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Stanford researchers fight poverty by shaping global policy

Throughout the developing world, people are dying at alarming rates because they don't have basic necessities we often take for granted: enough food, clean water and health care.

Political instability and weak institutions are often to blame. Corruption, violence and lack of accountability keep the world’s poorest people from the chance to prosper.

Even as countries like China and India revel in their economic booms, the gap between rich and poor in those countries has never been wider. And those left behind often struggle on less than a dollar a day.

Researchers at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies are focusing on how to improve the quality of lives for those in the greatest need – the people caught in places of chronic underdevelopment.

“Our job is to take intellectual ideas and push them out into the real world where they can be tested and refined – or discarded. The impact of that can be transformational."

-Coit Blacker
They're helping children in rural China get the food they need to do well in school and land competitive jobs. They’re using cell phone technology to make sure people living in one of Africa’s largest slums have access to clean drinking water. They’re working with local governments in Latin America to improve medical care and educational opportunities for children.

FSI: Where disciplines come together

The success they have in fighting poverty takes more than a lone researcher focusing on a particular topic. It comes from economists working with doctors, political scientists collaborating with environmentalists and engineers sharing ideas with lawyers. And it comes from putting academic findings into the hands of policy makers.

As Stanford’s primary forum for research on international issues, FSI fosters the multidisciplinary match-ups that influence policy worldwide and make a difference in people’s lives. It provides the glue and the space for academics across Stanford’s campus to come together and develop ideas.

“Unless and until we can offer profound answers as to why such a large a portion of the world’s population lives on less than a dollar day, we won’t be able to help countries develop institutions for reliable self-governance,” says FSI Director Coit D. Blacker. “And we won’t have building blocks for stability in place. If you can’t feed your people, you can’t educate your people and you can’t sew together a social and governing structure to help them break from chronic underdevelopment.”

Action Fund grants: Sparking research, shaping policy

FSI’s Global Underdevelopment Action Fund provides seed grants to help faculty members design research experiments and conduct fieldwork in some of the world’s poorest places.

The program awards up to $40,000 to researchers creating projects that tackle issues like hunger, poverty and poor governance.  Since it was established last year, the Action Fund has awarded $436,000 to nine researchers who have designed at total of 11 programs. 

With fresh findings, FSI researchers are in a unique position to influence global policy. Drawing on the FSI’s network of faculty and alumni who came from and are now working with governments around the world, scholars have the opportunity to direct their research to those who are able to affect change.

“Our job is to take intellectual ideas and push them out into the real world where they can be tested and refined – or discarded,” Blacker says. “The impact of that can be transformational.”