How can you defend a foreigner who came to the United States with the likely intent of causing harm to Americans? For attorney James B. Donovan, a 1940 graduate of Harvard Law School, the real question at the height of the Cold War was: How can you not?In representing accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in the late 1950s, Donovan “probably had the most unpopular client since John Adams defended the British troops in the Boston Massacre of 1770,” as newscaster David Brinkley put it. Donovan was no fan of communism, but he felt it was his patriotic duty to give Abel a strong defense and thereby demonstrate the fairness and integrity of the U.S. legal system. “If the free world is not faithful to its own moral code,” Donovan said, “there remains no society for which others may hunger.” He refused to give up even when Abel was convicted in federal court in Brooklyn. Donovan not only argued down the spy’s sentence from death to 30 years, he appealed the conviction all the way to the Supreme Court, losing narrowly.In 1962, with the backing of President John F. Kennedy ’40, Donovan traveled to East Berlin to negotiate a swap: Abel for American spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, imprisoned in the USSR.At Harvard Law School in the late 1930s, Donovan lived in Walter Hastings Hall, served as chair of the Law School yearbook, and studied under later Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. As an alumnus, he donated his legal fee from the Abel case to Harvard and two other universities. On Wednesday, the Law School’s Program on Negotiation will present a screening of Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” a film about the Abel-Powers negotiations in which Tom Hanks plays Donovan. Afterward, Dean Martha Minow will discuss the film with Professor Michael Wheeler of the Business School; Donovan’s granddaughter Beth Amorosi, president of AMO Communications LLC; and Donovan’s grandson John Amorosi, partner in the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell. Beth Amorosi spoke with the Gazette by phone earlier this month. GAZETTE: The trailer for “Bridge of Spies” gives the impression that your grandfather was simply an insurance attorney who somehow ended up defending an accused Russian spy. But the film reveals, at least in passing, that he had relevant experience.AMOROSI: The film does downplay his credentials, or enhances his everyman identity, playing up the fact that he was an insurance lawyer, [seemingly] picked out of the blue. But in reality, he did have quite a rich experience. In World War II, he worked as assistant general counsel for the Office of Scientific Research and Development [the federal agency that developed the atomic bomb], and then as general counsel for the Office of Strategic Services [the forerunner of the CIA]. And after the war, he was assistant prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. It was no accident that the Brooklyn Bar Association chose him to represent Rudolf Abel.James Donovan served as a commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Courtesy of the Donovan familyGAZETTE: The movie also portrays his relationship with his CIA handler [in the Berlin swap] as somewhat antagonistic. Was that for dramatic effect?AMOROSI: That was some artistic license. He actually had a very good relationship with the CIA agent he worked with, M.C. Miskovsky. The actor didn’t play one specific person, but more an amalgam of personalities at the CIA.GAZETTE: Donovan defended a Russian agent during the Red Scare. Was that tough on your mother and her siblings, and on your grandmother, as depicted in “Bridge of Spies”?AMOROSI: Yes. I think that the times in general then were very tense — as they are right now, when we’re facing terrorism rather than communism. Back then, though, we didn’t see everything happening through the media; there wasn’t the same transparency. So it was almost more a perceived threat, psychological warfare. Not that the threat wasn’t real, but nobody really knew what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. In a way, it is difficult to convey the level of tension my family felt. The film took some license, [inventing a] shooting scene. My family actually lived in an apartment building, not a house, at that time. They were on the 14th or 15th floor, so it’d be impossible to shoot up into their apartment. But that was a good way to convey that tension. And there is a suggestion that perhaps someone shot at the building, and bricks were thrown. There were picketers outside every day when the kids were going to school. The kids were not necessarily bullied, but the family in general experienced some condescending and strange looks from strangers — but also from friends of theirs, which was even more painful.GAZETTE: Did that sentiment turn around after Donovan got an American pilot freed from Soviet prison?AMOROSI: I think the environment was still tense. A lot of people didn’t understand why Francis Gary Powers was freed; some people were still suspicious of him. In hindsight, I’ve heard members of my grandparents’ generation say, “Your grandfather was a great American.” The passage of time, the distance of time from the actual incidents has really lent itself to the image of my grandfather as a hero.GAZETTE: Tom Hanks portrays your grandfather as an eminently good guy, tough when he needed to be. Was that accurate?AMOROSI: Yes, absolutely. He was a very amiable person, very humorous, and very humble, in that he wasn’t above working with anybody at any level to get the job done.GAZETTE: And six months after the spy swap in Berlin, your grandfather was in Cuba, snorkeling with Castro, trying to pull off an even bigger exchange. Can you talk about that?AMOROSI: President Kennedy and [Attorney General] Bobby Kennedy had him represent, not officially the U.S., but the Cuban Families Committee, to go and negotiate for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners. Between Christmas 1962 and April 1963, he met with Castro 15 times, negotiating the release of 1,113 prisoners — and he obtained exit visas for their families, so ultimately he freed about 10,000 people.President John F. Kennedy shakes hands with Donovan in the Oval Office. Courtesy of the Donovan familyGAZETTE: What made him such a good negotiator?AMOROSI: Again, he was personable, he liked people very much, he liked building relationships with people of all different cultures and backgrounds. That was one way he could build a strong foundation, because he looked at people as individuals and not as enemies or ideologies. He got to know them on a personal level. So that’s one quality, his humanity. Also, he used reason above emotion and would not bring his personal opinion into any situation, which enabled a much more level playing field. He also loved the law and would adhere to the law while negotiating. And his competitiveness — he loved challenges. … Just getting 1,100 prisoners out was not enough; he wanted to help their families too.GAZETTE: What about the lessons for young people in James Donovan’s story? You’ve mentioned hoping to make DVDs of the film available to public schools.AMOROSI: I’d like him to be considered a role model. Healthy role models are vital to our society, and there’s a dearth of them at the moment. Kids are bombarded through the media with all these different possible role models, or people who are automatically assumed to be role models for all the wrong reasons. What I’d like them to learn is that just because someone has a talent as an athlete or a musician — or a lawyer, for that matter — doesn’t automatically make that person a role model. It’s more about their character, their ethics, how they’ve lived their life, how they treat people. And I think to pursue any career of your choice with the utmost vigor and enthusiasm opens up so many doors for you, to become whatever you want to be.And I hope they learn not to back down in the face of [others’ opinions]. Popularity is overrated. … I don’t want to get into politics, but for example, just because most people are backing some candidate doesn’t make that the right choice. Don’t go with the easy choice; base your decision on your own conscience and your own character and your own beliefs and on what’s best for you — and what’s best for most.This interview has been edited for length. The “Bridge of Spies” screening is at 6:30 p.m. on March 30 at Austin Hall, with discussion to follow. View the event listing on the Harvard Law School website.
Following the initial shock from the referendum on Thursday in which Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, Harvard analysts worked to grasp the unfolding impact of the momentous decision on the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world, and they looked toward a changed future.“Britain was always a reluctant member of the EU, but it will continue to prosper,” predicted Peter Hall, Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies, by phone from London, where he has been throughout the referendum campaign. “As for the future of the European Union, nobody knows. European themselves don’t know.”The departure sanctioned by British voters — 52 percent opting to leave and 48 percent to remain — will mean the EU has 27 member states, which will continue to operate as a single market with free movement of people, capital, and goods. But Britain’s exit will shift the balance of power among those nations, and is likely to spawn withdrawal movements in some other EU countries.After Germany, Britain has the union’s second-largest economy, and although the financial impact on the EU remains to be seen, the political implications seem clearer. The Brexit vote took place against a backdrop of economic and migration crises that continue to rattle the continent and to fuel skepticism about EU policies.“The vote is damaging to the EU,” said Hall. “It will intensify the need that European leaders must already feel to find a new purpose, a new mission.”The Brexit vote reflects a divorce between the union and sizable segments of the European electorate, said Maya Jasanoff, Coolidge Professor of History and Harvard College Professor.“What the vote also shows is the gap between the central role that the EU plays in integrating European economies and other aspects of their political and civic lives and the popular understanding and commitment to the European project,” she said. “European leaders have failed to communicate the rationale for political integration to the electorate of the member states. The case of political integration has not been effectively made.”The vote also revealed a polarized Britain, with deep divisions rooted in values and economic status, a phenomenon that bears some resemblance to the political climate in the United States, said Hall.“London supported to ‘remain’ while many parts of the countryside voted to ‘leave,’ ” said Hall. “Large segments of the population feel left out of the prosperity associated with globalization and the EU, while others, especially in London, benefit from integration into an open global economy and are outward-looking.”Other divisions were on display across the United Kingdom. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly in favor of remaining in the European Union, but were outvoted by England, where most of the electorate lives. In the wake of the Brexit vote, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that a second Scottish independence vote is likely.If Northern Ireland, whose economy has blossomed in part because of its open borders with Ireland, a devoted EU member, were also to seek independence, the United Kingdom could become a shell of itself, Hall said.In such a scenario, “Cameron will be considered the worst prime minister in the history of the United Kingdom,” he said.For now, European leaders face the task of dealing with the mounting pressure to solve the refugee crisis that was a driving force behind the emotional Brexit campaign.“Euro-skeptical parties on the radical right and left of the political spectrum have been encouraged by the British vote to demand similar referenda in their own countries,” Hall said. “But mainstream political leaders are anxious to prevent this. They can only do so if they retain power, and that will be their first priority. They can only do so if they can revive economic growth in Europe and limit the backlash against immigration. That will be very difficult to do.”
This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.Growing up between Lawrence, Kan., and Seoul, South Korea, gave Jisung Park different and distinct insights into how humans and nature intersect. Park recalls as a young boy spending every waking hour exploring the Kansas outdoors. Still a youngster when he moved to Seoul, living in its dense, urban environment revealed the toll that industrialization exacts on air and water quality.“I was always acutely aware of how human beings and society both affect and are affected by the natural environment,” said Park, who will graduate in May with a Ph.D. in economics from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “Through experiencing the diversity of living in such different places, I grew to appreciate how much commonality there is in the basic humanity that we share.”His introductory economics class in high school gave him an entirely new lens with which to view the world — and think about studying it. In his undergraduate coursework at Columbia University, Park recognized that economics could be a tool for generating a greater understanding of the intersection of humans and nature.After his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, Park joined the environmental economics program at Harvard to focus specifically on how the impacts of climate change will affect human productivity and economic health.“He has broken new ground with his research on weather, climate, and human capital, and will soon be moving on to a great career as an innovative scholar,” said Robert Stavins, the Albert Pratt Professor of Business & Government at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.Park says the motivation for his research is the fundamental disconnect in the public’s mind between recognizing climate change as a problem in the abstract sense but not being able to relate to the immediate impacts that may already be affecting the local community or region.“I was frustrated by this phenomenon that climate change was becoming an issue that, unless you are an ardent environmentalist, you weren’t allowed to comment about or care about,” said Park. “I wanted to use language and tools of economics to try and quantify the more direct impacts of climate change on human beings and human economy, to try and make it a little more real.”At a time when much attention is on rising sea levels and extreme weather events, Park eagerly took on the challenge of developing a greater understanding of the correlation between long-term economic vitality and rising temperatures due to global warming. As one of the first grantees of the President’s Climate Change Solutions Fund, Park explored the affect heat stress will have on labor productivity. According to Park, a year with 10 or more 90-degree-plus days in the United States could reduce income or output per capita by 3 percent. For context, he points to the fact that the Great Recession led to a percentage drop in GDP of that magnitude.Park says the grant opened doors and allowed him to engage with a wide variety of research institutions inside and outside of Harvard, including presenting his research to the World Bank and New York City government agencies.“It’s good to know there is institutional support for interdisciplinary research like this and that the support comes close to the top,” Park said. “It speaks to the direction in which the university wants to move in terms of priorities.”While at Harvard, Park presented what New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called a “clever new working paper” exploring the impact of hotter temperatures on student test scores and academic performance in New York City schools. He found that students taking a test on a 90-degree day relative to a 72-degree day have a 12 percent higher likelihood of failing. “You may not have seen a polar bear but you’ve definitely been in a classroom that was hot,” said Park.Park brought with him from Oxford a podcast project called Sense & Sustainability that started as a series of conversations with fellow students on topics related to sustainability. At Harvard, the organization took off, receiving a Student Sustainability Grant from the Harvard Office for Sustainability and expanding to a lively blog and weekly meetings of undergraduate and graduate fellows to share ideas.“It’s hard to have conversations across disciplines but also very rewarding, because it forces you to think outside your disciplinary focus or bias,” said Park. “It’s amazing how different our conceptions are of what sustainability is, and it opened me up to the diversity of ways one can conceptualize sustainability.”Park plans to complete a postdoc at Harvard Kennedy School on climate policy, then join the faculty at University of California, Los Angeles, as part of a joint public policy and public health program, where he will continue his research into the environmental determinants of economic mobility.“The more you look at direct economic impacts of climate change, the more it begins to become clear it will be disadvantaged segments of society — both within countries but also across the world — that are going to be disproportionately affected,” said Park. “Climate change is the ultimate global public good problem, and that certainly is a motivation for me.”
A new test that helps people confirm that they’ve taken a life-saving HIV drug, a nonprofit that helps people navigate personal bankruptcy, and a venture working to accelerate artificial intelligence were the big winners in Tuesday’s President’s Innovation Challenge awards ceremony at the Harvard Innovation Labs.President Drew Faust awarded each of the three student ventures, UrSure, Upsolve, and Lightmatter, with $75,000 in prize money to help transform their innovative ideas into real, world-changing ventures.“Your aspirations are so exciting because they are bold, they are risk-taking, and they are devoted to imagining the world as a better place — fairer, healthier, safer,” said Faust in her introduction. “It is so inspiring to see what you are trying to accomplish, for young children, for people who have found themselves in financial distress, for women who need health care, for a whole range of different problems that we’ve seen addressed in these proposals.“I look forward to seeing in the future how all of you, winners and those of who aren’t winners today, continue to pursue their goals,” Faust added. “And I look forward to seeing these proposals turn into things I’m reading about in the news or seeing in stores or hearing about around the world.”The President’s Innovation Challenge is open to any Harvard student from any School. This year, 440 student teams submitted declarations of interest, a record 200 teams entered business plans in the competition, and 15 finalists were selected in March. All 15 finalists gave elevator pitches for their companies at the ceremony.Harvard Innovation Labs Managing Director Jodi Goldstein said she was proud that all 12 Harvard Schools were represented among the applicants, reflecting the spirit of President Faust’s One Harvard initiative. “In fact, half of our finalist teams contain a mix of teammates from different Schools,” she said.The winners split $310,000 in prizes in three categories: Health or Life Sciences; Social Impact or Cultural Enterprise; and a new Open Track. Three runners-up, which received $25,000 prizes, were Jane Diagnostics, a venture developing molecular diagnostic devices for point-of-care screening of HPV; C16, which uses synthetic biology to create environmentally conscious palm oil; and Aircrew, a maker of advanced air-purification systems.Based on voting by the audience, an inaugural Crowd Favorite prize of $10,000 was awarded to one other team: Two Rabbits, a venture bringing culturally adapted curricula and teaching to schools at the margins of society.UrSure’s CEO and founder Giffin Daughtridge, whose venture received The Bertarelli Foundation $75,000 grand prize, said, “This is an absolute game-changer for us.”“We had enough funding to get through the next couple of months, but this will help us accelerate our timeline,” said Daughtridge, who is about to receive dual degrees in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.Upsolve CEO Rohan Pavuluri, whose team won the Social Impact or Cultural Enterprise grand prize, said, “The beauty of startups is that they are an outlet to make a change in the world. You can choose any problem you want and start working on it.“We are so happy to win,” he added. “But now we have more work to do.”The President’s Innovation Challenge underwent some significant changes in its sixth year, merging what previously had been two separate challenges: one in which the prizes were selected by Harvard’s deans in categories such as health and life sciences, cultural entrepreneurship, and sports, and a separate President’s Challenge that invited students to create early stage ventures to solve specific global problems. Additionally, a new Open Track was created this year, allowing for greater diversity of student ventures entering ideas that defy easy categorization.“This is validation that we have a good idea and that we should keep going forward with our business,” said Open category winner Lightmatter’s Nicholas Harris. “It’s really raised our energy, and we are going to try to raise money this summer to make Lightmatter a real thing. This money is going to help make that happen.”“By empowering these students as they go through the experience of building a venture, we are unlocking the personal potential that other types of endeavors tend not to,” Goldstein said, “That’s why this competition exists. Because people who otherwise wouldn’t have participated in the entrepreneurial process can build, learn, fail, and grow.“It’s an important distinction,” she added. “This isn’t just a business plan competition. We aren’t just evaluating the business potential of these teams. It’s about the students and the realization of their potential for impact.”
Harvard Management Company (HMC) today (Nov. 13) announced that Sanjeev Daga will become its next chief operating officer in February 2019. Daga, who most recently served as COO of Columbia University Investment Management Co. (CIMC), will replace retiring COO Bob Ettl.“I had the pleasure of working with Sanjeev for more than 13 years at CIMC and we are thrilled that he will be joining the team,” said N.P. Narvekar, CEO of HMC. “His experience building and managing an extraordinary operations and IT effort at a leading endowment will be a great asset as we continue our organizational transition.”Prior to joining CIMC in 2003, Daga worked in risk management for both the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and the National Westminster Bank (NatWest). He holds an M.B.A. from the NYU Stern School of Business and a B.A. from Rutgers University.“I am excited for the opportunity to join HMC and build on the work that Narv and the team have undertaken over the last two years,” said Daga. “I look forward to meeting with members of the team in the coming months and learning about the challenges and opportunities ahead, so that I can hit the ground running in February.”Narvekar also expressed great appreciation for the partnership he has had with Bob Ettl since joining HMC.“After a long, successful career in finance, Bob made clear to me a while ago that he was looking forward to retirement. I have been incredibly fortunate to have him as a partner in both the assessment and implementation of the strategy we developed,” said Narvekar.Bob Ettl joined HMC in 2008 as a managing director and chief operating officer, and served as HMC’s interim CEO in 2016, prior to the appointment of Narvekar. Ettl will remain with HMC through 2019, assisting Daga with his transition in the months following his arrival and then continue as an adviser until the end of the year.HMC also announced that Kevin Shannon, chief financial officer, plans to retire at the end of 2019, after 10 years at HMC. In consultation with Shannon and Ettl, Daga will determine whether a new CFO is needed or if the responsibilities will be distributed among the existing team.Narvekar added, “I remain incredibly grateful for all that Bob and Kevin have done and will continue to do for HMC during the upcoming transition.” Read Full Story
Boston Children’s Hospital will receive a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop more efficient gene therapy treatments for sickle cell disease, as well as methods to enable gene therapy to be used in developing regions of the world, where there are high rates of sickle cell disease.Sickle cell disease is a major public health concern in the developing world, leading to death or life-long morbidities. An estimated 275,000 infants worldwide are born annually with sickle cell disease, with more than half of those in developing countries dying in early childhood.Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s is currently running a clinical gene therapy trial for sickle cell disease which suppresses a gene called BCL11A, enabling patients to make a fetal, non-sickling form of hemoglobin.The gene therapy in this trial is ex vivo, a process that is costly, time intensive, and involves multiple complicated manufacturing steps, so it can’t be easily recreated in the developing world. Using this grant, David Williams, Leland Fikes Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, chief scientific officer and senior vice president of Boston Children’s Hospital, and president of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, along with his colleagues, will conduct research to try to develop in vivo methods that can overcome the current bioengineering and manufacturing constraints.“Ultimately, an in vivo approach, in which a gene or inhibitory RNA is delivered directly to the body, is likely to be optimal for broadening global access to gene therapy for sickle cell disease,” Williams said.For this collaborative project Williams will be joined by Paula Hammond of the Koch Institute, Christian Brendel of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, Harvey Lodish of the Whitehead Institute, and David Scadden at Massachusetts General Hospital. Gene therapy for sickle cell disease passes key preclinical test Dialing down sickle cell disease Related Decades-old discovery about fetal hemoglobin is on track for clinical trial in the coming year Study in mice says dialing up fetal hemoglobin may bring new therapies
How do you regulate a business you don’t understand?It’s a problem the U.S. government has not resolved or even faced, said experts at a Harvard Kennedy School forum, and until it does, big technology’s power “to shape our politics and even our public policy” will continue to grow unchecked.“Anyone who’s been paying attention to news in the past year or so has woken up to the power of digital platforms and large technology companies,” said Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and moderator of “Big Tech and Democracy” on Wednesday evening. Just as bad, “if you asked members of Congress to articulate the problem, you’d get a wide range of views,” he said. Harvard Law School Professor Susan Crawford said the largest tech companies are already powerful enough to have their own infrastructures, from Amazon’s private internet service to the health care systems now in the works at Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase.“And at a time when the U.S. subway system is falling apart, Amazon is building a heliport. Health care, transit, communication … these are all essential for America, yet these giant companies can build around them.” It illustrates something “profoundly wrong” with American government, she said.Digital communication, especially, is “the most powerful and pervasive platform in the history of this planet,” said Shorenstein senior research fellow Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC from 2013 to 2017. But currently the companies controlling it “are making the rules in their own best interest,” he said. “We’re not talking about bad people, but [tech companies] are being presented with the opportunity to make their own rules, and nobody has repealed the laws of human nature.” — Dipayan Ghosh “If you have this underlying infrastructure that is essential to the operation of the 21st century, shouldn’t the public be represented in the rules of its operation?” Wheeler asked. “So far we have been letting it take care of itself, feeling that we will break the magic if we touch this. Well, it is time to touch it.”Significantly adding to the government’s hands-off attitude has been the fact that digital savvy is scarce among members of Congress, the panelists pointed out. Only about 15 percent of the current Congress is technically trained, said Laura Manley, director of the Technology and Public Purpose Project at the Belfer Center, and when they need to make decisions on technological oversight, their staff members are likely to go to tech lobbyists for information.Dipayan Ghosh, the Pozen Fellow at the Shorenstein Center, pointed out that many tech companies make money selling data about their customers’ use patterns, and have questionable records of respecting privacy rights. He noted that although Apple has said that it doesn’t collect data from customers in the U.S., it has no qualms working with the Chinese government to collect data on its citizens.“It’s not as though they follow human rights values consistently through all their business practices,” Ghosh said. People don’t even have to go online to have their data collected, said Ghosh, a former global privacy and public policy adviser for Facebook. When customers walk into a car dealership in Boston, he said, what they look at is tracked from the moment they come in, and their contact information is used to sign them up for a newsletter and then sold to a major data broker.“I would argue for a policy regime that treats those areas in a way that protects the American consumer,” Ghosh said.The panelists said there are no easy fixes: pricey lawyers can find loopholes in regulations, and even without those, effective competitors to the major digital companies aren’t likely to appear soon. “We’re not talking about bad people,” Wheeler said. “But they are being presented with the opportunity to make their own rules, and nobody has repealed the laws of human nature.”But responding to an audience question about how government can keep up, Crawford did have one solid recommendation: “The older people need to leave. It really is a generational issue at this point.”“Big Tech and Democracy” was sponsored by the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School.
With a promising HIV vaccine already in clinical trials, and research revealing how some people can naturally control HIV without medications, the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard has hit its stride. It was founded in 2009 with a single, initial goal: to develop a vaccine against HIV infection. Now, with a major endowment from Phillip T. (Terry) and Susan M. Ragon, its scientists are expanding their battle to encompass other diseases that threaten public health.The first landmark gift allowed the institute to bring together an extraordinary range of expertise from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to untangle a very tricky problem. “You might not see it, but HIV is devastating the lives of millions of people and their communities throughout the world,” said Facundo Batista, the Ragon’s chief scientific officer and associate director. “But the virus mutates constantly — how do you create a vaccine for something that’s changing all the time?”Knowing the answer would be well beyond any single field, Ragon Director Bruce Walker and his colleagues convened scientists from many disciplines to launch an innovative research program with strong roots in Boston, Cambridge, and South Africa. And this April, a $200 million gift from the Ragon family empowered the institute to tackle a much broader range of human diseases.“HIV is now one of very few diseases for which we have a continuous readout about what the immune system is doing,” said Walker, an infectious disease physician at MGH, professor at Harvard Medical School, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)-funded immunologist. “What we have learned is allowing us to address a whole range of global health problems, not just AIDS. It helps us understand diseases like TB, Zika, and influenza because it gives us an accurate model of infection and immune response.”Learning from patientsOne of the institute’s most promising developments is connected to its founding goal. Its scientists will be working with the NIH and the Gates Foundation over the next few years to run a trial of an HIV vaccine developed by founding Ragon member Dan Barouch. The participants will be 2,600 African women who are vulnerable to infection.For many years, Ragon Institute scientists have been collaborating closely with scientists and clinicians at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa, a country where more than a quarter of females between ages 15 and 49 are infected with HIV.“Many of us are physician-scientists, and we collaborate in a way that allows us to learn actively from patients,” explained Walker. “To help people, we need to understand not only how the immune system succeeds, but also how it fails.”To make their programs as effective as possible, Ragon-affiliated scientists at the South African institutes work with traditional healers and government health services to conduct HIV counseling and testing. Walker believes this kind of cultural collaboration is as critical to progress as working across scientific disciplines.“We can make vaccines but if we can’t deliver them to people at risk — and ensure those people can take them — they’re not going to be much use,” he said. “We can only succeed if we have a deep understanding of local norms and cultures. Because when there is an epidemic, we need to be in a position to have a positive impact.”Harvard President Larry Bacow said, “Vaccines have saved countless lives, radically improving societies all around the world. Harvard scientists have been integral to this work and to advancing the field of public health in critical ways. The researchers at the Ragon Institute are at the vanguard, and their incredible achievements are a testament to the power of collaboration between Harvard, MIT, and MGH. Over the past decade, the generosity and vision of Terry and Susan have enabled these exceptional scientists to combat some of the most devastating diseases, and their latest gift will empower the Institute to continue having a real, lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of those who need it most.”“If people could see what HIV is doing to people, families, and communities, they would understand immediately why vaccines are needed so badly,” said Batista. “Women get infected because they have no power. This is a huge problem, and it will only become worse, with more chances of a mutant disease emerging, if we continue to neglect it. Our vision is to harness the immune system to prevent and cure diseases so that people and their communities can thrive.”FRESH perspectivesThe quest to develop a vaccine against HIV is tightly connected to a fight against poverty, one of the greatest drivers of infection risk. In 2012 the Ragon Institute launched FRESH — Females Rising through Education, Support and Health — in South Africa, linking scientific research with social good by providing a pathway out of poverty.Based in a shopping mall in a former black township near Durban, South Africa, FRESH prepares young women for employment by providing training in basic life skills, computer skills, empowerment, and HIV prevention efforts twice a week. The program has two goals: to address the most pressing challenges faced by young women, and to detect acute HIV infection very early in order to fill important gaps in biomedical knowledge.So far, the program has served more than 1,200 women, most of whom have remained uninfected and moved on to a job or school. It has also allowed scientists to better understand how the battle between immune system and HIV begins, and why the immune system usually loses.“This is the most exciting scientific project I’ve ever been involved with,” said Walker. “It has this immediate impact of fundamentally changing people’s lives for the better. Those who come to the program start to believe in themselves and ultimately enter the workforce, removing them from extreme poverty, which is one of the biggest risk factors for HIV infection.”Program participants have their blood drawn at every visit and give their consent for the samples to be used in research. If a person becomes infected despite the prevention efforts, they learn of it very early and are provided counselling and treatment through the program. Their blood samples are used to study exactly how the immune system responds to HIV.“Before, early infection was just a black box — we didn’t know anything about what was happening before people presented with symptoms,” said Walker. “Now, we can start to see what’s required to get control of HIV — what exactly happens in those rare people who never do get sick from it.”A model for vaccine discoveryRagon faculty members decide collectively on the institute’s research program, focusing on areas with the biggest potential global impact.To study the intersection between the deadly HIV and TB viruses, Ragon researchers use custom-built, extremely high-security facilities in Cambridge and similar facilities at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, located at the heart of the TB epidemic in South Africa.They are also working on better defenses against influenza, combining expertise in cell biology, immunology, and bioinformatics. But TB, Zika, and flu are just a few examples.“I think we are going to see a sea change in medicine over the next 10 to 20 years, with a completely different understanding the immune system,” said Walker. “We’ve only started to scratch the surface not only for infectious diseases but also for cancer, diabetes, and diseases like Alzheimer’s. We’ve created a very exciting community effort here, and the support of the Ragon family and other donors will allow us to continue to make a lasting, positive difference in people’s lives.” Harvard professor emeritus Max Essex says it’s possible Epidemic of autoimmune diseases calls for action Related Ending HIV transmission by 2030 Scientists investigate ways to protect newly transplanted cells from attack
Read Full Story Bryan Stevenson J.D./M.P.P. ’85, a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and best-selling author of “Just Mercy,” will be the speaker for the Harvard Law School Class of 2020’s graduation ceremonies. The school’s virtual celebration will occur on May 28, with an on-campus ceremony to take place at a date to be announced.In 1989, Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Ala., with the initial aim of providing free legal help to inmates facing capital sentences in Alabama. For more than 30 years, he and EJI have defended countless individuals facing capital punishment and juveniles prosecuted as adults, while also working to address systemic issues of mass incarceration, excessive sentences, and racial bias in the criminal justice system. He has argued and won multiple cases at the Supreme Court of the United States, including a 2019 ruling invalidating the imposition of capital punishment on those with dementia and a landmark 2012 decision holding unconstitutional mandatory sentences of life-imprisonment-without-parole for those 17 or younger. He and EJI staff have won reversals or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned individuals on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.Stevenson has also led the creation of two highly acclaimed cultural sites which opened in 2018, The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The new national landmark institutions chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching and racial segregation and the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias.Stevenson’s work has won him national acclaim. In 1995, he was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize; the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor; the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union, after he was nominated by United States Supreme Court Justice John Stevens; the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers; and the Olof Palme Prize, for international human rights.He has received more than 40 honorary doctoral degrees, including degrees from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Oxford University.His award-winning memoir “Just Mercy,” which examines systemic racism in the criminal justice system through his clients’ stories, was published in 2014 and quickly became a New York Times Bestseller. It was named by Time Magazine as one of the 10 Best Books of Nonfiction for 2014 and has been awarded several honors including the Carnegie Medal by the American Library Association for the best nonfiction book of 2015 and a 2015 NAACP Image Award. “Just Mercy” was recently adapted as a major motion picture, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.After graduating from Harvard with both a J.D. from the law school and a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School, Stevenson began representing capital defendants and individuals on death row in the deep south, as a staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.For more information about Harvard Law School’s Commencement activities, see the law school’s commencement website.
Study finds some differences in attitude, though, depending on party Asked about how she’s dealt with sexism, Ardern recalled a political cartoon that depicted her in a bikini and high heels standing in a boxing ring with a card signaling a new round when she was still a relatively new member of Parliament. The commentary implied that the Labour Party had only given her a front bench role because of her looks.“It was pretty demeaning and pretty awful,” she said. Worried that she’d be cast in the press as stereotypically humorless or overly sensitive if she reacted negatively, Ardern said she chose to passively swat away that and other sexist remarks aimed at her. But over time, she began to question why she was taking this approach and whether it unintentionally sent the wrong message.“I started to wonder about what other young women would think if they saw some of that treatment and think that if they went into politics, they would experience some of that, too, [so] maybe I did need to speak up,” she said.“It’s been a journey for me. I want to be a good leader, not a good female leader,” said Ardern, who received global attention in 2018 as the second head of state, after the late Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, to give birth while in office. “But I also take very seriously the responsibility that I cannot just ignore those things when they happen. Other women are watching; young girls are watching.”One of the youngest world leaders, Ardern, 40, said she often speaks to students and knows how important it is for there to be diversity in political leaders — not just in age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, but also leadership style.If the gray-haired, white, male politician who’s loud, aggressive, and hyper-ambitious is the default image of politics and leadership for most people, that reinforces the false notion that these must be the character traits necessary to survive and succeed.“And if that is what we’ve come to expect, is it any wonder that our young people have in the past shied away from believing that [government] is a place they want to be or indeed they can be?” she said. “I wonder this because I believed it myself.”Ardern entered politics in 2008 and nine years later became deputy leader, then leader of the Labour Party, and prime minister. Voted most likely to be prime minster by her high school classmates, she said she never envisioned ending up in this position less than two decades later, but not because of gender — New Zealand had already had two female heads of state.“There was never a point in my life that I can recall where I thought, ‘I can’t do that because I’m a woman.’ However I have on many occasions thought, ‘I cannot do that because it’s me.’ Imposter syndrome is real,” she said. Study finds female workers’ deep discomfort over touting skills, experience adds to gender gap in promotions, pay American voters don’t hate ambitious women, after all Women less inclined to self-promote than men, even for a job Why voting matters Related Local leaders answer skeptics with key examples People say Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, doesn’t come across like a typical world leader — and she’s OK with that.The self-described “pragmatic idealist” is considered neither brash nor arrogant and doesn’t need the spotlight on her at all times. Instead, she’s known for her modesty and competence, and for demonstrating that successfully leading a country through a crisis, or even two, doesn’t mean you can’t also be a kind and compassionate person.On Tuesday, Ardern received this year’s Gleitsman International Activist Award from Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership (CPL). Recently elected to a second term, she was honored for her role in guiding New Zealand through the March 2019 terrorist mosque attacks in Christchurch and the coronavirus pandemic; policies on climate change, inclusivity, and social well-being; and “principled, effective, and just leadership.”Shortly before announcing that all New Zealand public sector agencies will become carbon-neutral by 2025, Ardern accepted the award virtually, speaking from her office in the executive wing building in Wellington known as the Beehive.During a conversation with former U.S. Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, director of the CPL, she discussed how she’s managed some of the challenges of leadership, including those posed by the pandemic. She also talked about how being a woman and gender stereotypes have affected her confidence and leadership decisions, and she offered advice to young people wondering whether going into politics requires checking kindness, empathy, and humility at the door. (It doesn’t, she said.)Known for her consensus-building style and firm belief in science, Ardern explained that her decision in March to initiate a strict nationwide lockdown was intended to not just stop the spread of the coronavirus but eliminate it. The move, she said, was informed by staying attuned to what she saw and heard and felt from people as she walked between the prime minister’s residence and her office every day. New Zealand, which has population of 4.9 million, has one of the world’s lowest COVID infection rates, with only 25 deaths and less than 2,000 confirmed cases. Though the island nation’s remote location in the southwest Pacific Ocean undoubtedly helped, experts have credited the government’s swift and stringent response as a key factor. “It’s been a journey for me. I want to be a good leader, not a good female leader.” — Jacinda Ardern So for young people who hope to hold political office or positions of leadership someday, particularly girls, Ardern said she counsels them to grab promising opportunities whenever they come, even if the timing is unexpected or they think their resumé isn’t perfect yet.“Don’t wait for the moment when you suddenly feel you are ready. Sometimes that moment won’t come. We need to accept opportunities, take them and be bold — despite that feeling of fear and doubt,” she said.The Gleitsman award, which began in 1993, recognizes international figures and Americans who demonstrate and inspire positive social change around the world. Past winners include Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai (2018), Rep. John Lewis (2017), and Nelson Mandela (1993).Ardern requested that the award’s $150,000 prize be used to fund a scholarship for a New Zealand citizen attending the Kennedy School.