'Let's Light the World': Dean Ellwood Launches the Campaign for Harvard Kennedy School

May 15, 2014

Invoking inspiring words from President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, Harvard Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood outlined the School's goals and priorities as he launched the Campaign for Harvard Kennedy School during the opening day of IDEASpHERE on Thursday (May 15). Approximately 700 faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and friends attended the event in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. The text of the Dean's remarks follow.

Harvard Kennedy School | Campaign Launch
May15, 2014
If someone had told me back when I was a teenager growing up in Minnesota, that I’d be standing here following two extraordinary heads of state and be introduced by the president of Harvard, I just might have dropped my briefcase.
Yup. As a teenager, I was carrying a briefcase. Even my daughters think that’s pathetic.
It gets worse.
When other kids were dreaming of becoming rock stars or pro athletes, my ambition was to become the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The so-called ASPE.
So maybe it’s not really that big a surprise that I’m at the Kennedy School.
I’m going out on a limb here to say I was probably the only teenager in America who aspired to be the APSE or even knew what an ASPE was.
So, how did that happen? It can be traced to my parents.
My dad was a pediatric neurologist. That meant he’d see kids in real trouble, badly injured, facing paralysis or worse.
My dad tried to fix what was broken, and he often saved lives.
But what my Dad came to realize, was that when doctors like him did the right thing for their patients, they often lost money. And he noticed when some other doctors did things that were not necessarily best for their patients, they seemed to make money.
He didn’t blame the doctors, it was the system, its incentives and structure.
The system needed to change, and after considerable work, he finally had some big ideas on how to change it. Then he needed to find someone in Washington who would listen.
After a great deal of trying, my Dad finally got himself a ten-minute meeting with – yes – the ASPE in the Nixon Administration.
That ten-minute meeting lasted eight hours – and my Dad’s big ideas turned into what we now know as HMO’s, and much, much more. The term HMO was actually coined in that meeting.
My mom was also an agent of change. She created the Minnesota Early Learning Design – MELD – to help parents learn from each other to be better parents. What started in a neighborhood would expand to many states and a number of countries.
So, like I said, maybe it’s not that big a surprise I’m at the Kennedy School. Or, that I’ve devoted much
of my professional life to poverty and social policy.
I wasn’t the most popular kid in school – the kid with the briefcase rarely is – but I learned early on that it was possible to fix what was broken……that you could make a difference in someone’s life….. in your neighborhood…..and in the world.
That’s why I’m here. And I think that’s why you’re here too.
We believe we can make the world a better place.
We believe we have the opportunity and responsibility to be PUBLIC leaders– whether we are in government, in business, in civil society, or in academia – leaders who focus on something larger than ourselves, leaders who care about the public interest.
We believe we can make a difference right now.
And we believe we can transform the future.
Audacious? Naïve? Foolhardy? It might be someplace else, but not here. This is the Kennedy School. And there’s something magical about this place.
This place is driven by idealism. Powered by character. Sustained by determination.
It starts with Dreams, but here, at the Kennedy School,
dreams are honed by rigorous analysis…..
tested against practical realities….
and fortified with lessons of leadership.
At the Kennedy School, we are all accountable both for the “content of our character” and, for the practical power of our ideas.
This is a place of audacity – audacity and reflection.
It is a place of ambition and wisdom….
innovation and evaluation…..
hope and humility.
All of us here are drawn to seize what President Faust has called the “impatient future.”
We confront tumultuous change – economic, technological, demographic, social, political, even change in the very climate of the earth.
We wrestle with enormous and often growing gaps between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.
Meanwhile, the very foundations of democracy are now being called into question around the globe.
Is democracy up to the task, even now as peoples across the world are clamoring for more control over their own governments and destinies?
Ultimately we are challenged by this most fundamental dilemma:
Will the next decades be known more for the innovations and opportunities they called forth, or for the crises and despair they provoked?
I am convinced the Harvard Kennedy School must and will answer the increasingly urgent call for exceptional public leadership that this moment in history demands.
Ask yourself this: if we can’t do it, what other place can? And if we won’t, who else will?
Our basic formula is pretty simple.
The Kennedy School is about people.
It is about ideas.
And, it is about this extraordinary place where they come together to learn. Where we hold ourselves to the ultimate standard: making a difference.
People. Ideas. Place. Impact.
Start with the people. Look around this room…….
heads of state and civil servants…….
social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders……
businessmen-and-women and journalists…..
scholars and practitioners,……
dreamers and doers.
This dynamic community from across nations and sectors and backgrounds creates impact across the world – and sometimes even the next town over.
Joe Curtatone is the Mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts.
For those of you not from the neighborhood, that’s a city just north of Cambridge. I have been talking about Joe a lot in recent months. So let me finally introduce you to him –Mr. Mayor?
When Mayor Curtatone was first elected, he was taking over a city in trouble.
Some cynics even called it, (sorry, Mayor), “Slummerville.” The Mayor was eager to bring about change. But how best to do it?
He came to our short executive program for newly elected mayors and met Professor Linda Bilmes (where are you, Linda?). She taught a session on performance-based budgeting.
Budgeting? That’s right, budgeting – but budgeting that rewards and encourages performance and accountability, one focused on outcomes more than inputs. Linda claimed it could change a city.
Joe got all excited. He recognized the potential. But he had no money to hire experts. So he formed an extraordinary partnership with students in one of Linda’s classes. The Mayor asked our students for help and 65 responded with enthusiasm.
Now Somerville is transformed.
The Boston Globe Magazine has since called Somerville “the best run city” in Massachusetts. Mayor Curtatone is recognized as a leader and innovator and collaborator.
In fact, Joe was so impressed by our students that he decided to become one himself. He enrolled in the mid-career masters program-- while he was mayor. So now he is mayor and an alumnus. Indeed he now does some teaching here as well.
This is a story about learning and change.
Mayor Curtatone and Linda Bilmes and our students formed a partnership that helped change Somerville. And it changed HKS also.
Our students got a priceless real-world experience. You can be sure that they learned more about using budgeting to make real change happen than they ever could have in the classroom alone. And they brought those ideas back to the classroom so others could benefit.
Today, our students are working in six cities, with 35 others on the waiting list. This sort of active learning where ideas in the classroom are directly connected to what is happening on the ground, belongs in even more classrooms and more cities.
I hope we can reach Somerville and Somalia.
This seems like a great start, but the impatient future demands more. It requires new ideas and new solutions.
This place, our faculty, has been instrumental in
containing loose nuclear weapons,
confronting genocide,
understanding urban poverty,
creating community policing,
crafting welfare reform,
promoting gender equity,
even rescuing whole economies in times of maximum economic peril.
And as President Faust mentioned, faculty here are responsible for stunningly powerful concepts like “social capital” and “soft power.”
Heck if the school could just collect dollar every time Bob Putnam’s “social capital” or Joe Nye’s “soft power” is mentioned anywhere in the world, we might not even need a campaign.
We have many, many compelling stories about ideas and discoveries that can shape the future. That’s what IDEASphere is all about. We have 46 sessions at and honestly, those just scratch the surface.
In the next day or two you’ll be reminded what makes our faculty and our graduates so special. I hope you’ll be amazed at the variety, the creativity, and the power of what you see. You’ll witness what I get to see every day.
But wait, there’s more.
[Bring out the treadle pump.]
How many of you know what this is?
This is technology. This is design. This is hope. This is a better future. This is a device that two Kennedy School graduates, Jim Taylor and Debbie Aung Din, helped develop.
By the time Jim and Debbie arrived at the Kennedy School, they’d already worked in the Mississippi Delta and after that, in Cambodia, to help rebuild that country after the ravages of the Khmer Rouge.
But they needed to know more about economic development and what really works. So they came here, and what they learned is helping them redefine international aid from the ground up.
Debbie is Burmese, and 10 years ago, at the height of repressive government regimes mostly closed out the world, the Taylors set out to find a way to transform the lives of farmers in Burma. They couldn’t exactly work with the government, so they started talking directly with farmers.
Farmers have a tough life in what is now called Myanmar. Plentiful rain for one season, then virtually no precipitation for the rest of the year. Ironically, water is not far beneath the surface even in the dry times. ?
But few villages have electricity. Transportation? Ox carts at best. The only way to get water in the dry season is by using buckets at watering holes and hand-carrying it back to where it ‘s needed.
That’s why this little device is so powerful. If you add some pistons and a couple of boards, you get a foot-powered water pump that that can be connected to a drip hose, allowing the farmers’ to extends their growing season by irrigating their land. The Taylors designed the pump in collaboration with others in Myanmar and the U.S.—including Stanford, by the way.
So what happens when farmers who earn perhaps $1000 a year get hold of this pump? It raises their incomes by 50 – 100 percent.
And how do the Jim and Debbie know this? Come on, these are Kennedy School graduates. Proximity Designs, their social enterprise, that builds and sells the pumps constantly tracks and monitors their customers. They know the farmers’ incomes before and after they have a pump. They know what seems to be working and what is not.
But there is even a stronger test—the marketplace.
We teach that if people really see a product improving their lives, they will be willing to pay for it.
Proximity Designs charges the true cost of a pump and irrigation system which is perhaps $70. That is a lot for a farmer formerly earning $1000 per year. But farmers are buying it, especially if they can get a little help with financing.
Charging true cost means that the enterprise can be sustained and grow without worrying about the vagaries of foreign aid. Proximity Designs has built a network of local sellers so they can reach customers all over Myanmar.
And when a typhoon devastated large parts of Myanmar and NGOs had little capacity on the ground, the NGOs turned to Proximity Designs and the company’s network of pump sellers to bring aid where it was needed most.
It was just a few weeks ago that Boston marked the anniversary of the marathon bombings.
We honored the memories of its victims and celebrated the strength of its survivors. We thanked all those who worked hard to protect us.
And here, at the Kennedy School, that anniversary came with a new report examining the bombings and the manhunt for the bombers.
Arn Howitt and Dutch Leonard of our faculty, have long lead our efforts on crisis management.
They responded immediately to the terror and the tragedy of those bombings by looking for ways to improve emergency responses and save more lives.
They brought together a team of faculty and staff from across this university to find answers and to uncover new lessons.
Their report provided critical understanding of what made Boston strong – and what didn’t. From the preparation to the immediate response to the final confrontation, they looked for what could be learned from this terrible experience.
Many things went very well, some responses were weaker. And there were many lessons, not just for Boston, but for the nation and the world.
But reports often collect dust. Ideas have to be used, to be leveraged to have real impact.
This report is having impact.
It has received a lot of news coverage that attracted the attention of policy makers and first responders. Key Members of Congress are studying it, as are the top brass in our Armed Forces, and others. That is a start.
At the Kennedy School we also have a unique power to move from ideas to action: our students and graduates and the positions they reach.
Many of our graduates now lead crises management teams.
Our executive education programs reach senior leaders who must tackle crises across the country and across the world. These people are eager to hear our ideas, and most importantly, they use and test them.
At the Kennedy School, a tragedy like the bombing is a call to action. It is an opportunity to be seized to help shape that impatient future. Our ideas have impact because our people put them to work around the world.
So, the magic of Kennedy School is about people. It is about ideas. It is about this School’s and this University’s extraordinary teaching and convening power.
It is about what happens when you connect people from scores of different countries, backgrounds, and experiences.
We can, quite literally, see the world from our front porch, because we’re looking through the eyes of our students and faculty at a world they know and want to change.
And it is about physical space as well, especially this Forum.
As all of you of have sepnt any time here at HKS know, this Forum is our crossroads – where by day, our students meet to listen, to debate, to celebrate successes, and to learn from failures.
And by night, where we host amazing speakers – from John McCain to Sean Penn to Nancy Pelosi to Aung San Suu Kyi to the men and women who led the response during the marathon bombing.
Every day – and nearly every night -- this place is buzzing.
And yet that impatient future still calls.
Saving the world is not for the content or the cautious.
We are community of risk takers who believe in tomorrow and are willing to work hard to make it real.
That is why this campaign is so important. We need the best people, the best teaching and learning, the best ideas, and the best spaces, to have the greatest impact on the world.
We all ask what we can do.
Imagine what we can do together.
Together we can reach the very best leaders. We must bring the most exceptional students – regardless of their background – to the Kennedy School.
The single most powerful tool we have for attracting the best people to apply, to attend, and then to live a life of public leadership is lowering the cost of education by increasing financial aid.
For the last 10 years, increasing financial aid has been my top priority. We’ve doubled aid from 11 to more than 22 million dollars. But we must do even more. Because I know for every individual who accepts our offer of admission, there are a dozen more who dare not even apply because they believe they can’t possibly afford it.
Together we can transform the educational experience, so our students are equipped to drive real change. We can move from traditional lectures to more active learning and real world experiences.
We can take the lessons of our classrooms from this campus to Somerville to Somalia and back again. We can use technology to connect our people and our ideas to the world, so we can all learn from each other and make real change happen.
Together, we can create a campus that enhances our mission because even in a time when technology can take us across the world in a few nanoseconds, what happens face to face is an essential part of the magic.
Our classrooms are designed for old-fashioned lectures, but we are in a time when teaching demands spaces that encourage active, engaged learning.
And it might be nice if our front door wasn ‘t a driveway.
And, together we can generate powerful ideas to take on the greatest challenges of today and the days ahead: to make democracy work; to generate genuinely shared, sustainable prosperity; to harness the very forces reshaping our world.
Together we can reach the very best leaders.
Together we can transform the educational experience.
Together we can create a campus that enhances our mission.
Together , we can generate powerful ideas and solutions.
We can be so much more. We can do so much more.
Many of you know where my briefcase led me.
I came to the Kennedy School. I worked on poverty and social policy with my colleague Mary Jo Bane and many wonderful students. And (along with Mary Jo) I actually got the opportunity to help lead President Clinton’s efforts on Welfare Reform.
And yes, I became the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health, and Human Services.
Some dreams do come true.
And I believe absolutely that none of it would have been possible if had I not come to Harvard Kennedy School.
And now?
Now, because of all of you, I have the very best job in the whole world.
More than 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy inspired a generation to service with his iconic call to ask what you can do.
Just before he uttered that famous line, he said the following:
"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.”

Now, it’s our time. It’s our job. It’s our School.
Let’s light the world.

"Audacious? Naïve? Foolhardy? It might be someplace else, but not here. This is the Kennedy School. And there’s something magical about this place."

—David T. Ellwood, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, and Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy

Watch the speech above.

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