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Harvard Institute For International Development

Harvard Think-Tank Prepares To Tackle New Challenges Around the World

Even as PepsiCo, international agencies and embassies pull out of Burma, a country whose military dictatorship is believed to be guilty of human rights violations, at least one organization is going in.

The Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID), a 22-year-old think-tank dedicated to helping nations join the global economy, is currently planning a research mission into the embattled Southeast Asian country.

The Burma project, to be funded by the Japanese government, will consist of field research by international experts in economic development.

Although the group will not work directly with the Burmese government, activist groups protesting foreign investment in Burma are wary of HIID's involvement, fearing that the groups' work will lead to Burmese investments by the Japanese government.

"As long as [the Burmese military government] is in power, no investment or development assistance will help the Burmese people," says Marco B. Simons '97, an organizer of the Harvard Burma Action Group.

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According to Jeffrey D. Sachs '76, director of HIID, such fears are completely unfounded. The mission, he says, will under no circumstances provide analysis of potential Burmese investments for the Japanese government.

While the politics of developing nations are often complex, this level of controversy is unusual for HIID. The group's activities, funded by outside parties, often foreign governments, generally focus on less politically charged areas.

The group's goals encompass its three basic missions: researching, advising and teaching.

When a client hires the group, HIID sends staff members to the nation under study for an extended period, typically upwards of two years, during which time the researchers become intimately familiar with the country's economy, infrastructure, educational systems, health facilities, environmental state or any of dozens of potential areas of study.

Meanwhile, experts in HIID's offices at the Kennedy School of Government, with the help of agents in the field, do additional research and coordinate activities.

As it compiles results, HIID prepares reports, advises governments, trains foreign experts and teaches about its findings and experiences in Harvard's schools.

Three Goals

According to Sachs, the three missions of HIID--researching, advising and teaching--are all fundamentally interrelated. In order to do one well, HIID has to do all three, he says.

"It is important in teaching to be involved, to understand what is going on, and in order to give advice, you must be on the cutting edge of research and scholarship. We see all of these things as being closely linked," Sachs says.

Mike Romer, an HIID associate who has been working on development issues including macroeconomics, trade and industrialization since 1970, says having multiple missions all over the world gives HIID staffers greater perspective on the intricacies of growth.

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