martes, 3 de septiembre de 2013

Mason Seminar and Summer Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

My name is Miguel Santos (MC/MPA Mason) and I am from Caracas, Venezuela, a country that has been chased by luck since its very inception, but yet has always somehow managed to escape from it. Before coming to HKS I worked for more than twelve years in corporate finance and business development across Latin America. I worked for a large family business holding, the Cisneros Group; headed the corporate finance division of Venezuelan largest bank, Mercantil Servicios Financieros; and performed as Vice-President for Business Development for Sony Pictures Latin America. I did a lot on mergers and acquisitions, venture capital, strategic planning, launched new businesses facilities, and negotiated a large number of joint ventures. As time passed on, and Venezuela fell into great political and economic turmoil rooted in large income inequalities, my career interests gradually changed.

In 2003, I joined a group of Venezuelan scholars to create Acuerdo Social, a think-tank of professors cutting across different academic institutions and disciplines, aimed at promoting policies that foster economic growth, reduce poverty and income inequality. We developed quantitative research projects and wrote policy papers to create awareness and support the public policy units of political parties. In summer 2007, I volunteered in Rau Primary School in the outskirts of Mount Kilimanjaro with the ONG Cross Cultural Solutions, and in 2009 visited Mali and set up a small foundation to help people in Dogon Country region buy water pumps and bags of fertilizers. 

After these experiences, I decided to change my professional career and move towards positions where I could have a higher impact on other people´s lives. To prepare myself for that, I attended Universitat Pompeu Fabra and completed two MSC degrees in International Finance/Development and Economics, and moved on to Universidad de Barcelona to complete my PhD in Economics (still working on my thesis). In between, I had the opportunity to coordinate the Macroeconomic Policy Team of Presidential Candidate Henrique Capriles in the Venezuelan presidential elections of 2012 and 2013. After a couple of disheartening defeats, I decided to apply to the MC/MPA Mason Program, in order to complete and enhance my own career transition.

I arrived in Cambridge one night before the program started.  This is not a good idea. The Mason Seminar and subsequent Mid-Career Summer Program are both highly intensive. Combining that with the hardships of an international move, the furnishing of a house, and other minor tasks related to setting up in a new location is very strenuous. Moreover, the opportunity cost of not joining your classmates in outings and other extracurricular activities is simply too high.

My particular case was a bit harder, since I decided to share my Harvard experience with my two sons Rodrigo (17) and Constantino (6). The former registered himself into an Investigative Reports course at Boston University. For the latter, I spent a lot of time searching for a day camp where he would be happy (if you want to do the same, arrange for this early; the best ones within Cambridge run out of places well before the summer starts and have long waiting lists). I had to wake up early to cook breakfast, prepare his lunch-bag, drive him to the camp and get back (a little late) to classes. After a full day of lectures I had to pick him up, play with them, prepare dinner and only then start studying (or join my classmates at a bar).

But that is just one side of the coin. I also had the chance to bike with them around Cambridge, row along the Charles river, ride a catamaran to see whales at Stellwagen Marine Sanctuary, sit atop the Green Monster of Fenway Park at a Red Sox game, share with them HKS soccer team practices and enjoy Boston´s wonderful Children and Science museums. It was well worth the effort, as we enjoyed our time here together in a way we will never forget.

Back to the Summer Program, one last piece of advice. No matter how good the lectures and teachers of HKS may be, you will always learn the most from your classmates. As the fall term begins, the Mid-Career class spreads across a diverse range of courses and interests. The Mason Seminar and the Summer Program provide a unique opportunity to get to know people, to learn from their stories, and think how we could help each other to achieve the goals that brought us together to the Kennedy School of Government.

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