With the right level of investment, we could be Saudi Arabia six years from now”), healthcare costs (because of the Affordable Care Act), and the financial industry. Yet he pointed to “structural changes that raise the propensity to save, and reduce it for investing, which carries growth.”  He asked the audience to recall the era when AT&T and General Motors were borrowing money to invest, and compare that to the present, “when Apple and Google are awash in cash, and don’t know what to do with it.” He pointed out that there is a “difference between shipping things from the ‘cloud’ and building shopping malls,” in terms of the investment involved, and that less investment correlates with a demand problem.

Summers at one point sketched the robust economic conditions after World War II, including pent-up consumer demand from wartime restrictions, building suburbia and furnishing those homes, and constructing the interstate highway system. “Today, we’re going the other way on infrastructure, housing, and pessimism versus optimism,” he said. “I have concerns about this, I do. Confidence is the cheapest form of stimulus.”

During the IDEASpHERE convocation, banners hung in high places around the school trumpeted words from HKS’ s namesake, John F. Kennedy ’40, LL.D. ’56: “Ask What You Can Do.” At the end of his keynote speech, Ellwood noted that those words from JFK’s inaugural address had been preceded by another inspiring sentence: “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” The dean finished by telling his listeners, “Now is our time. Let’s light the world.”

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