Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government

Ayako Sakamoto

Fall Semester

I successfully completed six courses with 22 credits in this fall semester.

One of the most interesting courses was “Exercising Leadership: The Politics of Change”, which is originally taught and structured by Professor Ronald Heifetz. According to Professor Heifetz, the leadership is to lead people to face a challenge which they would have avoided otherwise. This definition of leadership itself was new to me because I had always thought that leadership is the ability to mobilize people towards your goal/vision. Through this course, I learned how to diagnose group dynamics (stakes, fractions) and when /towards which direction I need to intervene the group and how important to distinguish technical fix and adaptive challenge. I realized that Japan has many adaptive challenges which people have avoided facing and discussing, and we might not have leaders who can lead people to face those issues at this moment. I met Japanese HKS students who shared the same opinion mentioned above with me and we are planning to continue our discussion about what adaptive challenges Japan have and how we can work on them.

I took two courses related to finance. One is “Private Capital for Public Purpose: Impact Investing and Its Siblings”. This course taught me the trend of impact investing in private capital to work for public purpose such as climate change, gender equality and community development. Though it is rather a new field, and the standards of impact measurement and investment criteria are not well established, it is growing rapidly and has huge potential to make an impact on those fields. The other course is “Advanced Risk Management and Infrastructure Finance”. This course taught me an advanced treatment of the theory of financial risk management and its application to infrastructure finance. Through this course, I learned what kind of financial schemes and tools I can use and what kind of risks I should consider when building infrastructure projects such as solar power plants in developing countries. I would like to work on climate change (especially electrification with renewable energy) and gender equality from the perspective of finance, and these course helped me to have better vision about what I would like to do after my graduation.

Aside from the course work, I organized an event for HKS students as a chair of Japan Caucus (Student organization at HKS) to introduce Japanese culture such as Japanese food, tea ceremony, calligraphy and traditional games this November. I prepared for this event with 17 Japan Caucus members and finally over 150 HKS students joined the event. I was glad that they enjoyed not only Sushi but also other aspects of Japanese culture which they probably hadn’t had chance to know before the event. Living abroad, I often noticed that Japanese culture is westernized outside Japan and their understanding about Japan is incomplete if not wrong. I hope that we can introduce diverse culture of Japan which foreign students could not know through western media, through the activity of Japan Caucus.

Summary and Take-aways

My school experience at HKS was totally different from the first year.  The first semester was completely remote in 2020 and I even couldn’t enter the US so that I took all the courses remotely in Mexico with my classmates. The second semester was hybrid-class in Cambridge in the U.S., but there were no in-person school events and no student gatherings at HKS was allowed so that I could interact with only MPA/ID students. Though I was happy that our classmates got so closed to each other like a family, I did not have chance to know people outside my program. This semester, the school got back to relatively normal, and all the students came back to the HKS campus. I could meet and learnt from various people outside my program even outside HKS, which gave me new perspectives to see the world. All these experiences made me realize that learning comes not only from lectures or/and books but from open-hearted deep conversations with people from diverse background.  I still feel that zoom meeting cannot replace in-person meeting if the purpose is to build friendship/trust and make such a deep/open-hearted conversation.