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Helping Bend the Arc at the Hinges of History: A Conversation with Larry Brilliant

March 29th, 2023 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Virtual In Person
Event graphic with head shot of Larry Brilliant on a half-black, half-rainbow background along with event details.

The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs warmly welcomes you to the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture. This event is free and open to the public. No tickets required. Masking is encouraged. This event will be in person and streamed live on our YouTube channel. Please plan on being seated by 3:45 p.m. as the event will start promptly at 4:00 p.m.

American epidemiologist, technologist, philanthropist, and author Larry Brilliant embodies optimism like few others. A hippie doctor in the 1960s, he spent time at an ashram in India to find spirituality during a tumultuous time. As predicted by his guru, he and his team would change the world. Under the auspices of the World Health Organization they made millions of house calls in India with the goal to eradicate smallpox—and they succeeded.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Larry Brilliant is a physician and epidemiologist, founder and CEO of Pandefense Advisory, senior counselor at the Skoll Foundation and a CNN medical analyst. Previously, he served on the board of the Skoll Foundation, was chair of the advisory board of the NGO Ending Pandemics, the president and CEO of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, vice president of Google, and the founding executive director of Google.org. He cofounded the Seva Foundation, an NGO whose programs have given back sight to more than five million blind people in two dozen countries. In addition, he cofounded The Well, a progenitor of today’s social media platforms.

Earlier in his career, Dr. Brilliant was an associate professor of epidemiology and international health planning at the University of Michigan. Dr. Brilliant lived in India for nearly a decade where he was a key member of the successful WHO Smallpox Eradication Programme for SE Asia as well as the WHO Polio Eradication Programme. He was the founding chairman of the National Biosurveillance Advisory Subcommittee (NBAS), which was created by presidential directive of President George W. Bush; he was a member of the World Economic Forum’s Agenda Council on Catastrophic Risk; and a “First Responder” for CDC’s bioterrorism response effort.

Recent awards include the TED Prize, Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, “International Public Health Hero,” and four honorary doctorates. He has lectured at Oxford, Harvard, Berkeley, and many other colleges; and spoken at the Royal Society, the Pentagon, NIH, the United Nations, and some of the largest companies and nonprofits all over the world. He has written for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, and other magazines and peer reviewed journals, and was part of the Global Business Network where he learned scenario planning. Dr. Brilliant is the author of Sometimes Brilliant, a memoir about working to eradicate smallpox; and a guide to managing vaccination programs entitled “The Management of Smallpox Eradication.”


Erez Manela, Acting Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, is a professor of history at Harvard University, where he teaches international history and the history of the United States in the world.

Manela has published extensively on the history of World War I and its aftermath. His prize-winning book The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism showed how US attempts to recast international order in the wake of World War I helped spark upheavals across the colonial world in 1919 and beyond. He has also researched the history of international development, notably on the World Health Organization’s global smallpox eradication program in the 1960s and 1970s and what it tells us about the intersection of superpower relations, international development, and international organizations in that era.

His current work examines the global discourse about World War II as a “race war” and how it shaped visions for the postwar international order. He also has a longstanding interest in the conceptual and methodological aspects of writing international history.

For more information about the Jodidi Lecture, see our page on the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture Series


Sarah Banse

Relevant Links


Date: March 29th, 2023
Time: 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Calendars: Public Events, School-wide Events, University-wide Events
Event types: Lectures / Seminars / Forums


Cambridge campus
Memorial Church, 1 Harvard Yard
Virtual In Person