Diana Zamora is an MPA/ID candidate and a World Bank Scholar at the Kennedy School. Prior to HKS, she worked in the Office of the President of Mexico and was Executive Manager of an education program attended by 45,000 disadvantaged students. She is currently doing her summer internship in Medellin, Colombia, partially supported by a Dubin Fellowship awarded by the Center for Public Leadership.
There is no policy without politics. This is the most important thing you will learn (and never forget) when you come to HKS. In the MPA/ID program you will get challenged to think hard and to critically use the latest theories in development economics—but most importantly—you will learn that any solution you propose must not only be technically correct, but also politically supportable. You will learn how important this balance is in order to change the world for better, which is the quintessential goal of all of us here at HKS.
I was born and raised in the outskirts of Mexico City and I myself have experienced the extraordinary power that education policy has in transforming lives. My parents could not finish high school due to challenging life circumstances, but they always prioritized education both for me and my brother—school was never an expense, it was an investment.
However, this big effort could have been diluted had I not been awarded a publicly-funded loan which allowed me to stay in college when we went through particularly difficult times. That loan changed my life forever: in Mexico only three percent of all children that enroll in primary school graduate from college.
This personal experience makes me always have in my mind how blessed I am and the duty I have to give back, and this is what motivates me to work in the intersection of education policy and politics. Why politics? Well, because politicians make society’s choices on how to spend our taxes, how to prioritize between building a road or a school, between subsidizing gasoline or books. This combined interest in education and politics drove me to Medellin.
Medellin—once infamous for being the most violent city in the globe—was recently named the ‘most innovative city’ by the Wall Street Journal. At the core of this award is the government’s choice to place quality education and top-end urban infrastructure at the service of the poorest. The leader of this transformation is the former Mayor of Medellin and now Governor of Antioquia, Sergio Fajardo, a Mathematics Ph.D. and university professor who got fed up with politicians’ corruption, their links with organized crime and their lack of long-term planning. Mr. Fajardo has led a citizen movement that has placed education policy at the heart of politics, public discussion and government expenditure—with a current budget where half of it is spent on education.
I have been working for a few weeks now, and it has already been a fascinating experience. I have been able to witness how an unconventional politician leads a state of 6 million inhabitants through his closest staff; and to learn how he and his colleagues interact with coherence and transparency with all citizens, whether they are national-level politicians, local leaders like school principals, rural municipalities’ mayors, or children and their mothers. This has been a source of constant learning and inspiration to bring the same pragmatic and effective approach to Mexico, where rising violence is (literally) killing talent and the dreams of our youngest citizens.
These are the kind of doors that the MPA/ID program and the Kennedy School will open for you. Later this summer I will write again in more detail about this wonderful experience.