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In 1997, Harvard University was well into its fourth century of serving as an arena for vibrant intellectual debate – fortified by voices from around the globe. However, the people from and the challenges faced by Southeastern Europe were largely absent from this community.
At the same time, Southeastern Europe was slowly transforming, recovering from years of war; fledgling democracies and ailing economies were struggling to reconnect within their own societies and with each other, and to engage with the rest of their world.
It was these realities – the lack of engagement between Harvard and Southeastern Europe, and the region’s political and socio-economic challenges – that brought together a pioneering group of people to found the Kokkalis Program at the Kennedy School in September 1997.
This visionary group – Socrates and Eleni Kokkalis and their family, then-Harvard University President Neil Rudenstein, then-Kennedy School Dean Joseph Nye, then-Senior Associate Dean Holly Taylor Sargeant and others – foresaw the potential benefits that could result for the university and the region by building bridges of cooperation between them. Despite the regions’ troubled past, they dared to imagine that Southeastern Europe’s future could come to symbolize progress, cooperation and innovation.
In just ten years, the Kokkalis Program grew from an idea into a model program at the Kennedy School, providing the means and the access for hundreds of students, scholars, policymakers, activists and opinion leaders to study and exchange ideas at Harvard University and in Southeast Europe.
“In its ten years of operation, the Kokkalis Program gave voice and presence to Southeastern Europe at Harvard University and has become the Kennedy School’s largest and most effective regional program – with an alumni network of nearly 300 individuals whose leadership, initiative and determination are helping to promote peace and prosperity in Southeastern Europe and beyond,” said Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood.
This month the Kokkalis Program marks its tenth anniversary by hosting the largest gathering in the region of Harvard alumni, faculty and senior officials and Southeast European leaders. The celebration takes place June 18th in Athens and will include a keynote address by Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, a Kokkalis Fellow and Kennedy School alumnus (MPA/ID 2003).
“My time at [the School] made me strengthen my commitment to democracy,” Jeremic said. “There I was able to build up the confidence to keep fighting for the democratic values we so often take for granted.”
Jeremic is one of several rising young leaders in the region who studied at the Kennedy School and served Fellowships with the Kokkalis Program. Others include Georgi Kadiev (MPA/MC 1999), deputy minister of finance in Bulgaria; Dritan Prifti (MPA/MC 2000), who serves as a Member of Parliament in Albania; and Ana Trbovich, former assistant minister of international economic relations in Serbia (MPA 2001). Antonio Milososki, who attended the Kennedy School’s Executive Education program in 2001, serves as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia.
Today, the Kokkalis Program continues to expand its core initiative of advancing scholarship and leadership in the region through its array of fellowships, executive training and other educational opportunities -- thereby contributing directly to the development of the region and its human capital.
Photos: Kokkalis Program