Harvard Students Undertake High-level Policy Research for Government Ministers in Africa

In January 2019, 40 students from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) worked in seven countries across Africa in support of health and education ministers in those countries who are part of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program. Students were charged with in-country policy-focused research to help inform implementation of the Ministers’ priority policy goals developed during their time at Harvard in June 2018. In March, participating students provided an in-person report-back to Chan School Dean Michelle Williams and HGSE Dean Bridget Long.

Through presentations and posters, students shared the results of their research, which included developing a tool for teachers’ performance evaluation in Côte D’Ivoire, exploring the feasibility of mobilizing more resources from universal health insurance premiums in Kenya, conducting a landscape analysis of existing health centers in Lesotho, and making recommendations for how to increase student enrollment in technical and vocational education and training in Mauritius. In addition to briefing Dean Williams and Long on the substance of their policy research, students attested to the unique experiential value of working directly with high-level government officials and contributing to priority issues these governments are dealing with.

The student-led policy research program is part of a menu of post-Harvard technical support provided to Ministers participating in the Ministerial Program. During their participation in the Ministerial Forum at Harvard, Ministers define priority goals for their time in office and map a high-level implementation plan. To help inform their implementation plans, Ministers are invited to propose policy-related research which is matched to teams of Harvard students with the help of the Chan School’s Prof. Rifat Atun and HGSE’s Prof. Fernando Reimers.

With the support of the Harvard Ministerial Program, students were given access to Ministry officials and reports as they embarked on a unique, unparalleled experience to complement their academic studies. Initially working remotely with ministry officials, students refined the scope of research, created an in-country research plan, and shared preliminary research. To build on their desk-research, students traveled to the respective countries and conducted field work enriching the research and providing greater value to the ministries. Final policy research reports were presented to the respective Ministers in March. In receiving reports focusing on implementation of national health insurance, Sicily Kariuki, Cabinet Secretary for Health in Kenya, said, “The Harvard students brought a fresh perspective and intellectual curiosity that has helped us think of some things differently…Their work on the ground gave us insights that are very helpful in our rollout of national health insurance.”