Ali M. Berri (MPP ‘21), Stacy Dean (MPP '92), Portia Hemphill (PhD '15), and Alberto Rodriguez (MPA/MA '93) highlight the work of Ford School alumni during the pandemic and their leadership across a variety of policy areas. July, 2021.
NG: Hey, everyone. My name is Naomi Goldberg, and I'm a member of the MPP, class of 2008, and I'm also the Chair of the Ford School Alumni Board. On behalf of the Ford School alumni board, I'm thrilled to welcome you to the 11th Annual, world wide, Ford School Spirit day. It's great to see so many Fordies from around the world today, and what a great video montage, featuring some familiar faces from Weill and Lorch Hall. I look forward to a lively conversation about covid and the impact it's had on all of us, on our work this year. We have a great panel, featuring Ford School Alumni, which will be followed by breakout sessions, facilitated by alumni and students, where you'll get a chance to catch up with familiar friends and meet new people. Thanks to Grace Evans, Courtney Sanders and the Spirit Day Planning Committee of the alumni board and all the staff at the Ford School, for their hard work in making today's panel happen. I'm gonna turn things outward to Dean Michael Barr for a few introductory comments and then he will lead us into the panel. Go blue.
MB: Thanks so much, Naomi. And welcome, everybody. I'm Michael Barr, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Ford School public policy. And it is a great pleasure for me to welcome the Ford School community to this 11th annual Spirit Day event. Joining us today, are alumni from all over the country and the world, current students, incoming students, some of our PPA Junior Summer Institute students, and while we can't be together in person today, I'm so glad we were able to come together virtually, and to discuss the important work that some of our distinguished alumni have been doing, to mitigate the effects of covid-19 on all of us, from a health perspective and economic perspective, a justice perspective. I wanna thank the Ford School Alumni Board for their leadership in creating this event and their hard work in putting it together. I also wanna recognize President Ford, he was born 108 years ago yesterday. And for many of us, he provides us with a model for how to lead in moments of crisis. We honor his legacy at the Ford School, by being a community dedicated to public service and to the public good. For our conversation today, we'll be hearing from four distinguished Ford School Alumni, Ali M. Berri, Stacy Dean, Portia Hemphill and Alberto Rodriguez.
MB: Ali M. Berri is a 2021 MPP grad. He's currently an Emergency Preparedness Specialist for Wayne County, Michigan, where he has been actively working to address and mitigate the effects of covid 19 on Wayne County communities. Stacy Dean is a 1992 MPP grad. She was appointed by President Biden, to serve as the Deputy Under Secretary for the US Department of Agriculture's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Department. She works on increasing nutrition assistance, as well as on tackling systemic racism and barriers to opportunity. Dr. Portia Hemphill is a 2015 Ph.D. Graduate. She is currently a survey statistician at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. She is also the founder of Scientists for Social Progress, a national cross-collaborative platform and research consulting firm of scientists who develop solutions in the interest of public good. And finally, we have Alberto Rodriguez, who is a 1993 MPA grad. He also holds a Ph.D in Education Policy and Administration from U of M. Alberto is the Global Director for Strategy and Operations in Human Development at the World Bank. Over the last year, he has been responsible for providing leadership to the World Bank teams, responding to the covid-19 pandemic, including the largest global effort for vaccine financing and deployment.
MB: Before we dive into the discussion itself, a couple of quick notes about format. We're gonna have some time at the end of the discussion today, for audience questions. We've received some in advance already. If you would like to ask a question, please share it in the Zoom chat. We'll be collecting questions from the chat throughout the event. We hope you will also use the chat to engage in a conversation with fellow Ford School community members.
MB: Finally, after our discussion today, there will be a number of break-out sessions for you to join, where you can engage with your fellow Fordies. Please feel free to stay and mingle after the panel is over. And now, we're gonna turn to our wonderful panel. I'm just super excited to have this group with me, and with all of us today. A really interesting panel, bringing perspectives from different generations of MPP and Ph.D. Students. And I think what I'd like to do maybe, is just start to give our audience a sense of the kind of leadership experiences you've been doing during this crisis itself. What issues you've been working on, how you've been advancing the public good, through your work in the covid crisis, and then we'll get into some more questions about management style and other leadership issues. So maybe if we could start, we'll just kinda go down the row, and I'm not sure how other people are seeing you on my screen, but I've got Alberto up first, and maybe I'll ask Alberto to lead us off. What kinds of issues you've been dealing with during the pandemic. Obviously, it's been front and center of your work, so I'd love for you to share a little of that, with our wonderful audience.
Alberto: Well, thank you, thank you, Dean Barr, and thank you for the invitation to this very interesting panel. The pandemic has had a tremendous effect over our work, and because we are committed to support every country in the world in their development, and of course, this has been a tremendous setback in the development goals. Just in 2020, a 100 million more people are expected to enter extreme poverty, as I already... Entered extreme poverty. I'm talking 2020, and just that year, as a result of the pandemic. In this year, up to this month, 23 million children have missed their basic vaccinations, and what's even worse, the school closures are expected to have an impact of 10 trillion dollars in the losses of the affected children future income. What this tells you is that this is a pandemic that has affected everyone in every way. I'm not going into the data of, for example, the tremendous increase that we've seen in gender-based violence, as a result of people remaining at home.
Alberto: So what has the bank done? My team had to very quickly, shift our gears of business as usual and move into an emergency response. We responded through very quick projects that supported the social protection systems in many countries, basically, to allow countries to put money in the hands of families that needed to... For basic survival. This was particularly difficult, because as you can imagine, in many economies, we have very high informality. So it was very hard to find registration and where people were, in order to provide those resources. We provided a lot of money as well, for different countries to build up their online education systems, to get laptops in the hands of children. And of course, we also had a very quick response in the month of May, of last year, to provide PPE in many countries, and resources so that countries can actually buy the basics, from masks, to gel, to ventilators. And all of this happened very quickly. Then towards the end of the year, we moved into financing vaccines. As soon as we saw the vaccines coming up, we put out a facility that would allow countries to purchase vaccines very quickly.
Alberto: But we face a lot of difficulties. The availability of vaccines has been a very, very difficult issue. Developed countries, in a sense, cornered the market, not allowing vaccines to arrive to the poorest countries. We've been focusing on working with COVAX, with the African Union and others, to negotiate directly vaccines with different suppliers. My team has been in charge of trying to match the demand with the supply of vaccines, on one hand, and on the other hand, trying to help countries prepare for deployment. Countries are weak in deployment, they may not have the cold chain, they may have not the vaccinators trained, they do not have a strategy to fight hesitancy, vaccine hesitancy. These are all challenges that we've had to face over the last year and half, and I'm gonna stop there, because I know there'll be a lot of questions. But we've essentially spent $150 billion, supporting countries over the last 15 months, in all of this very ample set of interventions, to try to get this pandemic over.
Alberto: Right now, we're not there. We have two pandemics, we have what's going on in the developing world, which is still very low vaccination. You may know that less than 1% of the habitants of low-income countries are vaccinated, while about 50% of the habitants of high-income countries are vaccinated. We have two worlds, unfortunately, in this pandemic, so we still have a lot of work to do. It's been very demanding, it's been fun, it's been rewarding, and it's been very stressful, because the technical and political challenges around this, have been quite, quite, quite demanding for us. And I'm gonna stop there, Michael, in case... To give space to others to share their experiences as well.
MB: Thank you, Alberto. A fascinating set of issues you're tackling, and such an urgent time for the globe. We just thank you, and I'll thank all of our other panelists for your service during this critical time. Let me ask Stacy Dean to go next. And Stacy landed in her job, in the middle of the pandemic, right at the beginning of the administration, and so I wonder whether... You obviously had to hit the ground running, I'm wondering how you did that, and what you've been working on, since you started. You're muted, Stacy. Oh, I think somebody needs to let Stacy...
Stacy: Sorry, yeah. I was like, "You need to unmute me." But, hi, Dean Barr. Good to see you. And hello to everyone. It's wonderful to see some old professors, and old colleagues, and classmates. Yes, I started at 12:01, on January 20th, and joined a team of Biden appointees at USDA, not sure who they were. There were about... I can't remember how many of us. There were maybe 20 of us. And the framework that Alberto raised, I think, was exactly the same, although played out differently, but it was basically the same issue in this country. We had two stories of covid, in terms of the economic impact. The President took office with the... Sorry, covid was raging in terms of its health impacts, but the whoisics and the economy was very much... I wouldn't say shut down, but was experiencing a downturn, as a result of all of the measures that we were taking, to respond to the pandemic, and the way that we experienced that was very much informed by income, or race and ethnicity, heading into the pandemic. It was... Just felt very differently.
Stacy: So when the President took office, we had 29 million adults and 12 million children living in households, who said the week prior, they couldn't afford or meet their basic food needs, and that was our challenge here at USDA, was to figure out how to take that on. I will say that when I came in, we were not taking this on anew. USDA, under the prior administration, and this extraordinary agency that I now work at, have been working tirelessly since March, and had experienced five different pieces of legislation, equipping the agency with the capacity to build out the programs to provide more food assistance, provide more flexibility, so that we could adapt to congregate delivery, versus sort of a pick-up... To individualize the programs.
Stacy: So really, the President's objectives were our objectives, tackle the covid, first and foremost, from a health perspective, and all of the broader remedy necessary there, as you just talked about, PPE deployment, responding to community needs, build back better, which is then also think about economic recovery, but from a inclusive perspective, and what investments do we need, to come back from this stronger, and fundamentally having equity infuse all of it. So I'll stop there. That's a high framework. We have made tremendous progress. Food insecurity and hardship is much lower than it was, when the President took office, but we're not there, and we have absolutely not done what we need to do. Sorry. We haven't seen the outcome and gains that we need to see, on reducing disparity across the experience of hardship, for where whites are experienced it at much lower rates than Latinos, or African-Americans, or Native Americans. So lots of work to do there. So I'll stop, and I'd love to hear from others.
MB: Thank you, Stacy. And we're gonna return to the issues of equity that you and Alberto raised, of course, as a central theme, given the highly differential effects of the pandemic on different communities. Let me turn now, to Portia Hemphill. Portia has been also in the thick of things at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And I wonder if you could give us an overview, Portia, of the work that you've been doing.
Stacy: Certainly. I'm thankful to be here with this fantastic panel, and I'm thankful to be at 40 today. I just wanted to stop and say that. Last year is no secret, that it was extremely challenging. It was a historic time to be in the federal government, and it was a historic time to be an American. We faced challenges in terms of race and gender equity, in the country, we also faced challenges with the pandemic, that heightened other challenges that we've had that have been steadfast, like the digital divide, which really became apparent during the pandemic. And also, we faced some historic gridlock, and in our Congress, and in the federal government. And so, with those sorts of constraints, I found myself last year, saying, "How do we get past this? How do we get resources to those individual Americans in San Antonio, or in Dallas, who may be hungry right now?" 'Cause that is why I became a federal employee. And under those constraints, we didn't have a guide book to tell us how to mitigate all of those constraints at one time, and there was a lot of room, to figure out your own way last year, which could be both the pro and quite the con.
Stacy: And so, what I was doing last year was, I was working on behalf of 22 communities called Promise Zones, and HUD, and also USDA. And those are 22 distress communities that are urban, rural, and tribal, two tribal communities, and that show promise for being at a higher level, given more resources, more targeted resources on the federal, state, and philanthropic grounds.
Stacy: So, I had been doing this work for a little while, and here we are, with about three, and some change, pandemics or huge issues in the country, that had the opportunity to really dismantle the work that we had... We'd done. I couldn't connect with my partners as easily, over at ED, or over at USDA, etcetera, because I can't see them, besides this way, which I guess, is a way. But not the way that we were used to. And so, what that led me to was, "What connects us? What makes this work move? What was the real genesis behind the work that we were able to do? What was the real driver? Was it really seeing people in person? Was it really that?" No, what it really was, I found after thinking about it for a while is, people, people power, that is what moved us. That is what has always moved us, and that is what moved us last year.
Stacy: So when I narrowed in on what we were strong at and what couldn't be mitigated by these constraints, that led me to other theoretical propositions that I learned at the Ford School in political science, which was, how to solve collective action problems. So, how to bring people to the table, and sort of say, "Hey, this is your work. You. You need to help us do this." That is the federal, state, and local, and philanthropic entities. So having developed these sorts of relationships across those different sectors, is what really helped me to help the American people, last year. So, bringing in people to bear, bringing philanthropic organization, as like, "Hey, I really wanna help Portia, and I know we've worked together in these last couple of years, but when I see there's a lot going on, but I don't really know what to do here, and if I can really be of help." Brien or me, just saying, "Hey, philanthropic organization," or, "Hey, state level organization, you need to come to the table for this." Those sorts of things, those solved collective action problems, that rested the work on people, and by being able to reach out to people individually, and not just in a blanket email, but reaching out to people individually, having that in-kind relationship, is what really brought them to the table, solving those collective action problems.
Stacy: And once you get them to the table, and you solve the collective action problem, then you are able... I was able to help solve coordination problems. So now we have a group of people, together, who have the same goal in mind, which is to mitigate issues that are negatively impacting Americans at the time. But they need direction about how to come together, in order to make the best impact. So solving coordination problems. And once I was able to get those people in the room together, or get those people in the theoretical room together, there was really no room that we could get into last year, that's where the magic happened. That's how we were able to get 60,000 units of PPE to rural and tribal communities last year, that really needed it and may not always be the first stop in, in a multi-billion dollar philanthropic organization's mind, when they think about where to give money to. And being able to contact my folk, over at ED, or contact my folk there at Justice, HHS, the list goes on, 13 to 16 federal agencies.
Stacy: Having developed those relationships, there wasn't a mechanism, there was no mechanism that helped us to do that, besides our relationships with each other. And that is what helped us to move, and I was able to gather information, regarding critical resources in terms of grants, in terms of webinars, in terms of actual in-kind resources, and actual cash, bring them to the table, help them to figure out what sorts of things the communities needed, in a real-time way, by virtue of having relationships on the ground with the communities. And being a conduit with those communities, to these federal agencies, to these stakeholders, to these philanthropic organizations, and then being able to create an organic environment, in which we were still targeted. It's organic, but we were still targeted, we still were coordinated, we still had objective, we still knew what San Antonio needed, what Philadelphia needed, what Los Angeles needed, what St. Louis and Indianapolis, which was on the news a lot last year, needed.
Stacy: And because of those relationships, I was able to create an information stream, real-time information stream, to be able to round up all of those resources and get it into a one-stop shop for those communities, so that they can determine from there, for what they might want to apply. And the results of that were tremendous and helped some of our cities that would have gone under, would have gone under in terms of providing critical resources to its citizens, which in turn could have led to higher fatality rates. That is really... That is what I did not want, to happen. And when I learned that these critical PPE resources were able to mitigate those things, or this grant was able to mitigate those things, that reinvigorated my love for my job, my love for my country, and the love for being 40 and learning about all of those theoretical propositions that became real life manifestations.
S2: Thanks so much. Great set of lessons about leading during the crisis. Let me last, turn to Ali Barry. And you've been working intensely on the ground in Detroit and Wayne County more broadly. I'd love to hear what your experience has been, this last year.
AB: Thank you and hello to everybody. It is an absolute honor, to be on this panel. I've been an Emergency Preparedness Specialist with Wayne County for over a year now, working to address and mitigate the effects of covid-19 on the 43 communities in Wayne County. As was said by the great panelists here, covid-19 has been affecting people in so many different ways, and it has been targeting everybody. So nobody is safe from this. When I joined with Wayne County, we had to hit the ground running, to really mitigate the effects of covid-19 on these communities. And this is before vaccines. So to mitigate it, pop-up testing sites, increasing testing within the county, also providing PPE, especially for low income areas, was a really important thing to do, and that's something that we really were trying to focus on.
AB: One of the greatest things... Now that we have the vaccine, the vaccine is a great way to really tackle this pandemic. So of recent, a big part of my job has been to, really establish a covid-19 vaccination sites. Now, one thing to highlight, which is... Because covid-19 does impact different people in different areas so differently, we have to ensure that our response is targeted in that matter. So whether you have a certain initiative, making sure that you are going out to communities that are hardest hit by the pandemic, or making it a little more accessible and accommodating their needs. Wayne County has 43 communities, and we have to be able to do just that.
AB: I think one of the greatest challenges in all of this, and I'm sure everybody can relate, is that working in a pandemic, you're working in a high pace, a really ever-changing environment. We're dealing with this pandemic. The last pandemic of this scale occurred in 1918, and none of us were around to really experience that. So we're all here, facing the facts as they come out, and I think that makes it a really stressful environment to work in. One thing I learned from that is, being on the ground, being with people, being in communities and seeing the effects, really helped me work on the initiatives and some of the things and the projects that we need to do. Oftentimes, if we're working in an office or what have you, you lose sight of what the reality is out there. So I think the greatest thing really, is being in touch with the people that are being affected by covid-19, and that's something that I really made sure I was very mindful of, during my work.
AB: One other thing, another big challenge, the pandemic has been ongoing... We have reached one of the most important points in the pandemic. When the vaccine finally arrived, we finally have something to calm back covid-19, and early on, in Vaccine distribution, everybody who was really eager to get the shot, went out to get the shot. And as you know, of recent, there has been a decrease in demand for vaccine, across the country. And we still haven't reached that 70% threshold that many experts are putting for us, to hopefully lead to herd immunity. And so, I think right now is one of the most important times. We're close to 70, but there's still lots and lots of work to do, and one thing that we have to be mindful of is, making sure that we are providing the information for people, educating people about vaccines and about its potential. Of recent, we've heard that those who have been... 99% of recent covid-19 deaths, were people who are unvaccinated, so this is a testament to the fact that vaccines work, and I think right now, combating a vaccine hesitancy and making sure that we are able to make vaccine accessible, we can provide the information, answer questions to people, is really important, and there's still lots of work to do, even though we're close to 70. But still, lots of work. This is one of the hardest parts of the pandemic.
S2: Thanks, Ali. Both Ali and Portia have already talked a little bit, about how they address their own leadership set of skills during this crisis. Portia, in referring to the importance of relationships and building on relationships, and Ali, in terms of having a kind of on-the ground focus that help keep you motivated and on task. I wonder if Alberto and then Stacy, if you could share some of your own lessons about the style of leadership that you've needed to use, during this period and how it's been effective or cases where it wasn't effective and you had to adjust. Maybe Alberto, if you could start, and then Stacy.
Alberto: Happy to start. I was asking Stacy to do so, but I'll be happy to do it. The leadership style and the leadership that one has to bring in these situations, really has to come from, in many ways, from inside. And I'll tell you why. No course prepares you for this. This is a situation where you are facing enormous urgency, coupled by a completely... A large element of uncertainty and Ali talked about the fact that we knew very little at the beginning and we were building, as we walked in the knowledge, coupled with a very rapidly changing environment. We got vaccines and now we got variants. We all thought we would vaccinate our country, and we never suspected that what was happening in another country, in Africa, would have such an effect on what happened here, when other variants, for example, developed.
Alberto: So this changing environment, coupled with another factor, which I think we all need to recognize, is that it brought personal hardship for us as people. Some folks, of course, were facing the family issues, the loss of loved ones, friends, illness in many cases, mental illness due to the isolation and the stress, or simply having to work from home in the company of all your family around you. And all of this together, really, you don't learn these things in a course. But what I do think is that the discipline and the goal setting play a huge role, and those kick in automatically, when you actually establish patterns and when you actually build on the relationship that you have. I think Portia was making a very strong emphasis about how much personal relationships and being able to be empathic about what others were going through, play such a critical role in your leadership.
MB: I have to tell you that, obviously, nothing of what we've done and what my team has done, could have been done without the people that work on the ground, many of them not vaccinated because they're working in countries where we don't have vaccines yet available. And it is their energy, that really you want to bank on, and their ability to be empathic with those that they're working with. And I have to say, that this is what you do in leadership, I think, is you lead from behind, you learn from what your team is doing and you basically, try to create an environment such that they can do their work. Supportive, empathic, providing guidance when needed, but mostly listening a lot and understanding that they themselves are going through hardship in these very difficult times.
S2: Thank you.
Stacy: I was gonna say, that's why I wanted Alberto to go first, because of course, it's just, yes, all of that, all of that. The one thing I'll flag from my personal experiences, I came into a leadership role in the administration, having... I used to supervise a group of around 10 people, and now, I have 1500 people reporting, not directly to me, but through me. So it's a big shift, but really, knowing that it's a tremendous agency, they couldn't be more committed to the mission of addressing the needs of hungry people, and my job is to set the direction and to create the conditions for them to succeed. They were really already exhausted, when the administration went through a transition, and it would have been completely off-base, to step in and say, "Okay. We're here now and now everything's okay." Nothing could have been further from the truth. It wasn't okay, and of course, that would have not done service or paid respect to the extraordinary work they had been doing. So really, the idea is to, again, set the conditions, tell them where you wanna go and set the conditions for success, and then make sure that they know you've got their back. This was all providing the direction, but also the cover and the space for them to do their work, which they have, in an extraordinary way. So I'll stop there.
S2: Thank you, Stacy. And both of you, and Ali and Portia, before have some terrific lessons for all of us. Let me ask, maybe Ali and Portia to say a little bit about how you think the Ford School helped prepare you for your current work, if it did. Now again, I'll have Ali go first and then Portia.
AB: So, I recently graduated from the Ford School, this last May, and I really credit being in this position and being able to do the things I'm able to do now to the Ford School and the experience. To begin with, I actually started working with Wayne County right after my summer internship, and that's sort of how that came about, so I credit the opportunities and the resources that the Ford School has, graduate career services and their team. But some more experiences that I got were from the courses, especially that I learned. One of the courses I took was IPE, which is a simulation, a three-day simulation event, where we're able to discuss topics and play certain roles. And one of the first IPE sessions I had, I was acting as a state senator to work on solving a solution for water infrastructure issues. But within the simulation, there were a lot of stakeholders, there's lots of different roles from congressional leaders to executive leaders, businesses, advocacy groups and non-profits, and we had to work together to solve these issues, but also keep in mind that every stakeholder has very diverse backgrounds, interests and compositions.
AB: And that is one of the biggest things that I learned, is that whenever there's an initiative at hand that I am working with, I have to tailor a solution to accommodate these stakeholders. Now, this is a simulation. So, when I went out into the real world, for example, we had over three million face masks we wanted to distribute to the 43 communities in Wayne County. And the one thing to know is Wayne County is a very diverse county, and we have to be able to accommodate every single community so that we can make sure that those masks get to the people that need them. And so, I had to work with these various municipalities, different organizations, institutions, and tailor and make sure that I'm able to get those masks out there, barring any barriers that were present to not make that happen. So, I was able to pull in those experiences, and this is just one class. This is IPE, but in reality, many other classes we took from 510 to 587, where we worked in simulation environment, but then also in some classes, we worked with outside entities on a project. I'll end off with one more really important thing that I really took from the Ford School, which was the quantitative analysis skills that I gained through going through their courses.
S2: One thing to know is data is a very valuable thing, and good and sound data, of course, but especially when you're dealing with a virus, when something is so new. We don't know a lot of things, data can paint a picture that we might not otherwise notice. And so, I was able to utilize the data analysis skills that I learned from program evaluation, or just even our statistics class. And I'm able to take in the new information that's continuously coming out, analyze those informations, create reports so we can make data-driven decisions. But also do other things like create projections, and then create target-based approach to the solutions that we wanted to provide for the different communities. So, I think being able to take simulations and the experiences, the collaborative environment that you had there at the Ford School, and then use those experiences directly into the real world, and some of the more technical skills like data and implementing it all together, I think it's the biggest takeaway I had.
Portia: As for me, I would say that, while I was at Michigan, I embarked, I mean finished a joint PhD in Political Science and Public Policy. But, a lot of time people ask me, "Well, what's the difference between the two?" And, I think that the difference between the two really came to fruition last year. So, in Political Science, we theorize about actors. What do political actors do under what conditions? Who gets what, when, where, and how? And the Ford School taught me about how to own my own power as an actor. And that is the difference, I can actually be an actor. I can also theorize about them too, which is also great. So, I can do something and then think about why I did it like that afterward, and then think about how I could do it again better. So, that's what I would say is what I really learned from the Ford School, that it is incumbent upon me, it is incumbent upon us to be good actors, in whatever environment that we're in. So, I talk a lot about my position at HUD, but as the founder of Scientists for Social Progress, there was also a lot of work that needed to be done outside of those 22 communities that I worked for. And so, I developed Scientists for Social Progress to get together intersectional scientists, that are power houses in their own right, in order to come together and solve a collective action problem.
Portia: By coming together and then coordinating ourselves in order to target service organizations in terms of improving their data capacity, which led to critical grant-making processes or grant-writing processes, etcetera, that led to them getting more money on the ground, service organizations that had potentially nothing to do with the federal government. I recognize that I'm a product of a lot of such service organizations when I grew up in Uptown Community in Chicago. And, I've always wanted to give back to those sorts of organizations, and did not always know how. Ford School equipped me with owning my power as an actor, and then using my noggin to figure out who do I know, what people power do I have, and how can I use that to the best advantage of another facet of the American people or organizations that help the American people. And that is kind of the genesis of Scientists for Social Progress. And last year we were sure enough busy with all the issues concerning equity, all the issues concerning making sure that black women were in decision-making roles. And I say that in that way, it was a great year, to be able to show our prowess and be able to really help communities in ways that I know that we are unique in being able to assist. I credit the Ford School and the Department of Political Science for helping me to wrap my mind around how we can make theoretical propositions work in real life.
S2: Thanks Portia. And Ali, terrific insights through your time at Ford. We've gotten a lot of terrific audience questions coming in, so I'm gonna start weaving those into our conversation, and maybe I'll start with Alberto. If you could answer one of the audience questions is about, how do you incentivize governments to collaborate with each other in the crisis? Particularly, we have a set of rich nations that have different interests from the poorer nations, what's been your experience about trying to bring everybody to the table to help solve what, as you said is clearly a global problem that affects everybody?
Alberto: It's a great question. I think that we've come to an understanding finally, and it took a while, because as I said earlier, we were all learning in the process, that it is really true that no one is safe until everyone is safe. But it took a while to understand that, it took actual real life experience of having solved the issue in some countries and then seeing that, you then had impact from another country. Let me give you an example. When India's numbers went up dramatically and India had to close their borders, it turns out that India was producing a large number of the AstraZeneca vaccines that were going to go out to the rest of the world. So, everybody was heavily affected by the fact that India's cases went up very highly, and that the borders therefore had to be closed, and exports were closed as well. So, all of these interactions, this understanding that we are an interconnected world in so many ways, whether it is through commerce, through the movement of people, you name it, became extremely clear.
Alberto: I actually believe that a pandemic like the one we have gone through, and we are going through, shows us exactly the fact that borders are an invention, that things move very quickly between places. And I think that this is one of the lessons that we're learning from this pandemic, and that will likely be applied also in other issues that are similar of global nature like climate change. Whatever happens elsewhere is going to affect all of us in very different ways. This is a lesson that took a lot of time, it took real experience, and the only thing that we could do was engage very closely with governments, and with pharmaceuticals, and with the rich and the poor governments to try to find the right solutions. And we're happy to see lately that there is an increase, an important increase in global solidarity, but we are paying the price for having come into it so late.
S2: Thank you, Alberto, very powerfully said. Maybe, Stacy, you could take up this next question, which also comes from the audience, and it's this. How do you balance meeting the current crisis moment with speed, efficacy and action, and at the same time managing staff as humans with empathy and understanding? So, how are you trying to think of your... In your current role, about the meeting both those kinds of objectives?
Stacy: That's interesting. You should probably ask the staff and not me whether it's working. So, I do monthly check-ins with my senior leadership team, and one of the things that I ask them to report on every month is what do you need to take off of your plate in order to... In Washington, when you wanna pass legislation that cost money there's a PAYGO system. You have to pay for it, you have to offset it somewhere else. I do think that's true of work too, and so wherever possible trying to call that out. And it is also true that part of their humanity is their desire to serve, their desire to be engaged in really important moments, and to support their community, which is part of their work. So, it's also true that if it is really important, we wanna make sure we're giving space for the true experts to be in the room and to effect change over time. So, it's a balancing act, but the most important thing is to say, in order to do this, what do you have to do less of? And really trying to respect that, because that's part of leadership too, is setting priorities.
S2: Thanks, Stacy. I think the useful lesson I could use myself is helping the staff let go of things that are lower priority items. It's, I think a constant struggle in these times. Portia, one question that's coming from the audience, and maybe you could just share your own personal perspective on this is, to what extent do you think that the changes that we're seeing in policies in response to the crisis, are just kind of one-off things in the moment, or do you think that they're gonna actually result in any lasting change on the issues of equity that you were talking about before?
Portia: Great question. How will I answer it? So, I think that... You all don't know me at all, you know that I'm very honest. So, I really would say that it's important to have very progressive dreams in terms of equity and outlooks. And will we see everything that has been pushed out? Maybe not. Will we see it all next year? No, I think that's not realistic, but due to the changes... And we're talking about the federal government. I think due to the changes, not only in what is being proposed in terms of equity, which is important, I also think that we also have to realize that the federal government itself is changing. Like for instance, HUD, two-thirds of HUD can retire right now. HUD has 7,000 less... There were 12,000 HUD employees in 2001, and there are maybe less than 4,000 now. And two-thirds of that 4000 can retire now. Do you see what I'm saying? That is not a good look.
Portia: So, we are the change. It will be people coming from the Ford School that will help shape the new wave that you speak of, Mike... Michael, sorry. And that is why we haven't seen that yet. So, I don't have the data to support my notion, but I do have the data to support that there are gonna be new people in the federal government, and that a lot of younger folks have been the ones pushing these equity movements. And so, yeah, they may be correlational, but I think that, they also might have a relationship there beyond correlational, and that when we have more 40s, when we have more graduates from Michigan joining the Presidential Management Fellowship, joining... And not just only in the federal government, but this... We're having a cultural shift here.
NG: This is not just about the federal government, this is not just about COVID, this is not just about George Floyd, this is a cultural shift. We're having multiple cultural shifts at one time. And who will respond to it, is what you're really asking, and that is us. We'll respond to it. And this generation under it will have more years to respond to it, right? And so, I think that, are we going in the right direction? Yes. Has the Biden administration outlined a rigorous plan of equity? Yes. Will we see it all at one time? Likely not. Is it important that it's there and in place? Yes. Is it important that we take it seriously and try to push it as far as we possibly humanly can? Yes. And do we need more qualities, do we need more critical thinkers, do we need more intersectional scientists, do we need more intersectional policy makers in order to push that? Yes. Come on, join. I think we can.
S2: Thanks Portia, for that inspiration for all of us. Let me give the last audience question to Ali to think about. And the question, it happens at all different levels; international, state, local, federal, but maybe you could focus on your experience in Michigan. The question's really asking about the politics of dealing with the public health crisis. There have been lots of political reactions that may not have exactly followed the science, and acutely so in Michigan with respect to the Governor's actions, a lot of political opposition from legislature and so on. How much of that kind of filtered down to the ground or the work that you were doing in Wayne county, did it interfere with it? Or were you able to function kind of despite the noise that was going on.
AB: A great question, and it's evidently clear that throughout this pandemic, politics has been involved in a lot of things related to it. But we need to... One thing that we do need to set straight is, you have public health and you have politics, and a lot of times the two don't mix too well, water and oil. Public health is relied a lot on science. In science, you have factual information to back a lot of things. So, one thing is, in any initiative or any strategy that we have forward, we're basing it on the science and the facts, and I mentioned this earlier data, data is a really important thing, and that shows... That backs a lot of the things that we wanted to do. So yes, there's lots of rhetorics out there and a lot of times that can hinder, especially in the realms of misinformation. And one thing I highlighted about early on in this panel, which is this last fit of the pandemic and trying to hopefully get to 70% and above vaccination rate. People need the information to feel comfortable to get the shot, and if there is incorrect rhetoric out there or just bad information that stems from politics and what have you, that might make it a little bit harder. But the main thing is, we have to be able to separate that noise, and put it behind us and just go with the facts, go with what's available and in front of us, and keep pushing forward. And making sure that any initiative that we are doing, we're making it accessible to everybody and that it's available.
S2: Thanks very much for that. We're almost out of time for our panel discussion, and we're gonna go to breakouts in just a second. Let me just ask, each of you take 30 seconds and final thoughts, putting you all on the spot, leadership in a crisis. Issues wanted to hit on that you think maybe we haven't spent enough time on or just emphasizing key points. So, let me start with Stacy.
Stacy: Well, thank you again for including me in such a really interesting event and I've learned a lot. I guess my quick thing that we didn't touch on is, and this is gonna sound horrible given the scope and scale of a global pandemic, but it's also important never to waste a good crisis. Change is very hard to make, and so we need to respond to the crisis, we need to lead in the crisis, but if this catalytic moment where we have movements, let's make it much broader for longer term. Good, and so the Build Back Better initiative is sort of a theme around that, which is if we're gonna invest and we're gonna make change, let's do it for long-term good. I think that's true with respect to leadership and organizational change as well. Thank you again.
S2: Thanks Stacy. Portia?
Portia: I'll just say that, impostor syndrome is a fallacy. It's not true, it's not real. I have never gone to school during a pandemic, and I don't pretend to know how you all may feel who are in school right now or maybe facing some challenges and work or what have you. I just want you to know that impostor syndrome is that real. People who have more power than you are not smarter than you. Go and actualize your own power, and make damn good use of it.
S2: Thanks Portia. Ali?
AB: Thank you again for having me on this panel. One thing I just want to put out there. One of the greatest lessons we learned throughout this pandemic is taking care of one another. We've been getting those text messages from each other, especially early on in the pandemic, when people were hunkered down at home. Hey, how you doing? How's it going? How can I help? And things like that. So as a leader, I think one of the biggest things is trying to see what is behind people, if anything is going on at home and being able to accommodate that at work. So, be mindful of others, if they need help, help them. And also take care of yourself. Another big thing I learn about fighting a global pandemic is that it's tough, but it's also a marathon, not a sprint, so you don't wanna burn out, and I think that's really translatable in a lot of other work that a lot of us are doing and will do. I think that's really important to be mindful of.
Stacy: Thanks Ali. Alberto, last word.
Alberto: Thank you, Dean Barr. And again, thank you for this invitation, I've learned a lot, hearing the very different experiences from different levels of government with the pandemic. Now, listen, on this question of leadership, I go back to four things, which incidentally were things that I learned in Michigan, and you actually perfection as a student in Michigan. One is go back to the evidence, always. Discern fake news, and the only way of doing that is going back to the evidence. The second thing is, put your heart and your brain into it. There are no second chances. This is urgent, this is an emergency, this is unique, it's a chance to put everything of you into it. The third one is be empathic to those around you, not only the people who work with you, but also the people who are around your own daily life. People are going through tough times, this is a very difficult moment for everyone, and empathy is one of those things that builds community. And the last one is take care of yourself. I think Ali touched this very well. People are looking at you, when you're in a leadership position, people are looking at you. Even if they're quiet, they're observing how you react to the issues, how calm, how objective, how passionate you are, and therefore you need to be taking care of yourself because you want to precisely send that message through your actions, through your words and through your smile.
S2: Alberto, thank you so much and all of our panelists; Portia, Ali, Stacy, for sharing your wisdom and your experience with our fellow alumni. I've really learned a lot and really enjoyed the conversation a great deal, and I wish you could go on for another couple of hours. So, we have to return together for a more informal chat, not on Zoom in the near future. Audience members, please join me in thanking our wonderful panel. Just a fabulous conversation. We're gonna now move to the next phase of our Spirit Day celebration, which are breakout rooms, and I encourage everybody to stay and participate in the breakout room, you see at the bottom of your screen a place to join, you click on the breakout room, you wanna join and hop right in, and I hope to see all of you in those breakout rooms for the next little bit. Thanks so much. And see you shortly.