From The Field

HKS Magazine | Winter 2017 From The Field

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos MC/MPA 1981 received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in bringing an end to a half-century of conflict.


From The Field

I Listened to the Victims

Juan Manuel Santos MC/MPA 1981

IT WAS DURING the most difficult moments in negotiating an end to the more than 50-year-old civil war that had torn his country apart that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos MC/MPA 1981 thought back to the lessons he had learned at the Kennedy School.

As he accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace in December in Oslo, Norway, Santos spoke of the seemingly insurmountable challenges encountered while reaching a peaceful settlement between the government and the FARC rebels. “To the great majority of us, peace seemed an impossible dream—and for good reason,” he said in his Nobel lecture. “Very few of us—hardly anybody—could recall a memory of a country at peace.”

Sometimes the inspiration to carry on, Santos said, came from advice given to him by Ron Heifetz, the Hussein Bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at the Kennedy School. “Whenever you feel discouraged, tired, pessimistic, talk with the victims,” Santos quoted Heifetz as saying. “They will give you the push and strength to keep you going.”

“And it has been just this way,” Santos continued. “Whenever I had the chance, I listened to the victims of this war and heard their heartbreaking stories.”

According to estimates, more than 200,000 Colombians have died and more than 5 million have been driven from their homes since the conflict began, in 1958. Although many who did not suffer directly were reluctant to accept peace, Santos said, “the victims are the ones who are most willing to forgive, to reconcile, and to face the future with a heart free of hate.”

The Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy has been involved in the process, carrying out an evaluation of the Victims Service Unit, established to coordinate and deliver reparations to more than 7 million victims of the civil war in Colombia. “The reparations program is the most extensive in history, recognizing the breadth of damage done by 50 years of conflict but also the vision of President Santos to create leverage for peace,” Carr Center Director Douglas Johnson says. “His program simultaneously forced the FARC to recognize the victims it created while showing his desire to rebuild the country with the victims, not in spite of them.”

“Colombia is an example to the world,” says Kathryn Sikkink, the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy. “Santos and the FARC are setting a new model for peace agreements that incorporate provisions for justice and reparations.”

Santos is the second graduate of the school to win the prize, following Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf MC/MPA 1971, who won in 2011. (Tom Schelling, a founder of the school, won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2005.)

“We are proud that an alumnus of the Kennedy School won the Nobel Peace Prize this year,” Dean Doug Elmendorf says. “We are also proud that President Santos’s experience at the Kennedy School, and especially the teaching of our colleague Ron Heifetz, made such a positive difference in his life and work.”

Carrie Sheffield MPP 2010 (above right) and Bill Werkmeister MC/MPA 2010 (inset) are cofounders of Bold Media, a news company that aims to give space to bipartisan voices.

Millennial Media

Carrie Sheffield MPP 2010 and
Bill Werkmeister MC/MPA 2010

A COUPLE OF THINGS that might give you a pretty good idea about Bold, a news website developed by Carrie Sheffield MPP 2010 and Bill Werkmeister MC/MPA 2010: It was launched on Winston Churchill’s birthday, and it wants to be the nice Vice.

The “Churchill’s birthday” part speaks to Sheffield’s and Werkmeister’s political orientation. Sheffield, a Washington-based journalist before coming to the Kennedy School, and Werkmeister, a serial entrepreneur with roots in Wall Street, both leaned right—though moderately, they insist—embracing a belief in the value of private-sector solutions to public problems.

The Vice part speaks to the fact that if journalism has a future, Sheffield says, it is based on a model similar to that of Vice, the successful digital media group: a hub-and-spoke in which one’s own branded content is at the core, while content partnerships with other media offer a way to reach larger audiences.

And “nice” because it’s important for news to offer less bile and more solutions, say Sheffield and Werkmeister, who met at the Kennedy School.

“That’s the future of journalism as technology eats all our jobs, and Google Ads takes away all our advertising and classified revenues,” says Sheffield, who was a Lewis Friedman and Frederick Lloyd Martin fellow at HKS. “The only way we’re going to survive as content creators is to work together and to grow and share our audiences together.”

The two launched the site in November 2015. Sheffield, who worked in finance after the Kennedy School but had previously worked at The Hill and Politico, brought the journalism experience. Werkmeister contributed an entrepreneurial and venture capital background that also provided media experience by way of ownership of a large Texas-based magazine.

They now want to grow Bold into a household brand, increasing their television presence through partnerships with other media, including Salon and Al Roker Media, and gaining exposure and credibility.

And although their initial vision was of a millennial media company with a conservative bent, it has evolved into a more consciously bipartisan voice, bringing left and right together in an ongoing dialogue: an antidote, Sheffield says, to the polarization that helped fan the bitter presidential election campaign.

“For me, it’s about making an impact,” Werkmeister says.

Elizabeth Scharpf MC/MPA 2007 (far left) has found a way to use natural fibers to make an affordable sanitary napkin for women in poorer countries.

The Silent Handicap

Elizabeth Scharpf MC/MPA 2007

NINE YEARS AGO, Elizabeth Scharpf MC/MPA 2007 was working in Mozambique with local women entrepreneurs when she began to notice something troubling. The women she worked with were missing a lot of work. The reason, she soon discovered, was that they couldn’t afford the sanitary napkins they needed when they had their periods. She also learned that this was a problem affecting women around the world. Scharpf committed herself to finding a way to produce a cheaper product.

Although she was uniquely qualified to take on this challenge (Scharpf earned both an MPA and an MBA from Harvard in 2007 and had worked for several years in the global pharmaceutical industry), the task before her was nonetheless daunting. With colleagues, Scharpf searched for an indigenous resource that would be an effective substitute for the cotton found in ordinary napkins, thus eliminating the transportation and import fees that drive up costs.

After much trial and error, and with funds from Harvard Business School and the Echoing Green Foundation, her team found what it was looking for. The banana tree, a plant ubiquitous in Rwanda, consists of a fiber that can be turned into a light, highly absorbent material much like cotton.

Today, Scharpf’s company, Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), produces sanitary napkins at a facility in Rwanda that cost women almost 40 percent less than the least expensive alternatives. Scharpf intends to bring the cost down even further—ideally to 60 percent below the cost of current options. “It’s still not cheap enough,” she admits, “but at least now girls and women can have protection for some of the most important days, so if they have a test in school, they are not forced to stay home.”

For 2017, plans are in the works to add facilities in Uganda, Kenya, and Southeast Asia. Scharpf says her entrepreneurial adventure has taught her an important lesson. At different points in development, her team sought advice from pharmaceutical R&D experts. In the end, she says, they were not the people who made the breakthroughs.

“It was the students, colleagues, and the consumers themselves who gave the deep input,” says Scharpf. “It’s wonderful to bring in experts from different fields to solve problems, but sometimes you need an outside point of view that doesn’t have a preconceived notion of how it should go. That actually opens up the door to innovation.”

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