Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf traveled to Vietnam this month to speak at Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) and meet with Harvard alumni and Kennedy School students working on projects in the country.

Dean Elmendorf with colleagues and alumniThis year marks the 25th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. It also marks 25 years since the graduation of the first class of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP)—a cooperative program that Harvard Kennedy School established with the University of Economics, Ho Chi Minh City, and the first such partnership between Vietnamese and American universities.

The FETP was the precursor to what would become the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management and, eventually, the first graduate school of the new FUV, an independent, nonprofit liberal arts university that follows the American model of higher education. Elmendorf’s visit follows that of former Harvard President Drew Faust, who spoke at FUV in 2017, just a year after the Vietnamese university was granted a license.

At FUV, Elmendorf gave a public lecture about current trends in the global economy. He discussed five forces driving economic policy and outcomes around the world, namely: factors that affect growth, low interest rates, rising economic inequality, growing populism, and nationalism. While Elmendorf primarily used examples from the United States, he underscored that these five factors are broadly relevant: “Each of these forces is an important determinant of economic policy and outcomes in many countries in the world.”

Exchanging ideas at FUV.

Elmendorf, who addressed an audience of FUV faculty and students, concluded his lecture on a hopeful note. “I am very optimistic about the future,” he said. “In particular, for those of you who are students of economics and public policy, I am delighted that you are choosing to dedicate your careers to these important issues and to public service. Good economic policy has the potential to increase economic opportunity, raise living standards, and improve people’s lives in so many ways.”

Joining Elmendorf in Vietnam were Tony Saich, the director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and Daewoo Professor of International Affairs, and Thomas Vallely, who founded Harvard’s Vietnam Program more than thirty years ago and was instrumental in the development of the Fulbright School. “Seeing the work in Vietnam firsthand not only allowed the dean to recognize the 25 years of achievement but also to help us think through what the next 25 years might look like,” Saich said. Vallely added that Elmendorf’s trip to FUV “affirms the importance of the work to fulfilling the HKS mission. It also firms up the prospects for continuing this fruitful collaboration into the next 25 years.”

Dean Elmendorf with FUV affiliates.

In addition to speaking at FUV, Elmendorf met with alumni of the Ash Center’s Vietnam Executive Leadership Program—a weeklong session for senior leaders and policymakers from Vietnam—visited U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink and Vietnamese dignitaries, and attended a Harvard Alumni Club event in Ho Chi Minh City. Currently more than 120 Harvard alumni are based in the country. Elmendorf also met with Kennedy School students Jason Keene MPA/ID 2020 and Ben Grozier MPA/ID 2020—who are conducting research for their second-year policy analysis paper on how Vietnam may benefit from evolving international trade dynamics—as well as Ken Watari, currently on leave from the Kennedy School and running FUV’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Photos courtesy of Fulbright University Vietnam

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