Borja Santos MPA/ID 2017: Prepared to Contribute

May 11, 2017
By Doug Gavel

Much of the world has already met Borja Santos MPA/ID 2017, but the Spanish native is now set to embark on the next chapter in his remarkable life – one that will likely take him to many more exciting and different places. Santos, who pursued his undergraduate studies in Spain and Germany and began his career as a telecom engineer in the private sector, is now fully committed to public service to make an impact on government, policy, and people’s lives.

“Leadership has always been attached to words like authority, influence or ego,” Santos says. “I learned at the Kennedy School that leadership it is not about this, that leadership is about mobilizing problem-solving in a way that contributes to the lives of others. And many times we will need to do that from many different positions or environments, always oriented in how we can help or empower others. For that you need to have curiosity and compassion. And in many cases, a lot of courage to follow the right ethics, to expose injustice or to break the wrong dynamics.”

Santos arrived at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) in the fall of 2015 after serving in a number of positions in both government and multilateral organizations. He spent two years in Ecuador, working with a United Nations emergency response team, another two years managing aid programs at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and later worked for four years with the Minister of Agriculture in Ethiopia, helping strengthen the capacity of public agencies to assess and mitigate potential impacts from natural disasters. 

“After those experiences, I realized I needed to improve my quantitative skills and economic development knowledge if I wanted to be rigorous and valuable providing advice for designing and implementing public policies,” Santos says. “And this is how I ended up at HKS.” 

Santos admits that the MPA/ID coursework is challenging, but he says that he gleaned just as much knowledge and insight from his program cohorts. “The diversity of the students, the teamwork and collaboration spirit, and the sense of justice and solidarity have been always present in my learning process throughout the program.”

As his days at HKS tick away, Santos reflects back on those faculty members who made an imprint on his thinking and an impact on his learning.

“From Ron Heifetz I learned how leadership can be an essential way to give meaning to my life by contributing to the lives of others. From Professor Lant Pritchett I learned how to be critical – how to ‘create a crisis because inertia is our enemy.’ From Matt Andrews I learned how we can tackle problems and to help people find their own solutions. From Marshall Ganz I learned how organizing should be based on relationships and empowerment,” Santos explained. “From Professor Dani Rodrik I learned how the economics models that we learned can each be equally respectable, and can provide different answers. From Dan Levy I learned how beautiful and didactic it can be to learn statistics. And from Professor Ricardo Hausmann I learned how to use evidence to make comprehensive analysis.”

For his next adventure, Santos would like to continue his commitment with his work supporting government in developing countries, but in the short-term he would like to return to Spain, at least for a few years, to help his fellow countrymen and women as they continue to rebound from a severe economic recession. “My country suffered a lot during the previous economic crisis because of structural problems that have been affecting our democracy, our economy and our values,” he says. “So I feel it is a good moment to contribute with economic development and innovation.” Although much work remains to be done, Santos believes that he is now better suited to help bring positive change to his homeland.  

Borja Santos MPA/ID 2017

Borja Santos MPA/ID 2017

 “I learned at the Kennedy School that...leadership is about mobilizing problem-solving in a way that contributes to the lives of others."


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