The Whole World in His Hands

Harvard Goes International

During the coming decade, the government of the Republic of Kenya hopes to decentralize the management of its agricultural production, granting responsibility for most agrarian planning and development to Kenya's 30 regional governments. The program, the Kenyans hope, will help speed the country's rural development, as well as defuse intertribal tensions in the East African nation.

The major architects of the Kenya plan are not Nairobi technocrats, United Nations advisers or U.S. Agency for International Development officials, as one might expect. Instead, Kenya, like seven other developing countries on three continents, has turned to Harvard. The Kenyans have come to the University's leading and apparently evergrowing representative in the international sphere, the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID).

The economists, nutritionists, urban planners, education specialists and assorted other specialists at HIID should be quite busy this year. John C. Eddison, associate director of the institute for finance and management, said HIID is in a period of expansion and will complete $3 million worth of business in consulting and research in the Third World this year. At a time many believe Harvard's influence on policy decisions in the federal, state and city government is waning, it seems to be growing overseas: nearly 100 professional consultants will serve on HIID projects this year.

Institute officials believe the development program they run from their warren of offices up on Kirkland Street is unique in the U.S. Established in 1974 to replace the Development Advisory Service (DAS) of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, HIID has committed itself to a totally interdisciplinary approach to economic development. It is consequently administered by the deans of four Harvard faculties: Design, Arts and Sciences, Public Health and Education. While there are several other universities with major commitments to research and training in the Third World, Eddison believes only Harvard has tried to coordinate research and training activities with millions of dollars in consulting work.

Also unlike most university organizations involved in Third World development policy-making, HIID hires most of its project consultants on a short-term basis from outside the University community, drawing almost half of them from Europe and Canada.

"There just isn't any university organization devoted to development the way we are with the kind of dimensions we have. I don't know of any parallels even close to HIID," Eddison says.

Contrary to popular belief, HIID has not been a money-making proposition. In fact, HIID has accumulated a $100,000 deficit since its creation in 1974. However, Eddison says he expects HIID to cross the line into the black sometime this year.

Although HIID has been able to expand its overseas commitments, institute officials emphasize that partially because of the shortage of funding, contracts are not simply being dumped in Harvard's lap as they once were. "At one time, we were sufficiently unique and there was limited competition, so that many, many projects were brought to Harvard and only a few were carefully selected," Eddison says. "To some extent, people still come to us because we're known for what we've done, but when we want to move into new fields, it's much harder. There, we have to go out and show initiative."

Eddison says HIID "took quite a beating" during the early '70s as the traditional sources of funding for its projects--the Ford Foundation and the U.N. Development Program--began to dry up. Before, host countries could depend on these funding sources for the HIID programs, but today the institute's clients must fund the projects themselves, often with loans on favorable terms from the World Bank and other international lending institutions.

The one major exception to this rule is HIID's largest current contract, the Kenya rural development program. The four-year, $5 million project in Kenya is being paid for by the United States, Denmark, West Germany.

Sweden and Canada, as well as the U.N.

In the aftermath of a period of naive optimism about development--a period in which the economic gap between the industrialized nations and the Third World widened, the field of economic development is rife with controversy. HIID is certainly not without its critics. Some who have participated in Harvard development projects in the past now doubt whether it is proper for a private university to do consulting for foreign governments.

Arthur MacEwen, a former Harvard economics professor who now teaches economics at UMass, Boston, says it is "excessively naive at best" for HIID to consider itself an apolitical organization. "When you become an adviser, you can't pretend you're not involved with the politics of the client government, and HIID has done work with some pretty despicable governments in the past."

Richard Huntington, assistant professor of Anthropology, says there are some consultants at HIID who think the institute should eliminate its "action component and stick to research." Hunting, who has done a small amount of short term consulting for the institute, says, "Anytime you have an action component, you can be compromised on the right or the left."

Critics cite HIID work in countries such as Iran, Indonesia and Bolivia and condemn the institute as a supporter of repressive regimes, that enthusiastically helps Third World governments maintain the status quo. "It's a very difficult problem," Stephen Marglin, a professor of Economics who did a small amount of work with the DAS, says. "Research and consulting seem naturally weighted toward smoothing the wheels of the existing machine rather than putting together an altogether new one."