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The Kennedy School’s mission could not be more straightforward or more profound: to make the world a better place. The school aspires to train exceptional public leaders and generate the ideas that help solve the most pressing public problems. It is a mission that is both audacious and idealistic, and that every student, faculty, and staff member readily embraces.

The language of public leadership is claimed by many educational institutions nowadays, but this has always been the soul of HKS. Over its history, the Kennedy School drew up a blueprint for how a school of public policy should organize and operate. It invented new ways to train public leaders. It has populated the world of public service with rigorously trained innovators. Its researchers have given life to a vision, imagined by the school’s founders, of academics engaging with the real world: from reducing the threat of nuclear war and terror to pioneering welfare reform, from seeking efficient and politically viable environ­mental controls to reshaping the way governments respond to genocide, from pointing leaders toward soft power to crafting potential ideas for advancing economic development in emerging nations.

These are great achievements, but not ones to rest on.

Follow the news on any given day, and the complex public problems of our time come into full view: terrorism, climate change, inequality and economic development, international tensions, political gridlock, and fiscal crises. These problems linger and grow with huge and profound implications for people across the planet and even generations yet unborn.

“The Kennedy School actually thinks it’s our job to fix these problems,” says Dean David Ellwood. “That’s who we are, that’s what we’re about. Doing so will require taking our mission to a still higher level — educating even more effective public leaders and generating still more innovative ideas.”

The capital campaign will allow the school to make transformative changes and build additional resources to continue to address this ever growing set of public challenges. The multi-year initiative will build the Kennedy School’s capacity to:

>> reach the very best leaders;

>> transform the educational experience;

>> generate powerful ideas; and

>> create a campus that amplifies our mission.

What follows is a first look at the broad focus of the campaign.

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Reaching the Very Best Leaders

PRIORITY | A generation ago, the Kennedy School succeeded in putting public policy on a par with medicine, business, and law by providing professional training for individuals interested in public service. And as the line between the public and private sectors began to blur, the school responded by training students not only in policy analysis but also in ways to lead and reimagine solutions to public problems.

The roster of HKS alumni is impressive — from heads of state and international organ­iza­tions to social entrepreneurs, from leading civil servants to human rights campaigners — and the school must continue to attract and train the very best leaders, through both its degree and executive education programs.

An obstacle for many students, both to attending and to making career choices, is the cost of education. Although the financial aid available has doubled during David Ellwood’s tenure as dean, from $11 million to $22 million, a key priority of the campaign is to raise funds that will strategically support students, includ­ing those from the poorest countries and those who choose to pursue careers in public service.

The Kennedy School will also expand its executive education program, which connects 3,000 senior public leaders, like former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords; General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the general staff of the Armed Forces of Russia; and Li Yuanchou, recently named vice president of China, with HKS faculty each year. A forum to exchange ideas and experiences that can directly influence policy and scholarship, the executive education program is expected to grow by an additional 1,000 attendees annually as part of the campaign.

The school will also continue to strengthen joint programs with Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, and will examine the possibility of teaching undergraduates in collaboration with Harvard College.

Transforming the Educational Experience

PRIORITY | Preparing public leaders to address increasingly complex problems demands better teaching and better learning. That is why the Kennedy School has always stressed learning from practice as well as theory. “We want to train students to become extremely good at making things happen,” Ellwood says, “and therefore they have to be trained in a more active learning style.”

From developing the case method and inserting rigorous analytics into public policy classes, and, more recently, integrating experiential learning that moves students between the classroom and the field, the school has created a virtuous cycle of learning and impact. For example, Kennedy School students in an applied budgeting class helped improve the way public services are delivered in Somerville, Massachu­setts. Building on this success, this model of connecting with cities has been implemented in other cities, including Boston, and has seen demand from major metro­politan areas in the United States and overseas.

Through an increased focus on multi­disciplinary and experiential learning, flexible classrooms, and connection and contribution through technology, the school will continue to prepare students with the skills they need to succeed in public service. For example, fore­shadowing the growing availability of lecture and course materials online, the Kennedy School will participate in edX, the online learning initiative launched by Harvard and MIT, for the first time this fall.

The Kennedy School plans to pursue creation of a Social Entrepreneurship Lab, which will provide intellectual and financial resources to graduating students who seek to build social enterprises, helping to catalyze their efforts and contribute new knowledge to this growing field. With the help of programs like this elsewhere at Harvard, such as the iLab, Kennedy School students have flourished, launching organiza­tions and initiatives like Instiglio, which is bringing a new public service funding technique advanced by Professor Jeffrey Liebman to developing countries as well as the United States, and Vaxxess Technologies, which uses silk harvested in underdeveloped areas to store and deliver vaccines.

The Strengthen Learning and Teaching Excellence (SLATE) program, developed several years ago, provides rigorous evaluation of these new forms of teaching and training.

Generating Powerful Ideas

PRIORITY | The Kennedy School has always been an incubator for powerful intellectual ideas with real-world application. The Nunn-Lugar legis­lation, which helped contain Soviet nuclear weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union; the idea of community policing, which revolutionized the way police departments operate in the United States; the use of market forces to achieve environmental goals — these powerful innovations are a few among the many developed by HKS faculty and researchers.

“The Kennedy School will focus on a combin­­a­tion of new ideas that will require not just a new professor at the margin but a collection of people who are interacting and crossing disciplinary and scholarly boundaries,” Ellwood says.

For example, today, research into behavioral economics by Kennedy School and Harvard University faculty is helping to change the way countries approach everything, including such funda­mental endeavors as saving for retirement, voting, and hiring. Development econo­mists are helping to draw complex maps of countries’ economies and conducting random­ized controlled studies to determine the best way to help finance entrepreneurs. And the school’s cutting-edge study of work in leadership is influ­encing everything from community organizing to crisis response. These advances have come from a commun­­ity of scholars and practitioners working across disciplines to bridge the worlds of academia and real-world application.

Leveraging this legacy, the school will emphasize three major research initiatives: “Making Democracy Work” will develop thoughtful, practical solutions to the difficulties democracies face, focusing on issues ranging from transparency to engagement. “Creating Shared, Sustainable Prosperity” will tackle challenges driven by rapid economic development, such as income disparities within and between countries. “Harnessing the Forces Reshaping Our World” will address issues raised by an increasingly multipolar world marked by rapidly shifting patterns of power.

This work will require additions to the faculty as well as new opportunities and spaces to convene and engage. The school will also leverage its convening power to bring together practitioners and scholars to discuss emerging ideas and test potential solutions.

Creating a Campus that Amplifies Our Mission

PRIORITY | To foster active, engaged learning and support real collaboration, HKS must expand and modernize its campus.

“You will be able to get a lecture on the web,” Ellwood says. “What you won’t be able to get are the person-to-person, small group, direct interactions where you learn the most. We don’t yet have the architecture or the technology for that.”

Increasingly, in both the private and academic sectors, working in silos is less desirable. Long, thin hallways with offices on either side impede the sharing of new ideas. Lecture halls, with students seated in inflexible rows, create barriers to collaborative learning.

The Kennedy School seeks to supplement today’s traditional classrooms and offices with flexible common spaces, or “skunk works,” where students and faculty can interact, chance encounters will spark new ideas, and collaborative work can be clustered as new projects emerge.

To overcome what one observer has described as its “hyper-utilization,” HKS also plans to more fully take advantage of its power to convene by expanding its capacity to host conferences, which today often take place in rented space at nearby facilities. It also plans to update classrooms, office space, and the Forum.

If the Kennedy School is to deliver on its mission to educate exceptional public leaders and generate public policy ideas for the 21st century, the school must grow and update its campus.

THIS IS A CRITICAL MOMENT IN THE WORLD. Some fight for democracy, while others wonder if it is capable of gener­ating the leadership our nations demand. It is a time when exciting advances are trans­forming the planet, but innovation is far too rare in government and policy. It is a moment when social entrepre­neurship offers a strategy for combining business efficiency with social understanding, but the scale of global challenges seems to be growing exponentially. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy in his original inaugural address, some 50 years ago: A few generations are given the opportunity and respons­ibility to lead at a time of particular peril. Harvard Kennedy School takes inspiration from his response:

“I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. 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.”