Harvard ALI is Rethinking Retirement

In its tenth year, Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative recruits its most diverse cohort to help create social change across the globe.

By Amanda Garcia

Fourteen years ago, Professors Rosabeth Moss KanterRakesh Khurana, and Nitin Nohria of Harvard University identified a need for a third stage of higher education—a phase of learning that moved beyond formal education and built on the experience of a successful career. They recognized that many leaders approach retirement age with energy and a desire to give back to society yet are unsure of the most effective way to do so or how to transition to a new area of focus.

Thus, the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI) launched in January 2009. Kanter assembled a faculty board from across Harvard’s different disciplines to develop the program. Their goal was to attract leaders from across the country and around the world who already possessed the mind-set and skills necessary for success, and to give them access to the wealth of knowledge and expertise at Harvard. Their hope was to equip those leaders, help them identify their passions, and prepare them to return to their communities as change-makers.

Harvard ALI

Meredith B. Rosenthal, Professor of Health Economics and Policy at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard ALI Faculty Chair (Photo Courtesy of Harvard ALI)

Ten years later, ALI is still a place for leaders to reflect on their values and goals, as well as develop new skills around collaboration and complex social change. Kanter has moved on from her role as faculty chair and Meredith B. Rosenthal, professor of health economics and policy at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, took up that mantle in January, guiding ALI through its first leadership transition.

“The program is running well, so I’m stepping into a good thing,” says Rosenthal, who works closely with program staff to help fellows navigate the university and connect them with Harvard resources that best match their interests. “My goal is to get people thinking, talking, and building shared understanding.”

While fellows share a commitment to social impact, their experiences are diverse. “In the same day, a fellow might have lunch with a design professor who is focused on urban planning, listen to a lecture on the latest data science about youth unemployment, and have productive conversations about political strategy on gun violence or women’s empowerment in the Middle East,” Rosenthal says. The person at the front of the room does not possess all the expertise; rather, it’s an intellectually invigorating, collaborative learning process through high-level conversation.

Rosenthal is spending a great amount of time with the new 2019 cohort as they work through the core seminar series: Challenges and Opportunities in Advanced Leadership. “They have networks, high energy, know-how to run a business, and are committed to working just as hard over the next twenty years to create positive change in their communities,” she says.

They are also the most diverse cohort in ALI history, with the program’s largest number of female fellows and international fellows representing more than a dozen countries. “We work very hard to recruit a diverse cohort, including working with The Alumni Society,” Rosenthal says. “We’re certainly in a moment of change in our society right now, and I would expect that a program like ours that recruits largely from the C-suite will change as the C-suite changes. I expect us to have more and more opportunities to diversify, and we will make a deliberate effort to do so.”

One fellow who is particularly passionate about making social change in his homeland of Cuba is Angel Gallinal, member of the 2019 cohort, Alumni Society member, and former partner and leader of hospitality and leisure practice at Egon Zehnder. “The premise of contributing to solving big, complex problems from a social standpoint appealed to me as I got closer to traditional retirement age,” says Gallinal about his choice to join ALI. “It spoke to me at a time when I was looking for higher, deeper purpose and meaning for my next phase in life.”

Gallinal’s year with ALI will focus on how to give back in the most effective ways possible. Through course work and interactions with other fellows, professors, and researchers at Harvard, he is charting a journey of discovery. “If I can marry my higher-purpose ambitions for my native Cuba with advanced leadership, that would be nirvana,” he says. “I intend to dedicate my next phase to this purpose in part because I believe that we—Hispanics in particular—have a responsibility to pay it forward to the next generation.”

Looking ahead to the next ten years of advanced leadership, Rosenthal has high hopes for what’s to come. “We have an opportunity to do even more than was possible when ALI was started, thanks to our founders, faculty, and more than four hundred alumni out in the world,” she says. “We have seen how bringing people together and continuing to invest in their education creates a beautiful cycle of supporting, empowering, and connecting.”

At ALI, the vision may be to gather leaders for an educational experience, but the mission is to inspire genuine and lasting social change around the world.

ALI is extending a special invitation to members of The Alumni Society for its 2020 Fellowship Program! To learn more, and to begin the selection process for its fellowship year, visit advancedleadership.harvard.edu.

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