Halla Hrund Logadóttir MC/MPA 2017 takes the long view on sustainability.
By Calee Lucht
August 22, 2017
While Iceland may be named for its, well, ice, it does bear the moniker “the land of ice and fire;” its dual nature is not to be ignored. Active volcanoes punctuate the land of glaciers and fjords; an astonishing 90 percent of homes are heated by geothermal power harnessed from volcanoes. While it may be a land of environmental extremes, it belongs to a region of convergence—where every line of longitude meets at the cap of our globe.
So, it may seem logical that Halla Hrund Logadóttir MC/MPA 2017, a native of Iceland, is on a mission to convene, collaborate and partner with innovators to ensure that any development—such as in the Arctic region—takes a longitudinal view of the environmental consequences into its decision making.
Halla is an unofficial, highly trained and enthusiastic—and yes, warm—ambassador for her country. As advisor to Iceland's minister of industry and commerce on the National Energy Fund and as former director of the Iceland School of Energy at Reykjavík University, where she continues to lecture on climate change and energy policy, Halla has spent much of her career studying energy, land conservation and the environment with a special focus on Iceland and the Arctic.
This spring, Halla graduated from Harvard Kennedy School’s Mid-Career Master in Public Administration program and began working as a research fellow at the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where she is developing Harvard’s first Arctic Initiative with the Environment and Natural Resources Program and the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program.
“Collaborating with the Belfer Center, particularly Professor Henry Lee, as well as attending his courses, was very meaningful,” says Halla.
Now, as a fellow, she is bringing more leaders on board the Arctic Initiative including Professor John Holdren, former President Barack Obama’s senior science advisor. She hopes the Initiative will become a permanent fixture at the Belfer Center.
Halla gained a deep and visceral respect for the environment early in life working at her grandparents’ farm in the southeast of Iceland, where she would spend long days herding sheep from the highlands and haying the fields.
Now that respect has transformed into leadership.
“Leadership is, as I see it, the act of mobilizing people to collaborate towards a common cause or vision,” she says. “As we’d say on my grandparents’ farm, ‘when it rains, we all have to work together to put the hay in the barn.’ Otherwise, we all lose. No one can succeed alone, but together we can make miracles happen in a short time.”
Now, Halla wants to lead change on the most pressing environmental issues of our times, particularly for the Arctic, where climate change is causing ice to melt at a record rate—opening up a new ocean around the North Pole and creating access to the region’s untapped resources. As the ice disappears, conditions for indigenous people and fragile ecosystems worsen while global sea level rises and weather patterns change in the world.
“How we respond to these dramatic changes is critical for the future of the region, and will have long term implications for the rest of the world,” she says.
Halla wants to not only discuss challenges—but to develop solutions. To prepare for that mission, she came to the Kennedy School to advance her leadership skills and deepen her knowledge on environmental issues.
“Being a Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow and part of the Center for Public Leadership experience was mind-blowing. It gave me a unique access to leaders on environmental issues, like Ban Ki-moon, and safe space for professional leadership development.”
The Mid-Career program brings together highly experienced people from around the world who are committed to making a difference.
“It is a dynamic group, full of big ideas, motivation and with a strong network to change things,” said Halla. “My classmates are without a doubt my biggest personal and professional resource I gained at HKS. We’re already developing projects and collaborations together and supporting one another, having become friends for life.”
While she might hail from a land of polar extremes, Halla has been working hard to transcend ideological polarity by building multi-disciplinary collaborations and partnerships in order to create sustainable solutions.
While a student at HKS, she launched the Arctic Innovation Lab, a conference in Iceland that showcased 12 international graduate students presenting their ideas on both the challenges and opportunities facing the Arctic.
“About 200 people participated in the Lab at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík, and it was great to see all these bright minds helping to solve the issues at hand,” said Halla. “That’s exactly what we need in the region.”
Halla also arranged for 25 HKS students, faculty members and fellows to meet with politicians, including the president of Iceland, the mayor of Reykjavík and the minister of industries, to learn about how Iceland is managing its natural resources—notably, 99 percent of the country’s electricity comes from renewables—and how its successes and models could potentially be leveraged in other parts of the world.
“Just as geothermal and hydro power generation made sense for energy transition in Iceland, local conditions elsewhere will determine which renewable resources are the most efficient and how they will be best exploited. Because every country is unique, each transition will be different,” Halla explained in her UN Chronicle article. “Iceland’s conversion is therefore a meaningful success story rather than a ‘one model for all’ approach. First and foremost, Iceland is an inspiring example of what is possible.”
As is Halla herself.
“My vision is having a world that prioritizes sustainable solutions that help safeguard the critical public good we all depend on: our environment. The Kennedy School has equipped me well with new tools, knowledge and networks which I look forward to using as I work on that mission.”
One can only hope that forces will converge to make her vision a reality.