Ash Features

Kelly Clark

From Kinshasa to Richmond, Kelly Clark Works to Empower Community

July 25, 2018

Kelly Lugbill Clark MPP 2018 was driving along the streets of Kinshasa in April 2015 when the news came over the radio that the death of a young African American man in police custody named Freddie Gray had touched off days of rioting in Baltimore. Clark, winner of the Ash Center’s 2018 Martha H. Mauzy Award for the Advancement of Democratic Governance, was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo helping to oversee human rights and democracy programming for the Carter Center of Atlanta. She was pressed by her Congolese colleagues on why she had traveled thousands of miles to work when America was plainly grappling with human rights issues of its own. 

Clark, who hails from just a few hours south of Baltimore in Richmond, Virginia, began to reflect on whether she should shift her focus homeward. “Working internationally doesn't mean you don’t think about how many of these same issues also play out in America,” said Clark.

Clark’s decision to translate her overseas experiences to the world of domestic politics and policy ultimately brought her to the Kennedy School. At HKS, she concentrated in Political and Economic Development and took a number of classes taught by Ash Center faculty affiliates. “I got lucky coming here right when Professors Scott Mainwaring and Khalil Muhammad both arrived,” remarked Clark.

In Professor Mainwaring’s “Building Better Democracies” course, Clark found herself exploring why democracy has been more successful in some contexts than in others. She recalled that “everyone was from a different country, everyone with different experience, and we had all worked either in politics or elections or in some broader sense, democracy-strengthening. Our discussions really made everything come to life.”

Clark also took Associate Professor Quinton Mayne’s highly-regarded urban politics course, which examines how race, ethnicity, and class shape group conflict and cooperation at the local level. “Reading these cases about how minority voters in cities like Atlanta were able to gain a voice, that all of a sudden their issues mattered and were on the table, served as a really strong parallel to the intersections between race, class, and political power in Richmond,” said Clark.

Clark’s passion for her hometown was evident to Mayne. “Kelly is a passionate advocate for social justice, and her reflections on Richmond underscored how pursuing equality and justice through our cities requires asking difficult questions with troubling answers about how race and racism have intersected with class and market economics to shape our cities for the worse,” recalled Mayne.

In both Mayne’s course and Professor Khalil Muhammad’s course on “Race, Inequality, and American Democracy,” Richmond was never far from Clark’s mind. “Being able to see the external perception of Richmond from my classmates—that really challenged my own view of the city and view of my home. It was really helpful for thinking about how we can make things better,” Clark reflected.

Clark and her husband hope to move back to Richmond soon, where she plans to start a nonprofit focused on expanding the political organizing power of residents in the city’s East End, an area of entrenched poverty and political disenfranchisement.

“In some of the lower-income neighborhoods, or districts, where most of the public housing is located, there's really no opportunity outside of electing your own councilor to have your voice heard in city politics,” said Clark. “This lack of economic power translates directly to lack of political power,” she continued. Clark is hoping that she can reverse this political equation and help give voice and political power to those in Richmond who need it most.


Lower Mekong River Basin

Ensuring the Future of the Lower Mekong Basin

July 25, 2018

A small, intensely blue, frozen pool sits isolated in a sparsely populated area of the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai, China. It is hard to imagine, but this bit of ice, the Lasagongma Spring, is the start of a river that serves as the lifeblood to 60 million people.

With spring’s arrival, the ice melts and the pool is awash as mountain snows turn to water and flood the valley. Ultimately, the water will flow through China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, entering Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and then emptying into the South China Sea (or the East Sea to the Vietnamese). In total, the waters of the Greater Mekong Basin help feed an estimated 300 million people a year.

Will Butler Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire's Will Bulter on Voting & Civic Participation

July 19, 2018

In Boston for a performance with Arcade Fire, the Montréal-based rock band he helped found, the Ash Center sat down Will Butler, a 2017 graduate of Harvard Kennedy School’s mid-career MPA program for a conversation on the intersection of public policy, the arts, and his efforts to strengthen a culture of public engagement and participation in government and elections.  

Scott Mainwaring

Scott Mainwaring on Party Systems in Latin America

July 17, 2018

The Ash Center sat down with Scott Mainwaring, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor for Brazil Studies and an Ash Center resident faculty affiliate. Mainwaring also serves as faculty co-chair of the Brazil Studies Program at Harvard University’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. Mainwaring is editor of the recently published Party Systems in Latin America: Institutionalization, Decay, and Collapse (Cambridge University Press, 2018).... Read more about Scott Mainwaring on Party Systems in Latin America

Teachers protest for higher wages

Ash Alumna Sparks Community Organizing in Jordan

July 16, 2018

Nisreen Haj Ahmad MC/MPA ’08, a former visiting research fellow at the Ash Center, spent the first seven years of her professional career enmeshed in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team. By the end of her tenure as a Palestinian negotiator, “I was depressed,” she recalls. “I studied law to defend the rights of oppressed people.” However, the minutiae and grinding pace of negotiations led Haj Ahmad to question whether the power of law was sufficient to impact the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

In 2007, wanting to gain new perspective, she seized an opportunity to attend Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) as a mid-career student.

Yuheng Wen

Fellows Focus: Dalio Scholar’s Campaign for Education Equality in China

July 16, 2018
Born and raised in a rural village in central China’s Henan Province, Yuheng Wen MPA ’19, dropped out of middle school at age 13. Now, two decades later, he is at Harvard exploring ways to promote education equality in China in part with the support of the Ash Center’s Dalio Scholars program, which provides scholarships to graduate students from China who are proven leaders in philanthropy or who demonstrate clear philanthropy sector leadership potential.
Dr. Tu Anh

Vietnam Executive Leadership Program Celebrates 10th Anniversary

June 28, 2018
The Ash Center sat down with Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dean of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, the first academic unit of Fulbright University of Vietnam. Dr. Tu Anh, also a non-resident fellow at the Ash Center, was in Cambridge for the 10th anniversary of the Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP), an executive education program run by the Ash Center, which provides public policy training to senior Vietnamese government officials.... Read more about Vietnam Executive Leadership Program Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Maya Sen on Anthony Kennedy's Retirement

June 27, 2018

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the country’s top court Wednesday (June 27). Kennedy has long been a crucial swing vote on key Supreme Court decisions, and his replacement has the opportunity to significantly change the ideological makeup of the court. Maya Sen, associate professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, has researched the political leaning of courts and is an expert Supreme Court watcher. We asked her about the impact Kennedy’s retirement will have on the court and the country.

Archon Getting to 80

Getting to 80%, Ash Sets a Challenge for Increased Voter Participation

June 1, 2018
“Our democracy depends on voting,” said Archon Fung, Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government and director of the Ash Center’s Democratic Governance Program, at the opening of an all-day symposium on increasing voter participation sponsored by the Ash Center; the Institute of Politics; and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. The event, “Getting to 80%: A Symposium Advancing Voter Participation,” convened on May 3 at Harvard Kennedy School and brought together journalists, technologists, business leaders, elected officials,...
Read more about Getting to 80%, Ash Sets a Challenge for Increased Voter Participation
Eddie Razak

Creating a Social Impact Movement

May 30, 2018
Ash Center Lee Kuan Yew Fellow, a social innovation leader in Malaysia, will continue to address societal problems with people-first policies after graduation.
Eric Holder

Full Participation: Making Every Voice Count

May 11, 2018

For former US Attorney General Eric Holder, gerrymandering is at the root of many of the most prominent political debates unfolding across the country today. A fairer voting system, Holder believes, wouldn’t tilt the balance towards one political party, but would level the playing field for both voters and political parties.

Tom Perez Dunlop Forum

Former Labor Secretary Perez Says Everyone Should Have a Seat at the Table

February 15, 2018

It took decades to lay the foundations for the social compact that flourished in post-war America and created enormous, shared wealth. It could take far less to roll back all the gains that were made, warned Tom Perez MPP/JD 1987, former Secretary of Labor under President Obama and the current chair of the Democratic National Committee.... Read more about Former Labor Secretary Perez Says Everyone Should Have a Seat at the Table

Protesting in Times Square

The Fight for a Working Democracy

February 7, 2018

This article was originaly published on the OnLabor blog

Written by Miles Rapoport, Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy, the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School and Wendy Fields, Executive Director, Democracy Initiative

For the last forty years, a determined attack on our democracy has been funded by a small cadre of right-wing billionaires. The leaders of this effort are determined to ensure that the decisions of government benefit the corporations and the wealthy, and they have recognized that in order to win on the substance — taxation, deregulation, shrinking government, preventing redistribution — they have to undercut the very structures of our democracy.


Democracy in 2018

January 2, 2018

Are democracies in peril? The Harvard Kennedy School started the fall 2017 semester with this question and as we enter January the answer still seems elusive. In the past couple of months we've watched Kenya's roller coaster elections, the transformation of Turkish politics and civil society, protests in Venezuela, continued support for populist parties across the globe, and more. Pundits prophetize both a better future and the deterioration and destruction of democracy.

It's difficult to deem which way democracy is trending. So, what's going to happen in the new year? We asked some of the Ash Center's democracy experts to share their thoughts. 

... Read more about Democracy in 2018

HKS Dean Elmendorf

Rebuilding Our Democracy Through Redistricting Reform

December 15, 2017

In 2010, disenchantment with the sluggish pace of the country’s economic recovery and concern about President Obama’s signature health care reform law led to Republicans up and down the ballot scoring significant electoral gains across the country. Perhaps nowhere was that landslide victory more powerful than in Wisconsin. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican, beat his Democratic opponent to capture the governor’s mansion in Madison. Badger State Republicans also won majorities in the Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate, giving them full control of the state government.... Read more about Rebuilding Our Democracy Through Redistricting Reform

Donald Trump Rally

Christian Zionism, the Religious Right, and Donald Trump: History’s Role in Contemporary Politics

December 4, 2017

“Make America great again,” Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign slogan, might not sound religious to the average political observer. One historian, however, hears a different tune.


“Looking at his [Trump’s] language, and particularly even something that most of us would agree is not really religious, like "Make America great again,” you’ll see that it actually has a historical background,” says Dan Hummel, history scholar and Ash Center History and Public Policy Fellow AY 20162017.... Read more about Christian Zionism, the Religious Right, and Donald Trump: History’s Role in Contemporary Politics


Odd Arne Westad: On the Global Roots of the Cold War

December 1, 2017

Growing up in Norway, Odd Arne Westad lived on the frontier of the Cold War. While the fjords and tundra of this Scandinavian nation may not evoke the iconic images of Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie or the Korean peninsula’s demilitarized zone, for Westad, the S.T. Lee Professor of US-Asia Relations and Ash Center resident faculty affiliate, the Cold War was an omnipresent fact of life. “Norway was a kind of frontline state with regard to the Cold War,” says Westad.... Read more about Odd Arne Westad: On the Global Roots of the Cold War

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