The beginning

Since its founding in 2000 with a generous gift from Leslie and Abigail Wexner, the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School has worked to prepare its students to exercise leadership in a world responding to a rapidly expanding array of economic, political, and social challenges.  

1985: Thirty years ago, operating with the simple belief that effective leadership is essential for social and economic prosperity, Leslie and Abigail Wexner launched the Wexner Israel Fellowship program with the goal of bringing promising civil students from Israel to study at Harvard Kennedy School.

Where are we now?

2000: Fifteen years later, through a generous gift from the Wexner Foundation and under the leadership of Harvard Kennedy School faculty David Gergen, Ron Heifetz, Barbara Kellerman, and Dean Joseph Nye, the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) opened its doors. CPL is now home to 11 named student fellowships and almost 30 faculty affiliates engaged with leadership scholarship practice across campus and in the global arena. CPL serves almost a quarter of the HKS student population through our full-tuition fellowships, and offers a robust leadership development curriculum to all students enrolled at HKS.

2013: The Behavioral Insights Group (BIG) at CPL is launched by then CPL co-director Max Bazerman and HKS academic dean Iris Bohnet. Featuring active involvement of top Harvard behavioral science scholars, including Francesca Gino, Cass Sunstein, Todd Rogers, and Allison Wood Brooks, BIG helps leaders create environments that promote more ethical decision-making to advance the well-being of society. Today, BIG is directed by Todd Rogers, professor of public policy at HKS.

2014: Amplifying the impact of our research portfolio and establishing our role as a leader in the social entrepreneurship and philanthropy arena, CPL merged with the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations—the first merger of two centers in the history of Harvard Kennedy School. Created over 15 years ago by founding donors Rita and Gustave Hauser and now operating as the Hauser Institute for Civil Society, Hauser is home to the Social Innovation + Change Initiative and is CPL's hub for NGO leadership development. The Initiative for Responsible Investment (IRI) and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) are both part of the Hauser Institute.

2019: Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, current U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, is named director of CPL and Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School.

Where are we going?

During a time of great global disruption and uncertainty, CPL is expanding our critical role as an innovator in leadership development, with a commitment to invigorating the faculty core and ensuring diversity of thought. As CPL passes its 20th anniversary during a moment unlike any other in modern history, we are dedicated to the founding vision of serving as an incubator for the best approaches to strengthening effective public leadership and preparing the next generation of public leaders to tackle the problems of the world.