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When then-Harvard President Derek Bok and then-Kennedy School Dean Graham Allison first outlined their vision for a new center for business and government at the Kennedy School, it may have been difficult to imagine an organization with activities reaching from Cambridge to Congress and from Addis Ababa to Ho Chi Minh City.
“The Center will attempt to bridge the gap between researchers and those with practical experience in addressing the problems of business and government,” Bok and Allison wrote in a 1980 publication. “Perhaps even more importantly, it will attempt to link members of the public and private sectors in collaborative efforts at problem solving.”
Officially established in 1982 under the direction of Winthrop Knowlton, the Kennedy School’s Center for Business & Government quickly became as a central resource for academics, practitioners, students and others interested in issues at the nexus of the private and public sectors. In its initial years of operation, more than 1000 business executives were brought to the Center to participate in classroom activities as well as in conferences on education, tax reform, industrial policy, community revitalization, and many other subjects.
“The problems of business-government interactions are obviously important to American society,” noted President Bok, in addressing the purpose of the new Center. “Unfortunately, public officials in this country do not adequately appreciate the needs and problems of business, and corporate executives do not always appreciate the objectives of government or the constraints under which public officials work. The challenge for a ‘mixed’ economy such as ours is to develop more effective means for the public and private sectors to inform each other, to guide each other, to cooperate – while each also preserves its proper discipline, integrity and vitality.”
The Center has produced hundreds of publications, conferences, seminars and events during its first quarter century. In the early 1990’s, recognizing the rapid growth of the telecommunications industry, the Center hosted a major conference that assessed the telecom marketplace and its position in the Massachusetts economy. The event was attended by more than 300 participants, including U.S. Congressman Edward Markey, Massachusetts Governor William Weld, Lt. Governor Paul Cellucci, and CEOs from a number of telecommunications companies.
In 2001, the Center hosted a four-day conference on American Economic Policy in the 1990’s that examined the causes and outcomes of U.S. economic growth during that decade. Other conferences and events have covered topics ranging from corporate governance, energy policy, and corporate social responsibility to AIDS in Africa, leadership training in China, and economics in Vietnam.
“The interaction of corporations and government is becoming deeper and deeper, yet there often isn’t clear understanding of each other. [The Center for Business & Government] provides a forum for bridging the gap between corporations and government, which are now, and will be in the future, more interrelated than ever before in history,” said Marshall Carter, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange and former senior fellow at the Center.
In 2005, the Center was formally renamed the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government, recognizing a generous gift from Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani and her husband, Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani, a Kennedy School alumnus. Their gift has allowed the Center to expand its long-term capacity for research, scholarship and teaching.
The Center will continue its tradition of convening scholars, practitioners and students to address critical problems at the nexus of business and government when it marks its 25th anniversary with a conference on New Directions in Regulation in Cambridge on October 23rd and 24th. Renowned experts will discuss global climate change, financial regulation, healthcare policy and regulating energy markets, and SEC Chairman Christopher Cox and former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan will each offer a keynote address.
“For 25 years the Center has provided a neutral space in which key players from government, business, and civil society can come together, understand each other’s perspectives, and seek consensus — honestly and effectively — with expert help from Kennedy School faculty,” said Center Director John Ruggie. “Today our work touches on every aspect of the business and government intersection, and its focus is global as well as national.”
(L-R) Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2007) and John Ruggie, Kennedy School Professor and Director of the Mossavar Rahmani Center for Business and Government.
(L-R) Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani is pictured with her husband, Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani, a Kennedy School alumnus.