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Act Globally: Kevin Kalra, IEP'13

Kevin KalraIt was a busy year for Kevin Kalra. In addition to completing his studies in the International Education Policy (IEP) Program, the Houston native led a study trek to Sri Lanka, held a yearlong virtual internship with the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, and was an IEP advisory board member during the fall semester. Despite his busy schedule, though, he still had time to forge lasting bonds with his classmates.

My classmates have been my inspiration. It was common to grab drinks after class and actively learn from each other’s leadership and work experiences,” Kalra says. “One of my favorite moments was spending time with classmates during Winter Storm Nemo. A group of us ‘hunkered down’ at a local pub and spent hours simply talking and laughing.”

Kalra says his classmates’ experiences in countries as diverse as China, India, Spain, Senegal, Lebanon, and South Sudan, left him “inspired by their example to live and work in cultures different than their own.”

Kevin Kalra exemplifies that social progress is the result of the small efforts of ordinary people when they take responsibility to join others in helping to improve the world,” says Professor Fernando Reimers, director of IEP. “He understands also that at this time of enhanced global interdependence, education leaders need to engage in the global public sphere in creating and sustaining the global commons that expand educational opportunity. Kevin has the courage, the ethical sensibilities and the skills to lead globally.”

After graduation, Kalra will be working with an international multilateral agency on business engagement in global education, and later intends to join a private school company that is re-engineering the delivery of low-cost private education in Africa. Upon learning that he had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for IEP, Kalra answered some questions about his time at the Ed School and beyond.

What was your goal upon entering the Ed School? My goal was to study the benefits, challenges, and impacts of corporate social responsibility (CSR) philanthropic efforts in international education. After college, I joined a Fortune 500 company as a geographer, and I used geographic information systems to communicate the company’s social impacts in education. While major companies make substantial annual investments in education, especially contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All (EFA), I learned there were few tools available to guide and evaluate their collective impact.

Is that goal any different now? My goal remained steady throughout the year, although I learned that the private sector in education encompasses different kinds of engagement and activities. CSR includes activities that align with core business as well as advocacy and philanthropy. Also, the efforts of social entrepreneurs, private schools, and businesses in the education industry all contribute to the achievement of the MDGs and EFA.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? Take initiative to lead and have courage in times of uncertainty. In January, I asked my peers to join me on a study trek trip to Sri Lanka. While planning the trip, there were many unknowns, including an uncertain schedule, research beneficiaries, and how the state would react to a project of this nature. It required a delicate balance to collect data directly at the source and be respectful of the national vision of our host country. All went well, and we were able to produce a quality report for the Educate Lanka Foundation. Similarly, innovators will face such challenges, and it requires immense courage to test their ideas and realize their vision for global education reform.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? Professor Fernando Reimers and his course A132: Educational Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship in Comparative Perspective provided a framework to assess the feasibility of an idea in practice. When visiting the i-lab and speaking with entrepreneurs on campus, I find myself testing their theories of change and asking them to assess their own evidence for social impact. Outside of class, I am inspired by Professor Reimers’ example and abundant energy. In addition to being a well-established researcher, he finds time to be a dedicated practitioner, from serving on the advisory board of Room to Read to providing thought-leadership for education leaders from Brazil. I am equally inspired by the work and leadership of [Assistant Professor] Sarah-Dryden Peterson (the faculty adviser for the Sri Lanka study trek), [Professor] Richard Murnane, [Lecturer] Haiyan Hua, [Senior Lecturer] Katherine Merseth, and [HKS Adjunct Lecturer] Jane Nelson.      

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Don’t take yourself too seriously. One of the greatest gifts from this year is knowing that after HGSE, I can call on a great group of friends, and we can reminisce over our times at HGSE. We built strong relationships in graduate school. While building a breadth of relationships is important, it is equally important to develop depth.