Nation & World

Young global leaders unite at Kennedy School in mini-United Nations

5 min read

The group was diverse, talented, and cross-cultural: cabinet ministers, high-powered CEOs, and influential journalists sitting side by side addressing some of the most pressing issues facing the globe. A mini-United Nations.

On Tuesday (Nov. 27), the John F. Kennedy School of Government (KSG) kicked off the first of a series of executive education sessions with a selection of some of the best and brightest young minds from around the world.

The 10-day event, called “Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century,” is a collaboration with the Forum of Young Global Leaders, a community of the world’s top leaders from a range of fields who are 40 years old or younger and committed to working jointly toward a better future.

Each year between 150 and 200 Young Global Leaders are selected by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a nonprofit international organization based in Switzerland and dedicated to improving the state of the world.

The Harvard program is the brainchild of Joseph Nye, University Distinguished Service Professor and Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations, who sits on the board of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, and David Gergen, professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School. They developed the concept with Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of WEF. The third Kennedy School co-chair of the event, along with Nye and Gergen, is faculty chair of the Women and Public Policy Program and Professor of Public Policy Iris Bohnet, who helped design the program.

Their goal: bring proven young international leaders from diverse backgrounds to the Kennedy School to talk with experts in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors about the serious problems facing the world — and to help them develop their leadership skills to deal with such challenges.

“We need a much larger group of people who are confident and committed to acting as global leaders, as global citizens,” said Gergen. He called the group “stewards of the world.”

The forum, said the former White House adviser, allows group participants “to focus on the substantive challenges that will be ahead over the next 20 years or so,” and will enhance their own leadership development and advance them on their journey.

In addition, Gergen said the forum offers an instant network of global contacts, an opportunity for attendees to develop connections with others from across the globe with similar commitments and goals.

“There’s a bonding experience that goes on here,” he said.

The program began with a reception, dinner, and discussion on globalization with Lawrence H. Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor at the Kennedy School, which set the stage for the discussions and lectures to come on specific issues such as global warming, world health, international security, trade, and other public policy issues.

The following day, participants attended a discussion with Nye titled “Framework for Global Leadership,” in which he envisioned the world of 2020.

The pace of technology and the global economy will likely continue, Nye said. But he cautioned that predictions are frequently wrong and that any assumptions about the future need to be considered in the context of factors like the rise of China, the empowerment of nonstate actors, and the United Nations’ policy of nonintervention (and, in contrast, the rise of international humanitarian law). The future, said Nye, will also be influenced by the fortunes of political Islam. In addition, the way superpowers China and the United States choose to pursue their interests — specifically whether they become increasingly circumspect or embrace an open, more global perspective — will also help determine the course of events, Nye suggested.

“What I hoped to do is to lay out a framework that may help you in your next two weeks put the various pieces together,” said Nye of his talk. Hopefully, now “you have a picture to correct, to adjust, to put your own influence in,” he said.

William C. Clark, Kennedy School Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, followed with a discussion on global leadership and public policy during which he described public policy process in terms of a giant garbage can full of problems looking for solutions, solutions looking for problems, and leaders looking to connect to the two.

“The question is whether we can analyze the chaos in the garbage can in ways that help us improve our prospects for pulling effective policy from the garbage,” he said.

In addition, he urged the group to consider a range of institutions, such as public-private partnerships and nongovernmental organizations, when looking for help in developing successful policy.

Those informed choices, Clark said, “could end up leading us to the changes that the world most needs.”

Both sessions included lively discussions during which Nye challenged the participants to debate, object, question the theories presented, and add their own perspectives. The group eagerly obliged.

Participant Hania Bitar is the director general of the Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation, an organization that engages Palestinian youth in effective participation in society. She said her heavy workload leaves little time for professional development.

“In order to be able to give more … I need to have this time to learn to share experiences … to analyze, to absorb, to contribute,” she said, adding that the forum is a unique opportunity to learn from the very best.

Financial support for the program, which has funding for two sessions a year for the next three years, is provided by donations from Bill George, The George Family Foundation, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, David M. Rubenstein, and Howard Cox. Program partners include the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership and Executive Education program.