January 20, 2021
Social Impact Review

On this cold January day, as the sun beamed through the grey clouds, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. took the oath of office as the 46th President of the United States, expressing infinite hope and representing strong winds of change blowing through a Washington, DC, locked down, yet still proud. American flags were dancing on the steps of the Capitol and all along the great stretch of the National Mall. Today, on the very Capitol steps where two weeks ago an angry mob staged a deadly insurrection and occupied and vandalized Congressional chambers, President Biden pledged to defend democracy, the Constitution and the United States of America -- and to do so with “his whole soul in it.” He did it with Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and first woman of color to ever hold the office, on the podium with him. This peaceful transition of power was uniquely breathtaking.

In his inaugural address, President Biden issued a call to action to all Americans as we face unprecedented challenges and expressed the urgency of both the need and the opportunity facing us. In offering an honest assessment of the great challenges that lie ahead, President Biden spoke of our nation’s need to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, make our schools safe, reopen businesses and improve the economy and restore jobs to the unemployed, achieve racial justice after over 400 years of racism and nativism, heal our climate which is “literally crying for survival,” and put an end to political polarization, extremism, domestic terrorism and white supremacy. It is a daunting list.

President Biden also inspired with the recognition that democracy prevailed on this day and -- in the words of the brilliant youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman -- “democracy periodically delayed is not permanently defeated.” President Biden further inspired us that we now have the opportunity to change the trajectory of our nation and regain unity, peace, strength and our international reputation, as well as to rediscover the soul of our country. As he ascended the steps of the Capitol, President Biden exchanged a brief wave with former GOP Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. Does this signal a thawing of the deep freeze of political polarization that has gripped our national politics? Or is it merely a gesture of respect between two seasoned Washington leaders? Either way, it is an improvement over the last four years, and offers some promise of positive change ahead.

Our Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative Social Impact Review's mission is to be a thought leader in social impact and to catalyze positive change in addressing the world's significant social challenges in the very areas that President Biden highlighted today in his Inaugural Address: climate and environmental solutions; democracy, law and human rights; education; health; racial and gender equity; and social enterprise and economic development. Since its launch in September 2020, the Social Impact Review has published 30 articles and interviews, which have included pieces by Marta Lucía Ramírez de Rincón, Vice President of the Republic of Colombia, and Dr. Matthew Nathan, former 37th Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy; a post-election interview series with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and Harvard Professors Dr. Howard Koh, Professor Paul Reville, and Dr. Robert Blendon; and numerous other thought leadership pieces.

In 2021, there are many challenges facing the nation and the world, and the Social Impact Review is committed to doing its part to catalyze positive change in addressing them. This year, the Review will continue to publish articles weekly and also will publish a quarterly series focused on some of the critical issues of our time: for example, our March series will focus on the COVID-19 Response and our June series will focus on President Biden’s First 100 Days. Also, in 2021, the Review is privileged to be supported by a robust new Harvard Student Fellow Board which will assist review editors in their social impact work.

At the end of President Biden’s speech today, I felt simultaneously deeply moved, genuinely hopeful and fully committed to do my part to make this great Nation and the world better through social impact work. I too thought -- I am “all in.” My challenge, our challenge, in social impact in 2021 is this -- to bottle these feelings of hope and commitment and to call upon them when we are facing a strong headwind, when we are moved to anger or disunity, or when our hope dips in a moment of crisis or disappointment. We have been given a great gift today -- a genuine feeling of hope in our hearts. Our responsibility is to nurture this hope to fuel the social change we all want to see. Next year, when we look back on Inauguration Day 2021, let us do so with pride and satisfaction that we left nothing on the table in pursuit of opportunity, security, dignity, respect, truth and a just and equitable society for all.


Susan Carney Lynch


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