September 9, 2021

 “Hey HKS Women. The news from Afghanistan’s women is horrible and frightening. What can we do to support them and show we care?”

** Update as of 9/17/2021 listed below the article. 

That was the message HKS Alumni Board member Judith Bunnell MPP 1984 posted on the HKS Women’s Network (HKSWN) Facebook page on August 16. Less than two days later alumni from around the world gathered via Zoom to collaborate and identify quickly identify specific “asks'' to support fleeing Afghan families.

For the next three weeks, and continuing today, the group is meeting weekly to identify a list of actions HKS alumni can do: providing on-the-ground support, raising funds, and providing advocacy. More specifically, they identified the following areas of focus:

Escape: First, the group connected with the nonprofit Ascend (led by Marina LeGree MC/MPA 2014) an organization working to empower young women in Afghanistan. As a result of the crisis, Ascend rapidly refocused its efforts to secure planes to help vulnerable girls to leave the country. Working together with HKS alumni, Ascend was able to connect with individuals from Denmark and Chile who assisted in securing visas for these girls.  Additionally, led by Gary Whitehill HKSEE 2020, alumni pooled their resources to coordinate in-country logistics such as planes.

Money: It was necessary to share funds with known players on the ground. The group guided alumni donors to Ascend and the International Rescue Committee. Ascend reports thousands of dollars from HKS alumni raised. The individuals coordinating these efforts are also asking alumni who can open doors to corporations, foundations, and social impact investors to immediately contact Audrene Eloit MC/MPA 2014 or Rachel Binder MPA 2016; they have a proposal ready.

Advocacy: Offering action options for alumni based in the United States, the team crafted short messages to be shared with federal officials, urging them to get Afghan allies and families out of Afghanistan and to fix the Special Immigrant Visa process. The team also drafted bullet points for state and local officials to emphasize community welcomes for Afghan refugees. Alumni based outside of the United States were asked to send similar messages to their own authorities.

Resettlement: Anyone able to speak Dari or Pashto was asked to immediately contact Jessica Fullerton MPA 2012 to help Afghan refugees coming to the United States. In addition, alumni were provided names of national organizations who can put them in touch with local organizations working to resettle refugees.

Internal Communications: Getting the message out to HKS alumni was a top priority to drive support. Through email and social media communications, HKS alumni volunteers representing various global alumni networks from France to LA worked together to amplify the message among their communities.

What comes next? LeGree informed the group during their first meeting that critical support would be needed soon to support Afghans who either do not or are unable to leave the country. The group is also grappling with how to advocate for resettlement efforts in each local HKS community.

If you have any additional resources or ideas related to supporting the Afghan community, please reach out to Bunnell to be added to the current communication list.

A special thanks to the following alumni who were not previously noted for their quick and thoughtful efforts:

Leonard Adler MPP 1991
Carolyn Anderson MPP 2014
Lisa Austin MPP 1984
Rachel Binder MPA 2016
Andrea Blinkhorn MPP 2016
Molly Byrne MPP 2010
Charles Carithers MPP 2007
Megan Carroll MPP 2019
Jody Feerst Litvak MPP 1984
Litcy Kurisinkal MPP 2013
Carol Landsman MPP 1984
Peter-Anthony Pappas HKSEE 2021
Theo Skeadas MPP 2016
Priya Singh MPA 2018



 Dear Friends and Fellow HKS Alumni.

First, thank you.  You have jumped in and made a real difference in the lives of Afghan women and vulnerable community members.  Wow!

As you know, all of us have been focusing on getting the following this week:

  • General visibility of the issue and especially Marina/Ascend
  • Specific asks for international visas to get Marina’s team and young women safely out
  • Money money money

Media/Visibility:  I am sure you saw all the coverage on Marina’s efforts (see below) as well as our story in the Alumni Events Newsletter.  HKS alums have responded and have asked to be part of our Team. Please send out our article or anything you think would prompt action to HKS networks and alumni. Jody is working on LA personalities.  Does anyone know anybody who could share Marina/Ascend’s story? Follow Ascend on Twitter (afghan_ascend,) Instagram (afghan_ascend), FB (Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics).

International Visas:  Wow!  Marina has worked with HKS alums from Ireland (20 visas), Denmark (2 visas) and Chile (18 visas) to get visas and we have connected her with folks in France, Australia, Mexico and other parts of Latin America.  Please connect with your international classmates and ask them to work with Marina on visas.  Gary and Dennis are also providing strategic on the ground support.

Money:  HKS alums are still giving to Ascend and to other refugee organizations.  Soon we will be supporting Afghans who are in Afghanistan and they will need our financial support.

Please keep the pressure up.  If you have access to visas contact Marina directly at  If you have someone to add to the team or other ideas, send me a message!

Media: Ascend Stories: