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."

HIID's consulting project in Iran has probably received the harshest criticism in the University community. The Iran project, which stationed as many as 12 Harvard advisers in Iran at once, focused on planning the growth of Iran's capital city, Teheran. As the project nears its November termination date, HIID officials admit that Harvard's work in Iran has been less than successful. David C. Cole, associate director of the Institute for Overseas Projects, concedes the Teheran effort "has not been a very effective project. We haven't been able to accomplish very much."

"There hasn't been any serious limitation on our freedom there, but Iran's still a very difficult place in which to operate. The people don't tend to be oriented to problem solving. Too many conflicts developed," Cole adds.

Still, HIID officials tend to view Harvard cooperation with regimes generally considered repressive and authoritarian as a liberalizing influence. Frequently, they say, HIID's projects are designed to create new elites and "open up" closed societies. And once involved in an overseas project, HIID officials maintain that Harvard does not simply blindly accept the caveats and guidelines of the host country's government. No matter what the size of the contract, "we're always prepared to pack up and leave if the government asks us to, or if we feel we can't work effectively," says Cole. "But as long as the government doesn't try to distort our project and frustrate our efforts, we go ahead."

In several instances, Harvard development teams have parted on less than amicable terms with host countries. After Colonel Acheampong's military takeover in 1972, the government of Ghana asked Harvard to pack its bags. And when a military junta took over in Greece in 1967. Harvard terminated a contract with the Greek government.

Most recently, Ethiopia broke off a major, multi-million dollar HIID contract in 1975, during the leftward shift of the Ethiopian government that followed the deposition of Emperor Haile Selassie.

"It was our hope that a moderate regime would come in, a reform regime. And there was evidence, we thought, that a number of the relatively informed, educated, enlightened Ethiopians might well take power," Eddison says. "But that didn't happen. A number of them were jailed or killed and eventually the power shift went the other way to the extreme left."

The HIID team left a few months after the government began to look for more radical solutions to the country's problems. "Where a country wants to move to the extreme left, they don't want us and we're really not in the position to give them the kind of advice they're seeking," Eddison explains.

Even as HIID continues to expand its operation overseas, the institute seems committed to altering the focus of its development interests. Recent projects have seen a movement away from the "trickle-down" approach to development that marked Harvard development efforts in the '50s and '60s. The trickle-down theory called for the creation of an industrial and business elite, which was supposed to stimulate development. By the late '60s, however, this theory had been severely challenged by critics who argued that it merely widened the gap between a small elite and the poor masses of the developing country. Cole says institute projects have developed "much more of a concern for the poorest of the poor, the people who have been bypassed by development efforts at the national and regional efforts for the past 30 years."

Until now, almost all HIID projects have placed consultants in the capital cities of developing countries, where they have worked alongside the elites in business and government. Recent projects, however, have tried to place advisers in the hinterland regions, where HIID consultants can work along with villagers.

One recently concluded institute contract calls for the development of educational, agricultural and health resources in an isolated pocket of North Sudan. The Abyie district along the North-South Sudan border is 80 miles from the nearest railhead; during the five-month long rainy season, there are no passable roads out of the area. The native black African population, which opted to stick with the Moslem, Arabic north after the Sudanese civil war ended in 1970, survives through subsistence sorghum farming and livestock raising. HIID anthropologist David Sharry has begun the advance work for this project, out of communication with HIID personnel, officials in Kharthoum and the rest of the outside world for that matter, for months at a time.

Next week, Cole and John Viallaume, an HIID education specialist, will fly to Kharthoum to meet with anthropologist Sharry. According to Cole, Sharry will have to walk 80 miles to catch a railway boxcar making the three-day, 50-mile journey to the Sudanese capital.

"The Sudan project is much more like a peace corps project. The people are younger, they're living far more simply, putting up with much more hardship--they are out in the bush gathering data, living close to the land and the people," Eddison says.

HIID officials are quick to agree that Harvard undergraduates--except for the relatively few studying economic development--are barely aware of the work of HIID as Harvard's representatives in the Third World. "Our position is that we don't go out of our way to have public relations releases. It's not like we're trying to drum up business like a private firm," Eddison says. Unlike most other centers of research at Harvard, HIID makes no funds available to undergraduates who are interested in economic development projects. Cole says HIID has included funding for undergraduate research in many of the grants it has requested from foundations during the past several years, but the requests are always denied by the increasingly poverty stricken foundations.

One very real point of contact does exist between HIID and undergraduates: each year, the Edward S. Mason Program in Economic Development brings 20 to 25 public officials from foreign countries--ranging from Brunei to Swaziland--to Harvard, where they complete studies for a master's degree. Many of these representatives of the Third World elites--a potpourri of cabinet ministers, bank directors and corporate managers--enroll in undergraduate economics and government courses.

Whether Harvard will further expand its role in the Third World remains an open question. Cole contends a "moderate" expansion of HIID's activities overseas would help broaden the base of development activities based here in Cambridge. "We can still perform a more effective research and teaching role with some expansion," Cole says. Since most of the consultants on HIID projects are recruited from outside the University, the institute could expand its role in the Third World without draining major resources from Cambridge. But Cole maintains that HIID is not simply fishing for contracts, and that the institute will not establish a project with a country unless Harvard development people with permanent appointments are committed to the project.

Currently, HIID officials are discussing possible projects with the governments of Mali, Zaire, Bangladesh and Venezuela for the near future. As the institute broadens its commitments throughout the underdeveloped world, the consultants at HIID may even circumnavigate the globe, ending up in Harvard's more immediate backyard: a recent institute proposal, still in its developmental stages, calls for a development policy and management program for American Indian tribes.