2014-2015 Luce Scholar

Observer Research Foundation New Delhi, INDIA

Will Poff-Webster grew up in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. He first encountered political activism at age 8 when he canvassed his neighbors with his mom to get their street repaved. As a junior in the Boston Public Schools, he started a community organizing effort with students across neighborhood and race lines to restore budget cuts to public education. He joined the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC), advocating for education reform in the Boston Teachers Union contract alongside business, community, faith, and parent groups.

As an alumni staff member at BSAC he helped lead the campaign that made student feedback a component of teacher evaluations across Massachusetts. As a student at Harvard College graduating in 2014, Will majored in History with a smattering of classes in Government, Spanish, Sociology, and International Relations. He wrote his senior thesis on the political impact of gang violence in the Roman Republic, exploring how urban class conflict interacted with political revolution in the first century BC that has relevance for unstable and developing countries today.

Will’s experience outside the classroom has been equally meaningful; this year, as President of the College Democrats of Massachusetts, he has advocated for greater youth input on issues like public transit, tuition affordability, housing, campus sexual assault policies, the minimum wage, and modernized voter registration. He moderated a youth forum with the Boston Mayoral candidates and brought more public college chapters into the College Democrats. During his summers, Will has taught environmental justice to at-risk teens at a Boston youth program, interned on education policy with Boston Mayor Tom Menino, campaigned for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and worked for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s Office of CitiStat on data analytics. He is passionate about the intersection of local government and data-driven policy analysis that can lead to better outcomes in everything from education to road maintenance to gang violence reduction. He believes data collection must be responsive to the experiences of constituents, and has combined data with his passion for education reform by co-founding the Boston Student Union, an organization of Boston Public Schools students and college mentors that surveys students on issues that matter to them and advocates for student-centered educational improvement and equity between schools.

In his free time, Will teaches American Civics to 5th graders in South Boston, reads about science fiction and foreign policy, and performs in a Harvard improvisational comedy troupe.

The 2014-2015 Luce Scholar placement for Will Poff-Webster is at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a leading private, not-for-profit, think-tank headquartered in New Delhi that seeks to influence public policy formulation. ORF was established in September 1990 during the troubled period of India’s transition from a protected economy to a new engagement with the international economic order, with the support of many of India’s leading intellectuals, academics, public figures, social activists, business leaders and institutions of higher learning. ORF programming includes the work of various Centres, including the Centre for International Relations, the Institute of Security Studies, the Centre for Resources Management, the Centre for Economy and Development, and the Centre for Politics and Governance. ORF is based in New Delhi, and has chapters in Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai.