This is the the fourth year of the Harvard Ministerial Student Policy Research Fellowship, a flagship program engaging Harvard graduate students in providing research support to ‘alumni Ministers’ participating in the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program. Students are assigned to teams of four to respond to requests from Ministers for policy-related research to help inform ministerial decision making. Usually, this program involves initial remote research by graduate students teams with an in-country field research component during the January winter session. This year however, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Fellowship will not involve in-country travel, but has been adapted to still provide substantive policy research for Ministers and a unique learning experience for students working virtually.

The Ministerial Program selected 44 students from across Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Kennedy School to take on 11 research topics including such issues as measures promoting gender equity in schools, integrating technology in education, shoring up health services under pressure from the COVID-pandemic, and alleviating factors contributing to growing numbers of street children in urban centers.

Each research team is supported by a designated Research Advisor with substantial high-level experience of government. The Advisors will provide valuable insights on navigating ministerial communications, ethical boundaries, as well as their personal support, which is of significant value to students as they navigate their career paths. In the words of former Zimbabwe Education Minister, Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka, “Please reassure them [students] that we are here to assist because their work is important to enable the Minister to better implement his/her plans.”

Fellows will also have opportunity to participate in a monthly series of virtual webinars with current and former Ministers. The goal is to help students better understand ministerial decision-making processes, the kind of information a Minister finds most useful, and the challenges of operating effectively in a political system. These webinars are unparalleled opportunities for students to hear directly from former Ministers about their experiences and help strengthen the quality of their final research product.