Stanford launches university-wide Global Development and Poverty Research Initiative

Global poverty is a profound and persistent problem: More than a billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank. While many Stanford researchers dedicate their work to alleviating poverty, a new university-wide initiative promises them more support.

As part of the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED), the Global Development and Poverty Initiative (GDP) will make grants available to Stanford faculty across the university who take a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to combating poverty.  SEED, which seeks to alleviate poverty by stimulating the creation of economic opportunities through innovation, entrepreneurship and the growth of businesses, was established in 2011 through a generous gift from Robert King, MBA '60, and his wife, Dorothy.

The initiative – which is launching with $10 million in initial funding – will also support teaching and efforts to apply research findings to on-the-ground training and practical problems affecting global poverty. The new grant initiative will be administered by SEED in collaboration with Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).

The GDP Initiative recognizes that the complex challenges faced by the poor in developing economies are multifaceted and require the engagement of experts from a variety of disciplines such as health or public policy.  The new initiative will solicit proposals from faculty across the Stanford campus to develop innovative approaches to addressing economic development and poverty alleviation.

Through complementary areas of focus, GDP grants and other SEED initiatives will stimulate research, novel interdisciplinary collaborations and solutions to problems of global poverty and development.

"The overarching goal is to change people's lives and to build Stanford's capacity to play a role in that crucial effort," said Stanford University President John Hennessy.

"Faculty and students will pursue answers to crucial questions that are essential to our understanding of how to reduce global poverty and promote economic development," said GDP co-chair Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, FSI's director and the Stanley Morrison Professor of Law. "Governance and the rule of law, education, health, and food security – all of these issues can be essential for entrepreneurship to thrive. This initiative constitutes an important new element of SEED, and FSI welcomes the opportunity to work as partners with our business school colleagues on it."

SEED is housed at the Graduate School of Business, and focuses on driving growth through entrepreneurship and scaling established enterprises to create jobs and improve lives.  SEED engages in research, teaching and especially on-the-ground training and mentoring for entrepreneurs.

"The GDP initiative enhances SEED's objective by deepening our understanding of the broader context for entrepreneurship and management in developing economies," said GDP co-chair Jesper B. Sørensen, who is also SEED faculty director and the Robert A. and Elizabeth R. Jeffe Professor of Organizational Behavior. "By strengthening Stanford's ability to address topics such as health, for example, GDP promises to multiply the impact of SEED's efforts."

SEED's other activities will also provide an important supplement to GDP projects. In particular, SEED's presence in developing countries – including establishing regional centers like the one opened in Ghana in 2013 – can help facilitate the engagement of GDP projects with local sources in developing economies.

Faculty letters of inquiry due March 14

GDP co-chairs Sørensen and Cuéllar will lead a council of faculty from across campus appointed by the president and provost. They will serve renewable two-to-three-year terms. The council will solicit and evaluate grant proposals, advise on awards, monitor progress and facilitate cross-disciplinary engagement.

Initial letters of inquiry will be due March 14.  Invitations to submit full proposals (along with additional instructions on how to prepare the proposals) will be issued by April 2, and full proposals will be due by May 1.  Awards will be announced before the end of the spring quarter.

Grant criteria

There will be two types of GDP grants.  The main emphasis is on Capacity-Building Research Grants for substantial projects, requiring a minimum of $250,000 and which may take up to 5 years to complete.  Recipients will be required to make presentations about their research at an annual, public conference hosted by the GDP initiative.

The GDP also will award smaller Preliminary Research Grants not to exceed $30,000 or  more than one year.   

Collaborative, multi-faculty proposals are not mandatory but will be strongly encouraged, said Cuéllar.  Proposals will be evaluated case-by-case by the following criteria:

  • Substantive focus on global poverty
  • Potential practical applications
  • Regional or cross-national impact
  • Building Stanford's capacity
  • Scholarly merit
  • Long-term strategy and budget plan.

Letters of inquiry for both Capacity-Building Research Grants and Preliminary Research Grants should be submitted here.  Questions regarding GDP grant applications should be directed to FSI Executive Director Belinda Byrne at; or SEED Director of Research Partnerships and Assessments Lesley Sept at