WHEN I SPEAK TO PEOPLE on my travels, or to people who are visiting Harvard Kennedy School from across the United States and around the globe, they often ask me what we are doing to strengthen democracy and democratic institutions at a time when they appear to be under threat. In this issue of the magazine, we offer some answers to that important question.
Many of our faculty, students, alumni, and staff are committed to making democracy count. We have efforts underway to increase civic participation, strengthen democratic institutions, train leaders to be more responsive to their citizens, and improve accuracy in the media and the public sphere. All of these elements are crucial to a healthy democracy, and our efforts bring together knowledgeable members of the Kennedy School community with concerned political and civic leaders from outside the School.
In this issue, you can read essays by some of our faculty members whose scholarship and professional experience bear on democracy. These essays represent a range of perspectives and academic disciplines—covering redistricting, increased polarization and the rise of populism, racial inequality, misinformation in the media, and more. We have gathered these wide-ranging essays together under the title “By the People,” evoking President Abraham Lincoln’s appeal in the Gettysburg Address that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
This issue’s alumni stories also underscore the power of civic participation. Nisreen Haj Ahmad MC/MPA 2008 is teaching community groups in the Arab world about organizing—drawing on what she learned from Marshall Ganz, the Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society at the Kennedy School. Christina Fletes MPA 2016 is striving to increase democratic participation in the United States as a California-based voting rights lawyer. And Manivannan Ponniah MC/MPA 2019 has found creative ways to increase citizen participation in Bangalore, India, using his experience as an Adrian Cheng Fellow at the Kennedy School’s Social Innovation + Change Initiative.
I hope you enjoy reading about the varied ways that Harvard Kennedy School is examining and improving democracy and democratic institutions in the United States and across the world.
I wish you all the best for 2020.
Dean Doug Elmendorf
Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy
Top image: Dean Doug Elmendorf talking with students during a Dean’s Breakfast event last semester. Photo by Natalie Montaner