“YOU CAN BELIEVE in consensus more than you believe in conflict. You can be human. You can feel and show emotion. You can be kind, empathetic, and strong. You can, and indeed you must, be your own kind of leader,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in December as she received this year’s Gleitsman International Activist Award from Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership (CPL). 

Ardern has become known for her leadership through the pandemic as well as through the March 2019 terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch—New Zealand’s deadliest such attack. At an event moderated by Wendy Sherman, director of CPL and professor of the practice of public leadership, Ardern spoke about the challenges of leading—and of leading as a woman. 

“Don’t wait for the moment when you suddenly feel you are ready,” she said. “Sometimes that moment won’t come. We need to accept opportunities, take them, and be bold—despite that feeling of fear and doubt.” 

Ardern also gained attention in 2018 for being only the second head of state, after the late Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, to give birth while in office. 

“There was never a point in my life that I can recall where I thought, ‘I can’t do that because I’m a woman.’ However, I have on many occasions thought, ‘I cannot do that because it’s me.’ Imposter syndrome is real,” she said. “It’s been a journey for me. I want to be a good leader, not a good female leader.” 

Past Gleitsman Award winners include Malala Yousafzai, John Lewis, and Nelson Mandela. Ardern requested that the $150,000 prize be used to fund a scholarship for a student from New Zealand attending the Kennedy School.

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I can make sure that we run a robust economy so that everybody has a chance to get into the labor market. I do think it is our role.

Mary Daly, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, giving the Seymour E. and Ruth B. Harris lecture

Eugene Robinson

Today, our voices are easily and dangerously drowned out on the internet by voices that are not even remotely tethered to fact, and not remotely tethered to actual events.

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist, giving the Theodore H. White Lecture on Press and Politics

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If you’re going to recognize the value of everybody, you have to reflect the diversity of society. If you’re not prepared to do that, you’re going to be left behind.

David Rubenstein, cofounder and co-executive of The Carlyle Group and chair of the HKS Dean’s Executive Board, at an IOP discussion on leadership

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The number of health workers who are either getting sick or having to isolate is increasing, and so you’ve got a different source of problems, which is mainly a shortage of health workers.

Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, at an IOP Forum on global leadership and COVID-19 in October

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I am mostly optimistic about our country, because we have had so many people come forward to make our systems, policies, and practices more fair.

Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama, at an Ash Center event on National Voter Registration Day

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