2013 New Student Post #1: MC/MPA Mason Fellow George Mukundi Wachira

Mid-career students attend a mandatory summer session, and the MC/MPA Mason Fellows were the first to arrive on July 1st.  The rest of the MC/MPA class joins us today.  Some new students have kindly volunteered to introduce themselves and write about joining HKS.  George Mukundi Wachira gets us started with this post.

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My name is George Mukundi Wachira, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and Pan African human rights lawyer.  I have a Law Degree from the University of Nairobi, Kenya and a Master and Doctorate of Laws Degrees in international human rights law from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. I am currently engaged as the Coordinator of the African Governance Architecture and Platform with the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Before joining the Africa Union I worked in civil society for over 15 years in human rights, transitional justice, and democratic governance.

While working with civil society, I realized that while the private sector and civil society are important actors in enhancing service delivery to the people, the greatest enabler or disabler of development, social change and realization of human rights is the government. The crucial role thus of effective and visionary public service leadership, management and administration cannot be overemphasized - which explains my motivation to join the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration Edward S. Mason Program (MC/MPA Mason) at Harvard to enhance my skills in public service delivery and leadership.

Studying at Harvard and invoking the brand in my portfolio is one of my life long dreams come true. My journey to Harvard is a product of many factors, but one stands out - the confidence and faith of many people who believe in my potential to play a significant role in Africa’s development and public leadership in my country - Kenya.  These individuals have and remain key pillars and a support network in my journey thus far and will continue to do so throughout my year as a student and beyond. My wife Gladys Mukundi leads in that regard, but two particular individuals deserve special mention - Ms. Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) who nominated and encouraged me to apply and Prof. Christopher Avery at the Kennedy School who patiently guided me through the application process.

The MC/MPA Mason program attracts talented individuals who are already accomplished in their spheres of work and leading extremely busy schedules, which means they are likely to miss important deadlines – as I personally learnt the hard way and will explain further below. It is important to keep time and meet deadlines at Harvard as I have continued to learn in my two weeks so far. Self reliance and employing innovative tools, especially the internet, to serve oneself in almost everything - from submitting application documents and requirements, paying bills, housing, booking appointments, finding course materials, registering for courses - almost everything under the sun at Harvard, is a must.

The two week MC/MPA Mason Fellows Summer Seminar program is compulsory, and even if it was not it is one unique opportunity that no MC/MPA Mason Fellow would ever want to miss. The Fellows this year, 89 from 50 different countries across the globe, who are mainly drawn from developing and emerging economies, gather for two weeks of intense induction and introductions to the Harvard case methodology teaching approach and some refresher courses in Mathematics. For most of us who had last studied Mathematics in an academic setting long ago, it is quite a struggle at first but one quickly relearns and adapts given the high quality, dedication and personalized support from the Faculty.

Being a MC/MPA Mason Fellow is one of the most humbling experiences – one quickly realizes and appreciates how little you know in life and perhaps how insignificant what one imagines is success in a world full of other top global achievers. MC/MPA Mason classes include the likes of sitting mayors, senators, cabinet members, chief executive officers, speakers of parliament, permanent secretaries, World Bank officials, presidential advisers, diplomats, chief executive officers of public corporations - truly global leaders already - a number of whom have ended up becoming prime ministers and presidents. In fact, at the last day of this year’s MC/MPA Mason Fellows seminar we learnt that at the recent parliamentary elections in Bhutan, the opposition leader who will form the next Government as Prime Minister is a former MC/MPA Mason Fellow – joining several others Edward Mason alumni already running various governments across the world.

The diversity of the academic backgrounds include architects, medical doctors, academics, lawyers, engineers, social scientists, anthropologists, political scientists health professionals, climate change experts…any field one can think of all in one room. At first it is quite intimidating and as one colleague remarked- “you leave your ego outside the gate in a MC/MPA Mason class”. One notable highlight though was how similar people actually are despite such diversity and accomplishments - all genuinely very hungry to do something that will make the world a better place to live in, all leaders in their different spheres, but all humble and willing to learn again and become better public servants and leaders.

The program also infuses loads of fun, laughter and social programs many organized by the Fellows - a significant number have their families with them - we have had drink ups, football, and are already planning some rounds of golf - which I am planning to take during the year - and many more social outings to see the beautiful Cambridge neighborhood and Boston.  For most of us who had resisted joining Facebook you equally realize that it is a go to platform to interact with other Fellows and get informal advice and organize social events - which in any case is part of the Harvard experience - networking and spreading our horizons.

Harvard is a like a city within a city - in fact I am yet to explore the entire campus and I reckon it will take a couple of months to tour the entire University grounds. The weather in Summer in Boston is beautiful - the University is nested alone the Charles river and its picturesque. July is a little humid for some of us, but an opportunity to exercise by walking a lot with all its beauty is a sight to behold. I live 20 minutes walking distance from school partly because I missed the housing allocation deadline and had to resort to exploring alternative non-University accommodation – the take away from my experience here is to always watch out and observe the strict deadlines as indicated on the application pages - they are very serious about them.

It is always advisable to arrive at least a couple of days before the MC/MPA Mason summer program begins - there is no room to start looking for accommodation when the program starts since you are in class from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM and it can be quite hectic even for regular visitors to the United States like myself who had been to Boston before.  In order to settle, purchase basic utilities, get directions to the various facilities and offices that are scattered across Cambridge for the different self help things that one needs to do before becoming a registered student - for even a simple but critical thing like getting a student ID - which is the magic number that becomes your second and most important name.

Overall its been a mind blowing opportunity and experience with loads more to come – it has far exceeded my expectations - the intellectual stimulation, comparable experience and lessons sharing, global outlook and exchanges with world renown academics and global change agents as colleagues, not to mention the phenomenal networking opportunities.  I certainly can’t wait for the year ahead, which already seems to fly rather fast.