By Nora Delaney

Vincent Chen MPA/ID 2024 is passionate about working at the intersection of business and climate action.

Vincent Chen MPA/ID 2024 used his time at Harvard Kennedy School to deepen his thinking on climate change policy and international development—building on his academic background in climate and energy as an undergraduate at Stanford University. 

An avid birdwatcher from Taipei, Taiwan, Chen worked with the Bezos Earth Fund in Washington, D.C., to develop its Decarbonization Pathways strategy through the Harvard Climate Internship Program at the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability at Harvard University. Among his most memorable activities at HKS was leading the popular student-led Taiwan Trek over the winter break. 

We caught up with him to learn more.

 

What was your driving factor for coming to HKS? What were you hoping to get out of this experience?

As a student of economics, I have always enjoyed thinking at the societal level about our environmental and climate challenges. What might be the conservation and land-use impacts of the solar projects I help fund? What are the resource consumption implications of developing new, widely adopted electric vehicles? What is the energy footprint of running cloud-based climate models at scale? 

Coming to HKS, and specifically the MPA/ID Program, was an opportunity to put on my economist hat again, refresh my environmental economics knowledge, and explore climate issues from the lens of international development.

Vincent Chen MPA/ID 2024 in the HKS courtyard.

“Coming to HKS, and specifically the MPA/ID Program, was an opportunity to put on my economist hat again, refresh my environmental economics knowledge, and explore climate issues from the lens of international development.”

Vincent Chen MPA/ID 2024

You led the Taiwan Trek over the winter break. What was that like?

Organizing and leading the Taiwan Trek, a first at Harvard, was one of the most rewarding experiences for me at the Kennedy School.

The Taiwanese are known for our hospitality—I am no exception. On a personal level, there is nothing more gratifying than showing some 60 of my classmates around the place I call home. In seven days, we met with elected officials, business leaders, policymakers, and scholars to discuss Taiwan’s values, achievements, and struggles while experiencing Taiwan’s rich cultural and natural heritage.

Taiwan’s developmental success and geopolitical challenges are frequent topics of discussion at HKS, yet these conversations sometimes miss the broader historical context and omit the local sentiment of the Taiwanese. I wanted the Trek to add nuance and complexity to the campus discussions about the foreign relations between the United States, Taiwan, and China, and to offer opportunities for future decision-makers to hear directly from the diverse perspectives of people in Taiwan. 

I hope the Trek builds a community of individuals invested in forging relationships with Taiwan in their respective fields of work.

 

You were a Rise Climate Impact Fellow. Can you tell me a bit about that experience?

I am passionate about working at the intersection of business and climate action. As a Rise Climate Impact Fellow at TPG, a growth equity investor, I was involved with developing and deploying the investor’s climate impact assessment framework to estimate the emission reductions and broader environmental impacts of its prospective investments. 

Establishing a systematic, evidence-based methodology for analyzing business activities not only allows for comparison across investments and aggregating fund-level impact, but it also helps explore diverse impact pathways across various sectors. 

Process innovations like these can have positive spillover effects for the broader financial sector as well as policymaking, identifying the potential and limits of investment in driving climate action.

 

“As a student of economics, I have always enjoyed thinking at the societal level about our environmental and climate challenges. What might be the conservation and land-use impacts of the solar projects I help fund?"

Who or what made an impression on you during your time at HKS?

The Kennedy School’s outstanding faculty members. 

From the first core classes of the MPA/ID Program to the capstone Second Year Policy Analysis, my academic journey at HKS has been influenced by many faculty members who are not only leaders in their respective fields but also deeply invested in their students.

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy Dan Levy prepares his lectures on statistics with flair—his dedication to teaching becomes a true motivator for student learning. Professor Stephen Walt commands a 40-person class like an intimate seminar on international relations theory. And my Second Year Policy Analysis advisors, Professor Carmen Reinhart and Professor Joseph Aldy, were always available for guidance and feedback on my capstone research. 

I am grateful for the time and effort faculty members invested in me, and believe it is what makes an HKS experience exceptional.

 

How do you plan to apply your HKS degree?

My time at HKS coincided with a period of ongoing geopolitical conflicts, economic distress, and worsening impacts of climate change. It is a privilege to be able to learn about and discuss these pressing issues not only with HKS faculty members and students but also with experts visiting our campus. 

I have two takeaways from the vibrant debates in the hallways and forums. First, systemic change is inherently messy, and making trade-offs requires intelligence and courage. Second, the more we learn about a topic, the more nuance and sophistication we should demand in our understanding, reminding ourselves of what we do not know when making decisions on public affairs. 

My HKS degree will serve as a constant reminder of the courage and humility required in my professional and personal endeavors.

“Public service is a requirement for us to live together—none of what we studied here at HKS would matter if we were all to lead solitary lives. I think my peers understand that, and that's what makes this place so special.”

Vincent Chen MPA/ID 2024

Why is public service important to you?

Growing up as a birdwatcher, I care deeply about the continued viability of the planet we live on. For me, public service and leadership are key to combating climate change and environmental degradation. I have witnessed firsthand how the creativity and nimbleness of the private sector are important for transitioning to a sustainable economy, but it is also the case that businesses respond to incentives. The right “rules of the game” align social and private benefits to address negative environmental externalities and help environmentally friendly solutions emerge more speedily, sustainably, and justly. 

Public service is a requirement for us to live together—none of what we studied here at HKS would matter if we were all to lead solitary lives. I think my peers understand that, and that's what makes this place so special.

Portraits by Natalie Montaner

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