Mercy Samuel was already an accomplished learner, with a master’s and a PhD in management studies. But as a professor at an institution focused on the study of human habits and habitats, Mercy still had a desire to further her education even more to create change at the grass-roots level. What she didn’t have was a lot of time.
“It was always my dream to participate in a program at Harvard. But between my job and raising two children, I knew I could not be away from home for too long in order to maintain that work/life balance. Thankfully, the online Public Leadership Credential (PLC) program answered my prayers.”
Not only was Mercy one of the first PLC participants to complete the program and earn her credential, but she did so in just 11 months. “The first course was such a brilliant experience that it inspired me to take the other five courses as quickly as possible. There were lots of projects going on in my school at the time, and I wanted to immediately start using all the new tools and techniques I was learning. So, I took two courses at a time, and while difficult, my passion pushed me forward.”
Launched in 2019, the Public Leadership Credential was created by Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) faculty in collaboration with leading learning designers to bring the very best of HKS to the online environment and the world.
“I was unsure of what the course material would be like, but it soon became clear that it was designed with a real purpose: to create a bigger and better pool of public leaders across the globe. The teaching team was extremely experienced; the case-studies very current; and the format for the small group work extremely flexible.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Mercy’s country today is waste management. Teaching at an institution that works closely with the Indian government and the people it serves gave her an opportunity to apply her PLC learnings right away, helping to develop and implement a new waste management policy.
“The key to successful waste management is waste segregation: separate it into dry and wet waste, and it becomes recycling. While there were a lot of awareness campaigns in the cities to teach people how to do this, they did not work because asking someone to put their dry and wet waste into color-coded bins was too much to process. The PLC course on ‘choice architecture’ made me realize that we needed to minimize the processing part of segregating waste so that it just happens as a reflex. Instead, what if we made the bins transparent? Then, when a person clearly sees one bin is filled with paper wrappers, that is where they too will choose to throw their dry waste. The idea got great results and showed how a simple nudge can lead to bigger changes.”
Mercy’s breakthrough solution also nudged her into a bigger role with India’s national committee for circular economy for solid waste management. She also has a book coming out about the transformation of what was once India’s unclean city.
All in a day’s work for this changemaker.