ZAKHONA MVELASE MC/MPA 2021 came to HKS to improve her ability to address official malfeasance in South Africa and beyond. A forensic auditor at the South African National Treasury, she says, “Having worked in anti-corruption for the past decade, you soon realize that corruption is a wicked hard problem. Everyone sees it and pledges their commitment to fight it with the best of intentions—but still, it persists. I wanted to understand what we were missing. Coming to HKS gave me an opportunity to broaden my lens and learn from others who had been successful, what made them successful.”

She says that as a public servant, she did not have the opportunity for her employer to pay for her schooling abroad, so she would not have been able to attend HKS without the support of donors to Harvard Kennedy School, including alumni and friends who give to the HKS Fund.

woman with short hair wearing orange shirt

Her exceptional academic ability and professional distinction helped her to receive a Kennedy Fellowship, which covers her full tuition. Mvelase is also part of the Mason Program, which provides additional opportunities for her to connect with students from developing economies. 

“I’ve been exposed to students from Africa and around the world who, in one way or another, have worked in the anticorruption space and who have the same aspirations as me,” she says. “We are able to learn from each other and build a coalition, so we can help each other be successful once the year is over.”

Mvelase never imagined she would attend HKS online—but she says she and her peers are looking on the bright side. “We’ve already made lemonade out of this time, and virtually forged some pretty intimate relations with each other as a cohort—not to mention the ideas we’ve toyed with to make this year as meaningful as can be,” she says.

Young girls in my township look at me and say, ‘Harvard is no longer just a school in the movies—someone we know, someone who looks like us, who came from the very same background as us, went to Harvard.

Zakhona Mvelase MC/MPA 2021

Students like Mvelase are the reason the HKS Fund exists. This annual fund, which is dedicated to providing unrestricted and financial aid resources, assists students not only with tuition but also with learning resources, including case studies and technology—something especially important during the pandemic as students study and take classes remotely.

Caitlin Santacroce, director of the HKS Fund, says the flexible nature of this annual fund has helped the School to pivot rapidly to address the pandemic. “The HKS Fund is a crucial resource that Dean Elmendorf can deploy quickly to address emerging needs,” she says. “This flexibility is critical to the School’s ability to offer students additional resources, such as hardship grants or funding to fill in the gaps for those whose external grants fell through as a result of COVID-19.”

For Mvelase, the benefits of her financial aid extend far beyond her. She says, “Young girls in my township look at me and say, ‘Harvard is no longer just a school in the movies—someone we know, someone who looks like us, who came from the very same background as us, went to Harvard.’ The financial aid not only helped me fulfill my dreams, but it solidified the other dream I had, to show girls that if I could go to Harvard, they could have the same story.”


Gifts at Work

Gifts of all sizes combine to have an outsized impact on students.

MUCH OF THE KENNEDY SCHOOL’S INCOME is restricted to specific areas, making unrestricted giving a very powerful source of funding—especially during the pandemic, when many students are seeing increased financial need. 

More than half of Harvard Kennedy School’s operating budget is derived from philanthropy, and most of those dollars are restricted to foundational activities. Having the flexibility to respond to new challenges as they arise—challenges like the pandemic—is crucial. That’s where the HKS Fund comes in: to fill urgent needs and spur innovation by students and faculty.

x50 donors provide funding for an unpaid summer internship
x30 donors support the development of student-run publications
x53 donors cover the base tuition for an HKS student

Images courtesy of Zakhona Mvelase