October 15, 2020

The Dean’s Discussions, a series of conversations about pressing public issues featuring Harvard Kennedy School faculty members, is focused on the topic of promoting social change this fall. Sessions in the series will examine the possibilities of change through the private sector, governments, and public organizing and social movements.

The first conversation in the series focused on the private sector and featured Cornell William Brooks, Hauser Professor of the Practice of Nonprofit Organizations and professor of the practice of public leadership and social justice Jane Nelson, director of the Kennedy School’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative; John Ruggie, the Berthold Beitz Research Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs; and David Wood, director of the Kennedy School’s Initiative for Responsible Investing.

“There are three actions where a business can be part of the solution: implementing responsible business practices, incentivizing civic investor activism, and leveraging collective action,” said Nelson, starting the conversation. Ruggie agreed that “voluntary standards, such as the standards behind the U.N. norms, can identify and attract leaders in any industry.” Wood focused his remarks on investors and how to improve the social utility of finance. “That means a lot of different kinds of investors trying to align their investments with their ethical commitments.” Finally, Brooks discussed how professionals in all fields can be engaged and involved in social justice: “We need to reimagine our professions, from elevating the pediatricians who deal with violence in our youth, enforcing do-no-harm policing, and disrupting the school to prison pipeline.”

Promoting Social Change Through The Private Sector


Cornell William Brooks Photo

Cornell William Brooks

Hauser Professor of the Practice of Nonprofit Organizations; Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership and Social Justice

Jane Nelson Photo

Jane Nelson

Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy

HKS shield.

David Wood

Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy


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