University launches research center on global poverty, development

The Center on Global Poverty and Development will join students and faculty from across the university and connect them with policymakers and business leaders committed to fighting poverty.

Grant Miller

Global poverty is one of the most pressing issues of our time. While great progress has been made to combat it in recent decades, nearly 800 million people still live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day, and more than 2 billion people are on the cusp of poverty. Thanks to technological advances and a rising sense of urgency, researchers, policymakers and business leaders now have an even greater ability to help end global poverty.

To focus more squarely than ever before on this challenge, Stanford University is creating the Stanford Center on Global Poverty and Development. Launched Oct. 2, the center will join students and faculty from across the university and connect them with policymakers and business leaders committed to fighting poverty.

The center’s mission is threefold: to support path-breaking research on global poverty and development within Stanford and beyond; to inspire students through hands-on research opportunities, fellowships and events; and to inform policies and practices through strategic partnerships with global policymakers and thought leaders, as well as through on-campus events that foster new ideas and universitywide collaborations.

The center — which has more than 100 affiliated faculty from across the university — is a joint venture between the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, or SIEPR, and the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, known as Stanford Seed. The center continues a number of programs and initiatives formerly housed under Stanford Seed and SIEPR’s Stanford Center for International Development.

‘Poised to lead’

“Global poverty is extremely complex,” said Grant Miller, PhD, the center’s director and an associate professor of medicine. “It demands multidisciplinary collaboration and meaningful engagement with decision-makers. Stanford has a culture and proven track record of interdisciplinary research and real-world impact, and it is now poised to lead in work confronting global poverty and promoting development.”

The center will expand the scope and pace of research already underway by faculty and students from across the university — experts in economics, political science, sociology, engineering and medicine, among other fields — who are generating insights into the roots of poverty and creating solutions. High-resolution satellite imagery is allowing Stanford researchers to identify and study hidden pockets of poverty around the world in a way not previously possible. A new effort to map and survey employers and their employees in China is shedding light on key labor issues confronting the “factory of the world.”

Global poverty is extremely complex.

“When insights from studies like these reach people who are shaping policy and practice in the developing world, it can lead to new strategies for alleviating poverty — and it can also stimulate new research with even greater impact,” said Mark Duggan, PhD, a professor of economics who holds the Trione Directorship of SIEPR and the Wayne and Jodi Cooperman Professorship. “Leaders on the front lines of the private sector and government need rigorous data-driven research from which to draw, to help them make decisions that will lead to more innovation and to better policies.”

The center is kicking off several new programs developed and led by multidisciplinary teams of faculty, including:

  • • The Data for Development Initiative. New data from sources like satellite imagery and cell phone records — together with powerful methods for analyzing them — are radically reshaping development research and strategies for building sustainable economies around the world. Through research collaboration, student training and strategic partnerships, this initiative leverages new data and tools for examining a broad range of questions surrounding poverty, agriculture, infrastructure, migration and other critical issues.
  • • The Firms and Global Productivity Initiative. Despite the important role that businesses play in economic growth and in moving people out of poverty, a lack of high-quality, in-depth data limits what we know about the private sector. This initiative is filling this void through pioneering projects that collect data on key issues, including productivity, job creation and sources of innovation, that are affecting businesses in China, India and other countries.
  • • The student experience. Through opportunities on and off campus, the center is committed to immersing students in issues surrounding global poverty and development — and to inspiring and supporting them as they seek answers and solutions. Through fellowships and mentored research opportunities, students can conduct research on the ground in middle- and low-income countries.

“Ending the cycle of global poverty requires the kind of advances in fundamental knowledge that a research university can generate, and that’s what this center is going to provide,” said Jesper Sorensen, professor of business, Robert A. and Elizabeth R. Jeffe Professor and faculty director of Stanford Seed. “The fact that we’re bringing together not only faculty and students from all parts of the university but collaborating with development experts worldwide is truly inspiring.”

To celebrate the launch of the center, an event for supporters and the campus community is set for Nov. 13 and will feature a keynote address by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, PhD, chair of the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; former finance minister of Nigeria; and former managing director of the World Bank Group.  



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