Education and Health Ministers at Harvard Map Transformative Legacies

Writing after his return to Lusaka, Zambian Health Ministers, Chitalu Chilufya said he felt “rejuvenated”. “I had my first meeting (two hours after landing) with my coalition team, got their buy in for the legacy goals I set. We are now reviewing our five-year national health strategic plan to include clear goals. This is the most important and efficacious meeting l have had as a minister.” Dr. Chilufya and 15 other education and health ministers participated last June in the sixth annual Harvard Ministerial Leadership Forum.

The Forum is a flagship component of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program, a join initiative of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Kennedy School and Graduate School of Education. Launched in 2012, 123 ministers from 57 countries have participated in the Program to date.

This was the first time education ministers have been included in the Harvard Forum and that presented special challenges. According Fernando Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of Practice in International Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education: “It is urgent that government agencies develop effective forms of collaboration to support human development. 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.”

Most developing countries have large majority youth populations. This situation in Africa is exacerbated by remarkable declines over the past decade in infant and early childhood mortality without commensurate reductions in fertility. Experience from South East Asia shows that a burgeoning youth population, if healthy and appropriately educated, can provide a major boost to economic development known as the demographic dividend. Conversely, undereducated and unemployed young people could fuel political instability. This is a central conundrum facing education, health and finance ministers in determining human development priorities to capitalize on the demographic dividend.

Michael Sinclair, Executive Director of the Ministerial Leadership Program, says the principal goal is to enhance effectiveness and collaboration between the pivotal government ministries of finance, health and education. The Forum, according to Sinclair, “is a unique opportunity for ministers to define a transformative legacy for their tenure as minister and map stepping stones for achieving their legacy.” The curriculum focuses on leadership effectiveness, priority setting, system strengthening, financing and implementation. The Forum is not an academic exercise, Sinclair says, “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.”

The Forum is led by faculty from the three collaborating Schools, as well as a distinguished resource group of former and long serving ministers from around the world. The Harvard Chan School’s Rifat Atun says, “the combination of substantive presentations and practical experienced-based discussion makes the Forum real for participants.” They engage frankly about their challenges and problems, Atun adds, “…and they leave with a fresh sense of confidence and purpose together with practical tools for getting things done.”

Other Harvard Chan School participants in the Forum included David Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography; William Hsiao, K.T. Li Professor of Economics; Winnie Yip, Professor of the Practice of International Health Policy and Economics.

Conceita Sortane, Minister of Education and Human Development from Mozambique, said that after eight months in office she felt “overwhelmed by the problems” but the Forum “…clarified the priorities and equipped her with the courage and the knowledge to do it.”