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On Leadership: Q&A with Senior Director for Academic Programs Joan Kaufman

February 10, 2021

This month we sat down with Senior Director for Academic Programs Joan Kaufman.

Joan is a lecturer in Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She was Director of Columbia University’s Global Center for East Asia (Beijing) from 2012-2016, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, and Adjunct Professor of Global Health Policy at Tsinghua University’s Research Center for Public Health. She founded and directed the AIDS Public Policy Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (2002-2010) and was also affiliated with Harvard’s Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations. From 2003-2012 she was at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management as a Distinguished Scientist, Senior Lecturer, and Associate Director of the Masters in Health Policy and Management. She was a Radcliffe fellow at Harvard from 2001-2002 and a Soros Reproductive Health and Rights Fellow in 2005. She received a Doctorate in Public Health from Harvard School of Public Health, following a BA and MA in Chinese Studies. She publishes on global health policy, HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, reproductive health, population, emerging infectious diseases, and civil society with a focus on China. She worked in China for the United Nations (1980—1984), the Ford Foundation (1996- 2001), the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (2002-2012), and Columbia University (2012-2016).

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you first become involved in studying China?  

I became interested in China in college through my study of Chinese art and art history which morphed into the study of China overall, then modern China. My academic background is in both Chinese Studies (my two first degrees) and public health (my Ph.D). I teach Global Health Policy at Schwarzman College and have done research and consulting mainly on China health policy issues for over 40 years, with 15 of those years based in China working for global organizations. I founded and ran a program called “The AIDS Public Policy Program” at the Harvard Kennedy School for 10 years, working in China and Vietnam. I also worked for both the United Nations and the Ford Foundation in China, and am still on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.   

How have you grown as a leader in your current position?  

Co-managing the academic team based in China and NY with June Qian has really enhanced my ability to work cross culturally and focus on consensus building. The task of creating, crafting and delivering a curriculum in line with the mission (all in one year) has made me a better listener to Scholars’ feedback on what they think works best. Having to move online has opened my eyes to the importance of pedagogy and educational research on how people learn and how to work with faculty to improve their teaching styles for an online environment.  

What do you want prospective students to know about obtaining a degree from Schwarzman Scholars?  

China is not an optional subject in our world and misunderstanding China will lead us to enormous missed opportunities for the types of collaborations that are needed to solve global problems. My career has been enriched by understanding and engaging with a different culture, as will yours. Schwarzman Scholars is a unique opportunity to learn about China with a dedicated team that is innovative and responsive to community input from Scholars both current and past and continually updating itself to address current and emerging global challenges.   

What role does leadership play in the Schwarzman Scholars curriculum?  

Our main mission is to train future global leaders. We do that through courses on leadership in different sectors (business, public institutions, not for profits, for diplomats) and through shorter courses led by practitioners from different types of organizations (UN, NGOs, humanitarian organizations, etc). In addition, we have speakers and workshops on general, ethical and personal leadership development. We offer many program-wide leadership activities and opportunities for leadership across the program.   

Can you share some reading recommendations for anyone interested in learning more about leadership, global affairs and China?  

Kevin Rudd’s books and reports on U.S. China Relations and on his years as Prime Minister of Australia. He is one of the most thoughtful and learned analysts of China’s global engagement and ambitions. Peter Cowhey and Susan Shirk’s (UCSD) recent Task Force report on “Meeting the China Challenge: A New American Strategy for Technology Competition.”  

What is your favorite part of your job?  

The program’s mission to be innovative and creative and our culture of quickly moving forward with new ideas. The great collegiality of a super smart and dedicated staff of colleagues in China and NY. And of course, the students! I love teaching our Scholars and engaging with them formally and informally on improving the program and just learning about their incredible young lives so far.   

What do you enjoy doing for fun?  

Yoga, biking outdoors, swimming laps, kayaking, jogging on beautiful trails, hiking in the mountains, and baking!