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The Citizen

The hidden gem of the HKS clubs

Admiral Stavridis, Dean of Fletscher School at Tufts University, the keynote speaker of the European Conference at Harvard Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greek Defense Minister, at a European Club discussion Jean Claude Trichet, President of the European Central Bank (2003-2011), at a European Club discussionBy Ioannis Tsoutsias

Harvard Kennedy School is a unique place: I cannot think of many places that can compete with the School in attracting amazing speakers with such ease. My involvement in the European Club of HKS this year has been a testimony to this conclusion.

When I came to HKS, I saw my participation in the European Club as a once in a lifetime opportunity to hold frank debates with senior public officials on the issues I really care about. In this regard, I made an extraordinary attempt to contribute to the relevant activities. Today, I feel that this effort has been worthwhile; within this academic year, I managed to organize events with outstanding guests including ex-Prime Ministers, Ministers, high level diplomats and other senior leaders holding public office.

Many assumed that I pulled off these events because I knew these people previously. The plain truth is that I had barely met with any politicians during my previous career in the private sector, let alone maintaining any working relationships with them. In fact, as I have explained in the HKS admission blog (a link to this post is available at the end of the article), due to my very limited exposure to the public sector, I was feeling rather ignorant of what my Harvard Kennedy School experience would be like.

How did I then manage to organize these events? Obviously persistence and professionalism can go a long way in making things happen. However, the image of the student clubs, an extension of the influential brand of the School, has been central to this success beyond any doubt. I was amazed by the openness of the HKS guests to our community. They have always been exceptionally willing to share their experiences and their insights with HKS. Even the most high profile persons, feel privileged to get the opportunity to speak at the school and make extraordinary efforts not to waste it.

Nonetheless, while HKS clubs unquestionably equip students with an unparalleled platform to build their network and assume important responsibilities, it is puzzling for me why only few take advantage of this opportunity. I fully understand that many of us face severe time constraints; time is a very scarce resource. With so many activities taking place in the school, our schedules are packed and we occasionally feel overwhelmed.

However, I also sense that we don’t sufficiently realize the high impact potential of the clubs. Resources are sometimes wasted across several caucuses with a somewhat narrow focus, while the collective power of the clubs remains underappreciated and underutilized. Clubs with a broad scope, such as the Latin American and the European ones, can obtain an outstanding status and influence policy issues by mobilizing the collective networks of a very large pool of students and tap into the vast array of resources provided by the HKS centers, the Professors and the alumni.

I hope that the incoming classes of HKS will exploit to the maximum the opportunities of HKS clubs. In this respect, the Mid-Career students, drawing on their wide experiences, could provide more leadership for the benefit of the whole school community.

Follow me on twitter: @tsoutsias

HKS admission blog: ‘’In search of an unconceivable career change’’ by Ioannis Tsoutsias: