The Power of Halftime: Attending HKS as a Mid-Career Student

February 28, 2017
By Calee Lucht

When one reaches the midpoint of one’s career, there are a handful of options: keep going, quit, or pivot. David Razú Aznar MC/MPA 2017, a big fan of football (“the game you play with your foot,” not American football), finds that “the beautiful game” is the perfect metaphor for this stage in his career. Quitting is not an option, but taking time out to transform his game is.

“The Mid-Career Master in Public Administration program is my halftime,” says Razú, whose career has been spent working to transform unjust conditions in his home country of Mexico. “I’m back in the locker room talking to my teammates and coaches, and getting ready to go back out there for the second half.”

Razú has plenty of experience to share, and he wants to learn from others. “The majority of people in the world are born into difficult and harsh conditions,” he says. “I believe there is a great need for transforming reality to a more equal and just one. So far, public service has been the best way I have found to partake in that transformation.”

With degrees in economics and development management, Razú worked in related positions in Mexican public service early in his career, rising in 2006 to nationwide head of the Social Security Registration and Enrollment Unit. But it wasn’t long before the call of politics led him to resign and help to found the Mexican Social Democratic Party (PSD). In 2009 he was elected as a local congressman for the Mexico City Legislative Assembly, where he also assumed chairmanship of the Human Rights Commission.

In that same election, however, his party lost its registration due to a weak national vote, so Razú became a congressman without a party — and with the responsibility of pushing forward complex and hard–to–pass reforms such as same-sex marriage.

“To get things done, you have to commit and you have to compromise,” says Razú, who joined the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) to effectively promote the program he represented. Without the alliance with PRD, he would have lost the opportunity to transform the city in the matters he and his party wanted to promote as social democrats. 

“Gender and diversity issues are crucial to justice, and that is why marriage equality was one of the central reforms in our program,” says Razú. “In the face of injustice, you can either adapt or you can transform. I believe in transformation.”

Later that same year, his goal of “transforming reality” was accomplished: the marriage equality amendment passed, making Mexico City the first Latin American jurisdiction to adopt such a policy. 

In 2015, Razú ran for mayor of one of Mexico City’s 16 districts. He lost the election by around 2 percent.

“In an election — just like football — there are only two outcomes: you win, or you lose. What matters is what you make of it. The loss was a learning point for me,” he says. “It was time to reflect and reassess.” It was time to head to the locker room for halftime.

The best locker room he could think of was Harvard Kennedy School. He was selected by the Ash Center as a Ford Foundation Fellow, whose invitation helped make it possible for him to join the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration Edward S. Mason Program. 

“The Mid-Career program is an amazing collection of people from very different backgrounds and with differing ideas,” says Razú. “We come from business, the public sector, nonprofits — it’s really useful to hear from a variety of voices.”

Razú is complementing the skills he has already learned in his career with new tools. He cites as being particularly influential his exercising leadership class with Ronald Heifetz.

“To me, leadership is a day-to-day practice; it means getting involved,” Razú says. Learning about adaptive leadership frameworks and the ethical and philosophical underpinnings of leadership helped broaden his view and strengthen his decision-making processes.

In addition to the leadership and economics courses that are core to the Mid-Career curriculum, Razú is concentrating his studies in urban planning and policymaking. He cross-registered with the Harvard Graduate School of Design to enroll in courses in urban governance and policymaking in urban settings.

“At Harvard, you get access: not just to HKS and Harvard’s faculty and students, but to other schools in town. And when ‘town’ is Cambridge and Boston, that’s saying a lot education–wise.”

This spring, Razú is taking Marshall Ganz’s class, “Organizing: People, Power, Change,” which examines how constituencies can turn the resources they have into the power they need to meet challenges — in other words, how they can transform their circumstances. 

What is Razú’s goal, after this transformational pause of reflection and education?

“I believe in public service,” he says. “So far, that has been the best space for me to collaborate in the transformation of reality.” This year at HKS has allowed him to gain a much broader perspective and the chance to examine his options.

Razú speaks of the value of time, and how often people make hasty decisions. “But if we let the issues ripen,” he says, “we might see a different perspective and make more effective interventions. You have to transform, and taking time to reassess allows you to look at what you’ve already built so you can imagine and design what you will build next.”

Game not over.

Tags: Mexico Mexico

Tags: Inequality Inequality , Urban Planning and Politics Urban Planning and Politics

David Razú Aznar MC/MPA 2017

David Razú Aznar MC/MPA 2017 talks about taking time out to go back to school in the middle of his career.

“In the face of injustice, you can either adapt or you can transform. I believe in transformation.” - David Razú Aznar


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