Fidelis Leite Magalhaes MC/MPA 2016 is prepared to face the obstacles waiting for him at home.

By Doug Gavel
April 17, 2016


The independent Southeast Asian country of East Timor faces myriad economic, political and social challenges as it approaches its 14th birthday. As the former Chief of Staff to the nation’s president and as one of the founders of a new political party (the People Liberation Party or PLP) Fidelis Leite Magalhaes MC/MPA Mason Fellow 2016 is well aware of the nation’s struggles, but also very keen to the opportunities allowed by the end of decades of war and the emergence of a functioning democracy.  

“The biggest challenge was to build up the institution, which is quite new,” Magalhaes said. “We only became a nation-state in 2002, so it’s quite a new institution, and dealing with the Parliament, dealing with other state institutions involves creativity.” 

Creativity and ingenuity will be necessary to confront and overcome the obstacles standing in the way of East Timor’s continued development. One significant obstacle, Magalhaes says, is a lack of human resources. 

“We have a terrible history. It’s a history of war, a struggle for independence for 24 years, in which we lost about one-third of our population…and during the struggle, many young people devoted themselves and their lives to the struggle, and not many did study or not many went to school for studies. So, when we became independent, we had to build state institutions with minimum human resources capability. 

A second obstacle standing in the way of East Timor’s successful growth, Magalhaes cites, is the nation’s petroleum-dependent economy, which he admits is not nearly versatile enough to generate sufficient jobs and wealth to move the nation forward. 

“It’s greatly managed now, in terms of transparency, in terms of civil society, and non-governmental oversight…but it’s a finite resource,” he says. “We need to find a way to diversify.”  

Magalhaes earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at the University of Hawaii, and an MSc Degree at the London School of Economics. He came to Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), he says, to learn the public administration skills to become an even more effective leader back home.  

“I wanted to study at the best institution in the world, and I think Kennedy School is the best institution in the world,” he says. “So, it allows me to upgrade, to improve my knowledge and, at the same time, to feel that I can use the knowledge at the best institution in the world to improve the development of my country.”

Magalhaes says that his Kennedy School education has provided him with a new perspective on life.

“The course work is very demanding, but it is also about inner-introspection. I think it provides a platform for that. So, you think about where you have come from…what things that you have lived through, and identify your own weaknesses and room for improvement, and here with the colleagues that I have, that come from different parts of the world, different walks of life, different professional backgrounds, I think I have really managed to improve my weaknesses,” he claims. 

“I’ve never been to a university where professors are ready 24 hours. They can assist you on a Sunday, or with a summer program, here… Saturday, Sunday, anytime, any day,” he says. “The philosophy is to make you succeed.” 

Following commencement Magalhaes plans to return to East Timor to continue his work for the president, and to plan ahead for new elections in 2017.