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Rebecca Henderson

John and Natty McArthur University Professor, HBS


Climate change (and all of the associated crises that make up the emerging polycrisis) are often addressed as technical, political and economic problems. But they are also profoundly personal. It seems unlikely that we will avert disaster unless or until the world is swept by a massive cultural shift and a social movement that insists on urgent action at scale – but where is such a movement to come from? How do we, as individuals, move beyond rage and despair to action? How can we learn to hold all that is happening and still find the courage and the skill to act? Most fundamentally, what can any single person do – what kinds of action are most likely to make a difference?

In this small, discussion-based seminar we will practice learning to hold all that is happening and nonetheless finding the courage and the skill to act. We will explore the development of “radical hope”, and the possibility that this moment could be one not only of catastrophe but also of individual and collective transformation; and we will take a deep dive into alternative theories of change and potentially skillful pathways to action. It is often said that we need deep, systemic change – in this seminar we will explore what such change might look like and how it might be catalyzed.

We will structure our conversation by focusing on three distinct but potentially complementary narratives: Techno-Optimism, or “fixing” the current system of socio-economic and political relationships, Revolutionize the system or pathways towards the radical reform or replacement of the current system, and Changing our minds, or why responding effectively to our times might require a radical shift in the ways in which we relate to ourselves, to each other, and to the natural world and what this might look like in practice.

Throughout the class we will explore what all this might mean for you – for the way you experience yourself, for how you frame the meaning and purpose of your life, and for how you decide to engage with the world.

Participants will be asked to write a short reflection paper each week and a final paper.

Admission is actually by application only, and is available here: There will be TWO rounds of admissions to the class. First round applications are due by November 27th. Applicants will be notified by November 30th. If there are spots remaining, second round applications will be due on January 8th; applicants will be notified by January 10th.

If you are interested in learning more, please request a copy of the syllabus from Fed Chavez at This course is open to Graduate Students only. We encourage cross-registrants from Harvard schools to apply.