Spanish and Chinese HKS alumni networks connect over the coronavirus.


Back in March, the Whatsapp channel of the HKS Alumni Network in Spain was full of messages and exchanges among its members warning about a mysterious new virus in China. “One week before Spain had the [coronavirus] lockdown, alumni sent long messages in our WhatsApp channel warning about the situation in China and saying the Spanish government was not taking the situation as seriously as possible, and that we should already be on lockdown. China was experiencing this situation two months in advance of Spain—and because China’s curve was flattening, it was excellent to know about their experience,” says Borja Santos Porras MPA/ID 2017, leader of the HKS Alumni Network in Spain.

He and the network’s board began wondering what else they could do to facilitate knowledge and action among alumni in Spain. He soon was in touch with the Office of Alumni Relations, which connected him with Chen Zheng, former HKS alumni leader in China. Together organized a webinar for alumni in the two countries. The event included epidemiologists, public health experts, and academicians from China.

“Everything was super interesting, not only the ideas, but the reasoning—how the Chinese were looking at the future helped us understand what their experience was,” says Santos Porras, who appreciated how the event fostered a sense of international community. “You have this when you study at HKS—you study with people all around the world—but when you go back to your country, you become a bit more nationalistic. It is good to have international exchanges.”

Chen Zheng, who was a Rajawali Fellow at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Democratic Governance and Innovation in 2011, is involved with the HKS China Regional Alumni Network. She says, “Although we now live in different places, the connection and care for each other has never been cut off by geographic distances. We extended invitations through our alumni network to the top experts in China including the deputy head of Beijing Hospital Team to Wuhan, who shared her first-hand experience from Wuhan. One alumni speaker even prepared two whole days for this webinar because he wanted to share and contribute. In front of the virus, humanity shines.”

Santos Porras hopes to hold additional events, especially those that involve two-way communication. “We have had conversations with other HKS alumni from Europe and we have some ideas on how to do this. It’s nice for chapters to collaborate, and learn directly from each other.”