November 18, 2020

In the second Dean’s Discussion of the fall, HKS faculty shared insights about successes—and failures—from their own experiences to examine what role government can play in achieving social change.  Wendy Sherman, who served as under-secretary of state for political affairs in the Obama administration and is now a professor of the practice of public leadership and director of the Center for Public Leadership, emphasized that change for good can happen through our elected officials.  “It takes leadership, courage, a use of power for social good, persistence and working with a team,” she said.  “I worked with then Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski to help change the National Institute of Health rules on medical studies, to include women as well as men. And we have all seen the disparities and comorbidities in COVID-19 that exist in our country now, so change like can make a difference.”

Jason Furman, former economic advisor to President Obama and now a professor of the practice of economic policy, found that you can effect change by being a big part of a small thing or by making a small contribution to a big thing. “I have a very strong view about the best way to make social change, and that's looking at what you're most excited about. That's what you're going to be best doing. That's where you're going to make the largest contribution.”

Jorrit de Jong, a senior lecturer in public policy and management who trains mayors through the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, points to the local response to the coronavirus pandemic to underscore the impact city leaders can have. “This has been a really tough year for mayors and for cities, but I think it's also been really inspiring. Nobody will say that the United States is out of the woods yet [with COVID] by any stretch of the imagination. But I think when you see cities taking the lead when the federal government and sometimes state governments are absent, it shows that this is a really interesting and important place to work, and also a great platform to make social change.”

Dean's Discussion: Achieving Social Change Through Governments


Jason Furman Photo

Jason Furman

Aetna Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy

Jorrit de Jong Photo

Jorrit de Jong

Director, Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University
Emma Bloomberg Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management


Sarah Wald Photo

Sarah Wald

Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy


Douglas Elmendorf Photo

Douglas Elmendorf

Dean of Faculty, Harvard Kennedy School
Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy