Health and education ministers focus on leadership at annual Harvard forum

Ministers and Harvard faculty gather in front of Loeb House on the Cambridge campus

July 11, 2017 – For four intensive days in June, 16 education and health ministers from developing countries in Africa gathered at Harvard to focus on leadership effectiveness, priority setting, financing, and policy implementation.

They came for the sixth annual Harvard Ministerial Leadership Forum, a collaboration of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The program is led by faculty from the three schools and by a group of former and long-serving ministers from around the world.

The Forum—the flagship component of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program—aims to boost leadership capabilities among government ministers in finance, health, and education, and to help them work together to support human development in their respective countries. Over the past five years, the Forum has drawn 105 health and finance ministers from 55 countries; this was the first year that education ministers were also included.

The Forum focuses on practical strategies for ensuring that burgeoning youth populations in developing countries are healthy and appropriately educated, which can provide a major boost to economic development, according to Michael Sinclair, executive director of the Ministerial Leadership Program. “We recognize that the participants have responsibility for the state of health and education in their country and need practical ideas they can quickly implement,” he said.

According to Fernando Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and one of the faculty leaders of the Forum, “It is urgent that government agencies develop effective forms of collaboration to support human development, particularly to help the poor break the cycle of poverty. In bringing together ministers of education, health and finance to discuss effective strategies to support the development of human capital, this program is advancing knowledge and practice on critical issues for sustainable development.”

Through presentations and frank discussions about the challenges and opportunities, ministers leave the Forum “with a fresh sense of confidence and purpose together with practical tools for getting things done,” said Rifat Atun, professor of global health systems at Harvard Chan School and another Forum faculty leader.

Conceita Sortane, Minister of Education from Mozambique—said that after eight months in office she felt overwhelmed by the challenges she faced. But she said the Forum helped her to clarify priorities and equipped her with the courage and knowledge to implement them.

Zambian Health Minister Chitalu Chiugya called the Forum “the most important and efficacious meeting I have had as a minister.”

Other Harvard Chan faculty who participated in the Forum included David Bloom, Clarence James Gable Professor of Economics and Demography; William Hsiao, K.T. Li Research Professor of Economics; and Winnie Yip, professor of the practice of international health policy and economics.

photo: Hannah McGrath