HKS Alumnus Juan Manuel Santos Wins Nobel Peace Prize, Salutes CPL Co-Founder Ron Heifetz

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the longest running armed conflict in the Americas, the civil war between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In November of this year the government and FARC signed a revised peace treaty for approval by Congress, an effort to stunt the 52-year conflict that has left nearly 6 million people without a home and over 200,000 people dead. "Santos has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution, and much of the groundwork has been laid for both the verifiable disarmament of the FARC guerrillas and a historic process of national fraternity and reconciliation,” wrote the Nobel Committee in announcing Santos' selection.

Santos, a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School (Mid-Career MPA, '81) saluted CPL co-founder, leadership scholar, and Harvard Kennedy School professor Ron Hefeitz during his acceptance lecture this weekend, ackowledging the direct impact Heifetz has had on his leadership career as teacher and advisor: "Professor Ronald Heifetz, founder of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, from which I graduated, once gave me a wise piece of advice: 'Whenever you feel discouraged, tired, pessimistic, talk with the victims. They will give you the push and strength to keep you going.' And it has been just this way. Whenever I had the chance, I listened to the victims of this war and heard their heartbreaking stories."

CPL’s charge to “prepare students to exercise leadership in a world responding to a rapidly expanding array of economic, political, and social challenges” has never felt more pressing. The Nobel Peace Prize celebrates the essence of leadership, and President Santos' call to the value of teaching our future public leaders and the work we are doing at the Center for Public Leadership and Harvard Kennedy School demonstrates the power of leadership training to prepare and define our most formidable leaders through their greatest challenges.

An Open Letter from Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf


As 2016 draws to a close, I am reminded of the ability we each have to help make a better world.

On Saturday, Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, received the Nobel Peace Prize. In the words of the selection committee, he received the prize "for his resolute efforts to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 200,000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people."  The committee continued: "The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process. This tribute is paid, not least, to the representatives of the countless victims of the civil war."

President Santos earned a mid-career MPA from Harvard Kennedy School in 1981. You can read a bit about his experience at Harvard, and see a photo of him at the School during a visit here in 2013, at: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/10/hks-alum-juan-manuel-santo....

President Santos's Nobel Lecture on Saturday was titled: "Peace in Colombia: From the Impossible to the Possible."  In the lecture, he described the process by which the peace agreement was reached -- and referred to his experience at the Kennedy School. He said:  "Professor Ronald Heifetz, founder of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, from which I graduated, once gave me a wise piece of advice: 'Whenever you feel discouraged, tired, pessimistic, talk with the victims.  They will give you the push and strength to keep you going.'  And it has been just this way. Whenever I had the chance, I listened to the victims of this war and heard their heartbreaking stories."

We are proud that an alumnus of the Kennedy School won the Nobel Peace Prize this year -- following in the steps of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia and Kennedy School MPA 1971, who won the prize 5 years ago. We are also proud that President Santos's experience at the Kennedy School, and especially the teaching of our colleague Ron Heifetz, made such a positive difference in his life and work that he highlighted it in his Nobel Lecture. As we pursue our own paths to help make the world better, let us all "talk with the victims" and use their stories to "give us the push and strength to keep ... going."