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JMC Alumnus Offers Insight into the Work of Civic Innovation

April 28, 2021

Nada Zohdy (IR, Arabic ’10) earned her MPP from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University before beginning her work at Open Gov Hub.   

Can you tell us a bit about your current role at Open Gov Hub?

Since 2015 I've been leading the Open Gov Hub in Washington, D.C., the world's first innovation hub focused on open government (i.e. transparency, accountability, and civic engagement). We are a meeting place that brings together many organizations under a common mission: to help open up governments and empower citizens around the world. We do this by providing access to essential shared resources—including a world-class coworking space, staff support and more—for nonprofits (because resources are always scarce for nonprofits), and running near-daily activities that convene people to learn, collaborate and innovate together to have greater social impact (because the challenges we face are too great to tackle alone). We support 50 member organizations and 13 affiliate hubs on five continents. I was essentially a one-woman organization when I joined (!), so I'm proud to have grown our team, programs, revenue, membership, and partnerships over the years. I love working in this field of civic innovation—finding new and better ways to improve the relationship between citizens and governments, locally and globally.


During your career you’ve demonstrated a commitment to supporting civic engagement and the value of bringing diverse voices to the table.  We’d love to hear about some of your recent successes on those fronts.

I created Open Gov Hub's "Open Government 101" training that we offer to State Department-sponsored visiting government delegations. I've run this training for about a dozen delegations from around the world in the last few years, and really enjoy giving aspiring reformers tools to help them do more participatory policymaking. Last fall, I co-authored a global research paper with the Carnegie Endowment that examines the impact of COVID-19 on civil society networks who are working for more transparency and fighting corruption, which has become even more important during the pandemic. In the face of growing threats to democracy at home and abroad, we've been able to engage hundreds of people in our Defending Democracy program, which explores what American democracy reformers can learn from other countries' experiences with backsliding democracy and authoritarianism. In a personal capacity, I've been involved with my local mutual aid group that has distributed food, supplies, and cash to thousands of neighbors in need during the pandemic, and I volunteered during the 2020 election cycle  (including as part of an historic, successful campaign to turnout one million Muslim voters). 


You’ve had a range of interesting roles since graduating from JMC and earning your MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School!  How did JMC prepare you for the work you’ve pursued since graduating?

As a democracy nerd, I love that JMC made me read Tocqueville! But really, JMC gave me such a conducive environment to grow as a public servant, activist, leader and person. The intimate learning environment, incredible professor-mentors, and engaged student body all helped me learn about the world and the difference I could make in it. More than anything, JMC gave me the invaluable chance to really practice what it means to be an active participant in a deliberative democracy - engaging in informed, reasoned debates about the public good, based on mutual respect for those you disagree with. I hope all of us as JMC alumni can help bring more of that spirit into our country and the world these days.