Dean Douglas Elmendorf
February 2, 2018


Thank you, Mark, and everyone in the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, for organizing this workshop. It is a pleasure to be here today.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk with you about Harvard Kennedy School’s engagement with the world outside the United States. The Kennedy School has a long tradition of global engagement, which I will summarize for you in a moment. Today, nearly half of the students in our degree programs come from outside the United States, and in a graduating class of about 550 students, we often have 90 countries represented. Meanwhile, the members of our faculty are currently working on projects in literally dozens of countries around the world.

Let me give you a brief history of our global engagement, explain our current thinking about why that engagement is so important, and then summarize our current activities.

What is now the John F. Kennedy School of Government was established in 1936 with a $2 million gift from Lucius Littauer. Littauer was a Harvard alumnus and former Congressman, and his gift was one of the largest ever made at that time. Until the late 1960s, the school was not an independent entity with its own faculty, as we know it today, but was really an offshoot of the economics and government departments that were based in the original Littauer Building. In the mid-1960s the school was named for President Kennedy, and in the late 1960s the school established its own faculty and became a separate professional school at Harvard.

In the years immediately after World War II, international students made up between a fifth and a quarter of the students of the school. These students came primarily from Canada, Latin America, and Western Europe, with a smaller number from Asia. Many had served in governments in their home countries. In 1957, then-Dean Edward Mason decided that much more should be done to train public leaders for developing countries. He launched the Public Service Fellows Program, funding seven public officials from India, Pakistan, Burma, and Indonesia. This program became one of the flagship programs of the school. It is now named the Mason Program, and Mason Fellows come to the school each year from developing countries to receive training that will help them become outstanding public leaders in their countries.

Today, the Mason Fellows are joined by many other students from around the world. In addition to the financial aid we provide to Mason Fellows, we have more than 60 other fellowship programs that serve only non-U.S. students as well as many fellowships that are available to either U.S. or non-U.S. students. This year, 47 percent of our students come from 104 countries outside the United States. After graduation, most of those students will take jobs outside the United States, and most of them will go back to their home countries. Student activities at the school reflect this international makeup as well; we have a number of student-run organizations and conferences dedicated to countries and regions around the world.

I should note that international applications to the Kennedy School are down about 5 percent this year from last year, and other schools of public policy have generally experienced declines as well. But we saw a notable increase in international applications last year, and we are still ahead of where we were two years ago.

Many of our faculty members also come from outside the United States, although the percentage is smaller in absolute terms than for students and also less distinctive relative to the rest of the university. Roughly one-third of our faculty come from outside this country. One of my colleagues once wrote to me that, in our program in international development, our students are taught by “two Americans, a Turk, a Pakistani, two Venezuelans, an Indian, a Brit, a first-generation Polish-American, a Greek, a Cuban, a Brazilian, and a first-generation Palestinian-American.”

At the Kennedy School, we talk about three activities of our faculty—research, teaching, and practice, where “practice” refers to direct interactions with policymakers and other practitioners. We conduct all of these activities outside the United States as well as inside the United States. To be sure, our degree-program teaching is conducted here, and most of our executive-education teaching is as well, but we run executive-education courses in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Moreover, our research and practice occur all around the world. A tally shows that, between 2013 and 2017, our faculty have worked in more than 80 countries. I will offer a number of examples shortly.

Before giving further specifics, though, I think it is important to stop and ask why we want to be a global school. What purpose are we achieving by engaging globally? I’ll offer two principal purposes, although there are others.

The first purpose begins with our mission. Our mission is to help people lead better lives by improving public policy and public leadership. Good public policy and leadership enable people to lead lives that are safer, freer, and more prosperous; bad public policy and leadership have the opposite effects. Nothing in that mission or in the logic that underlies it specifies the United States; on the contrary, that mission and logic apply to all people wherever they live. So, engaging globally lets us help many more people than if we limited ourselves to this country. Moreover, because the “Harvard brand” is so strong in so many places in the world, we have an important opportunity to make a positive difference in these places—and therefore an important responsibility.

The second purpose for engaging globally comes from the needs of our U.S. students who never plan to leave the country. Even those students will live and work and lead in an increasingly interconnected world. If a U.S. student becomes a mayor or governor or president or works in any government in the United States, he or she will probably need to handle challenges related to immigration, or international trade and investment, or foreign terrorism, or climate change, or what-have-you. Therefore, we need to teach even our domestically focused U.S. students about global linkages and about the perspectives of people in other countries. That requires faculty members who know other countries and who know the international ramifications of their work. And because much of the education of our students occurs through questions asked in class and interactions outside of class, learning an international perspective also requires us to have students from other countries. So, engaging globally lets us teach our U.S. students much more effectively than if we limited ourselves to this country.

I believe very strongly in those two purposes for global engagement, as do my colleagues throughout the Kennedy School faculty. We are firmly committed to improving public policy and public leadership around the world. I would add that this global engagement is especially important at a point in time when nationalist pressures are becoming stronger in the United States and in many other countries. Those pressures arise in part from legitimate concerns about the economic and social consequences of the globalization we have seen during the past few decades. Our public leaders need to respond to those concerns. But connections between nations and peoples across the globe are essential for peace and prosperity for all people, and the global engagement of the Kennedy School can be at least a small counterweight to misinformed nationalism.

Let me give you some specific examples of our global engagement. I’ll begin with a few stories about our students and alumni, and then go on to discuss our curriculum and finally some projects of our faculty.

Abdi Ismail Isse graduated from the Kennedy School last May. He was born in Somalia, and when he was 10, he and his family fled their country to escape the civil war. Abdi has dedicated his life to helping others with stories like his own. In his nine-year career with the International Committee of the Red Cross, he worked in Liberia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Yemen, and Iraq providing humanitarian aid. He has been attacked and had his life threatened during his time with the Red Cross, but he is committed to helping those in conflict zones. As a Mason Fellow at the Kennedy School, Abdi received important training in conflict resolution and peace building so that he can be even more effective working in war-torn countries.

Margareta Matache, who will graduate this May, is also making a difference in the world—in her case, by working to advance the rights of the Roma people. Priya Singh will graduate this May. She plans to use her Kennedy School training to improve public sector financing in her home country of South Africa. The Japanese cabinet includes a number of our alumni, as does the team that ran Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in France. And I might also mention Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, who graduated nearly 30 years ago and won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the long civil war in his country. In his Nobel acceptance speech, he mentioned one of his teachers at the Kennedy School by name. I could go on with many more examples.

Our curriculum places important emphasis on global issues. Our Master in Public Administration in International Development features courses that prepare our students to become leaders in development around the world, with a curriculum rich with international case studies. For students in our Master in Public Policy program, we offer an International and Global Affairs concentration. And our Executive Education program is global in scope. Last year, this program included a course that brought together leaders from across Africa to address critical challenges in their economies, a course on policymaking for members of the German government, and a course on organizational practices for members of the Israeli government.

In terms of the faculty’s research and practice, the examples are innumerable as well. Our Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is working with the new Fulbright University Vietnam, which sprang out of the Fulbright Economics and Teaching Program, a long-standing collaboration funded by the Department of State between the Kennedy School and the University of Economics in Ho Chi Minh City. Our Carr Center for Human Rights Policy champions global justice. Its fellows program brings both established and emerging leaders in human rights from around the world to the Kennedy School. Current fellows include a leader in the LGBT community in China, a leader in the fight for freedom in Cambodia, and a Brazilian fellow from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Our Center for International Development works around the world to increase economic opportunities for disadvantaged people and to build the capability of governments to design and implement policies. Faculty in this center are currently doing projects in Albania, Bolivia, China, Colombia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Zambia, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. In India, for example, faculty members are guiding projects involving students, staff, and local officials and individuals that will increase women’s access to mobile phones, combat air pollution, help dropouts from skilling programs, and train officers in the Indian Administrative Service.

Our Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government and our Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs administer the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. Through this project, we have taken part in or led workshops and events on climate change policy in a number of countries. The Belfer Center also runs the International Security Program, which addresses the most pressing threats to American national interests and international security, including nuclear security and cybersecurity. And more.

These examples demonstrate the Kennedy School’s astonishing global impact—the principled and effective public leaders we send out across the world, and the path-breaking research and practice we undertake around the world. In the composition of our students and faculty, in our teaching, in our research and practice, and in our interpretation of our mission, we aspire to be truly global citizens. Thank you.