The Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program was compelled early in the year to pivot to virtual engagement with the some-80 Program ‘alumni’ Ministers currently in office in countries across Africa, South East Asia and Central America. The challenge was how to be useful to Ministers caught up in the worst global pandemic of the past 100 years while avoiding replicating the work of major institutions such as the World Health Organization and the World Bank. ‘Alumni’ Ministers told the Ministerial Program they were suffering from information overload and would value concise, data-based guidance to the specific decisions they ought to be considering as they worked to combat the pandemic and respond to the adverse social and economic repercussions.

Initially the Ministerial Program concentrated on guidance to government leadership in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. As it became evident that the pandemic would be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, the Program’s focus has transitioned to the fact that government leaders are faced with the challenge of continuing efforts to combat the virus and alleviate the circumstances of those worst affected by the economic consequences while maintaining the essential functions of government and building for economic recovery.

A key variable in options available to Ministers is the severely depleted fiscal reserves of most countries. The Program’s effort to help guide Ministers in their priority setting and decision making in an era of substantially reduced resources is anchored by a custom designed Dashboard on Human Development for Economic Recovery. Developed with input from current and former Ministers, the Dashboard aims to refocus government leaders on the fundamental importance of human development to economic recovery and future development prospects. The main priorities are demonstrating to Ministers how to avoid backsliding on past progress in critical human development indicators in health and education, while strategically investing in areas that could help propel an economic resurgence.

One ‘alumni’ Minister said, “[the dashboard] has fantastic resources that I will be able to share with my senior team, and other colleagues.” Another said, “I’ve shared [the Dashboard] with my colleagues – they too do appreciate.” And a third wrote, “the dashboard will be very helpful in monitoring our national health strategies being developed in the light of this global pandemic.”