“WHEN WE GO TO THE KENNEDY SCHOOL, we have it in our DNA to give back,” says Luiz Felipe d’Avila MC/MPA 2007. He has done this in many ways since graduating, including donating every year to the HKS Fund. Gifts to the HKS Fund support scholarships, course materials, student policy journals, student internships, and more—and they are crucial to the student experience, even influencing who can afford to come to HKS. For his dedication and consistent generosity to Harvard Kennedy School, d’Avila is the recipient of the 2021 HKS Fund Outstanding Alumni Award.
“The idea of giving back was very important to me because of the utmost necessity to have world leaders committed to defending and preserving democratic institutions,” he says. “We see how many HKS students are engaged in the fight for equal rights, for freedom, for democracy—and a lot of them come from backgrounds where they have difficulty raising the funds to come to HKS. It would be a pity to lose the ability to train these public leaders because of the money question. So I had this urge to try to help since the beginning.”
D’Avila gives not just dollars, but time. As the president of the Harvard Alumni Club of Brazil, he worked to keep alumni connected with one another by organizing events around the country; he also frequently attended gatherings of leaders of HKS’s regional alumni networks and Shared Interest Groups. Last February, after eight years as the club’s leader, he stepped down to concentrate on a new venture, VirtùNews, an organization he founded that centers on fact-based analytical journalism.
“The idea behind VirtùNews is to focus specifically on political and economic issues and how they affect investment and democratic institutions in Brazil,” says d’Avila, who lives and works in his native São Paulo. “We do one editorial a day on a major subject, treating it in-depth with a basis in data.” He sees the site as a way to counter populism. “Populism took the focus from the most important issues and created false problems,” he says.
“We see how many HKS students are engaged in the fight for equal rights, for freedom, for democracy.... It would be a pity to lose the ability to train these public leaders because of the money question.”
“In newspapers, we are seduced by the absurd things that populists say, and we waste time and energy on this. VirtùNews is not distracted by this—the most important thing is to have a reform agenda to strengthen Brazil.” D’Avila says VirtùNews aims to provide decision makers with the information they need to make all sorts of choices. It’s a topic close to his heart: In 2008 he founded the São Paolo–based Centro de Liderança Pública to develop public leaders’ capacity to confront Brazil’s many problems, which include an uncompetitive economy and faltering infrastructure. Today’s priorities for CLP include addressing issues related to COVID-19, assisting with administrative and political reform, teaching how to manage people in the public sector, improving competitiveness, and reforming the pension system.
D’Avila is happy to help support students at HKS who will go on to change the world. He notes that many of the School’s students come from the government or from nonprofit organizations, and as such, may find it difficult to afford an HKS education. “It is so important not to leave out these talented leaders,” he says.
Photos courtesy of Luis Felipe D’Avila