Campus & Community

New HAA president brings holistic approach to alumni leadership

Portrait of incoming Harvard Alumni Association President Moitri Chowdhury Savard.

Incoming HAA President Moitri Chowdhury Savard assumes her role July 1.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

6 min read

Moitri Chowdhury Savard committed to listening deeply, respecting differences, finding common ground in shared values

As a family physician, Moitri Chowdhury Savard ’93 employs a holistic approach — focusing on the emotional and psychological as well as the physical aspects of health by asking questions and listening carefully.

Now, as Savard gears up to begin her term as alumni president on July 1, she sees clear connections between her professional life and her new role leading the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) board of directors and the global alumni community.

“Physicians are taught to listen as their first step to solving problems,” says Savard, who is medical director and assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and medicine at the Long Island City center of Weill Cornell Medicine. “When you listen deeply, you can identify shared values. I bring my ability to listen deeply and to consider the whole picture to my work with the alumni community.”

Savard immigrated to the U.S. from India as an infant and grew up in New York. When the family arrived, her father had $8 in his wallet and a letter of recommendation from his employer in India.

“They worked so hard,” she says. “My acceptance to Harvard was very exciting for me, and a dream for them. After all their perseverance and the prejudice they faced, I consider my education to be an incredible gift.”

She is also honored to be the first person of South Asian descent to serve as alumni president. “It’s a serious responsibility,” she says. “This is a region that comprises a quarter of the world’s population.”

As Savard began to think about stepping into the role during a challenging time for Harvard, she reflected on the University motto — veritas, truth — but struggled with the limits of the word. “I believe in this unique moment, we have to focus on the plural nature of truth,” she says.

Curious to know whether there was a word in Latin that captured this concept, she reached out to a Latin scholar she knows very well: current HAA President Tracy “Ty” Moore II ’06, who told her about veritates, meaning many truths.

“We have to be able to simultaneously hold multiple truths and connect in dialogue across differences in the alumni community,” Savard says. “I think the many different viewpoints we’re seeing seem to clash at face value, but when we delve down into them, we find shared humanity and values. We can, as an alumni community, coalesce around these shared values, bring change, and move forward while having these difficult conversations.”

Presidents Moitri Savard AB ’93 (left) and Tracy “Ty” Moore II ’06.
Moitri Chowdhury Savard and Tracy “Ty” Moore II.

The ability to pivot at Harvard

Savard concentrated in economics and Indian studies as an undergraduate, collaborating with her adviser — Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen, the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and professor of economics and philosophy — on a research project focusing on the determinants of fertility in India.

While her original plan was to pursue development economics, her involvement in a student organization soon shifted her next step. Savard joined the First-year Outdoor Program (FOP), a pre-orientation initiative that hosts wilderness expeditions across the Northeast.

Growing up in the city, she had never had the opportunity to spend much time in nature. She loved the program so much that she decided to become a FOP leader. During her training, she took a wilderness EMT course in northern New Hampshire, an experience that resonated deeply with her. When she returned home to New York, she worked as a third rider in an ambulance — and switched her concentration to pre-med.

“Harvard gave me the opportunity to explore what I thought I wanted to do, and ultimately find what I decided to do,” she says.

Between her first and second year, she received a Lamont Public Service Fellowship, which ignited a lifelong passion for civic engagement. This inspired her to create a fund, named in honor of her parents, to support undergraduates pursuing a public service program over the summer.

“What’s your why?” Volunteering as an alum

Studying abroad in India during her junior year, Savard realized that she deeply missed her class. When she returned to campus for her senior year, she was eager to rekindle her connections with classmates and was elected Radcliffe first marshal.

“My class was my primary draw to the community,” Savard says. “But now, six reunion cycles later, I have met so many alums I didn’t know during my College years, and they are among my closest friends. In addition to my class, the HAA has given me tremendous opportunities to connect with alumni all over the world.”

Years later, after she established her medical career and her children got a little older, she wanted to continue giving back to Harvard. She served as an alumni interviewer for the College and joined the Harvard Club of New York, encouraged by the Club’s commitment to supporting interviewees. Savard’s strong volunteer leadership with her class led to a role on the HAA board of directors.

As she reflects on her work with the HAA, she often asks herself, “What’s your why?” For Savard, it is essential that there are varied voices at the table. “Whenever there was an issue I felt strongly about, I raised my hand,” she says. “It’s my dream that every alum around the world could get involved.”

A network of support

Savard has been collaborating closely with the HAA’s Moore, whom she describes as “a complete force of nature and true Renaissance man.”

“He is a community-builder and inspiration to volunteers,” she says. “I’ve benefited tremendously from his thoughtful mentorship.”

As his tenure wraps up, Moore reflects on the “dedication, grit, and collaboration” of the global network of alumni rising to the challenges of the past year. He is thrilled to support Savard in her new role.

“Moitri’s email signature includes a quote by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: ‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible,’” Moore says. “This quote epitomizes her leadership style. She thoughtfully embraces challenging situations as opportunities, with a spirit of true kindness. I’m thrilled that our global community of alumni will learn from her courageous, optimistic, and gracious approach, which will enable us to embrace and love our fellow members — especially those who have different viewpoints.”