Like most others, the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program had to rapidly recalibrate in March when the University, the United States and most of the rest of the world shutdown. The core strength of the Ministerial Program is the opportunity for person-to-person networking and experiential learning it offers Ministers during their time at Harvard. With in-person convening no longer feasible, the Program is capitalizing on its core strength to help inform the more than 80 ‘alumni’ Ministers currently in office in their efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. A series of ministerial briefs on Leadership in Times of Crisis has provide Ministers with decision making tools at this critical time, drawing on the experiences of the Ministerial Program’s global network of current and former government Ministers.

Ministerial Program Executive Director, Michael Sinclair said: “Early stage consultation with Ministers established that the Program could best add value by translating data and other information into practical decision making guides.”  “Being able to offer the insights of distinguished current and former Ministers who have managed in times of crisis adds substantial value”, Dr. Sinclair noted.

In a note to the Program, one ‘alumnus’ Minister wrote: “No doubt other health consequences will be even worse than the impact of COVID-19. The [briefs] have been really eye-opening and show that continuity of care for chronic patients is critical even while coping with COVID-19.”

Another said: “The details you share with us have been very helpful during this crisis. I am picking out useful lessons and sharing with my team.”

As countries move beyond the initial response phase, Ministers have to consider the continuing presence of COVID-19 as a basic fact of life. Decision making going forward will need to balance public health with social and economic priorities, while keeping in mind that until a COVID-19 vaccine is globally available, public health may cause further setbacks or drive progress in unexpected ways. The Harvard Ministerial Program is preparing a new series looking beyond the initial COVID-19 response drawing lessons from the past three months that might be helpful in managing future surges in COVID-19 infection, examining some of the innovations that have come out of the experience, and presenting considerations for Ministers as they work to advance human development in their countries against the backdrop of a highly contagious global pandemic.

As one ‘alumnus’ Minister put it: “We are all called on to rise to a new level of challenge in a new normal.”