Welcome to the new academic year
As the new academic year begins, and with it the honor for me to step in as Faculty Director, I want to take the opportunity to thank our supporters and extend a warm welcome to all our faculty and students returning to classes virtually.
The uniqueness of this moment needs little introduction. COVID-19 has greatly affected Stanford and the King Center’s operations, most undergraduate students will not be returning to campus for the start of fall quarter, international travel has largely halted, field research projects are being adapted and repurposed, and my colleagues and I are getting more comfortable giving video conferences and lectures from our home offices.
Nevertheless, we look forward to another productive year at the King Center, continuing to support student and faculty research on global development at Stanford and inform evidence-based policy.
First, I want to take this time to thank Executive Director Jessica Leino for her commitment to the center and stepping in to serve as interim director since fall 2019. I, as well as the staff at the King Center, are deeply grateful for her work to ensure a seamless transition between faculty leadership without interruption to programming, and greatly admirative of her ability to pivot the King Center’s activities to confront the COVID crisis. My term as Faculty Director is starting on firm ground, not only thanks to Jessica and previous King Center Director Grant Miller, but also because of a dedicated staff. I am looking forward to building on the strong programmatic foundation cemented by their years of hard work and dedication. I am also deeply appreciative of our Faculty Steering Committee, who help oversee the direction of the center.
As a member of the Faculty Steering Committee from its inception to today, I have had the chance to provide input on the overarching direction of the center and its strategic objectives. I envision my term as Faculty Director as a continuation of the work previously overseen by Jessica and Grant. I appreciate what they have built and I believe the center is well positioned to respond to this moment and address systemic development issues, as well as forthcoming challenges.
Supporting Faculty Research for Today and the Future
The global pandemic’s impact on low- and middle-income countries is far-reaching – from surging infection rates in Latin America to massive drops in consumption caused by severe lockdowns in sub-Saharan Africa to the disruption of immunization campaigns and worldwide school closures. This creates new challenges for poverty alleviation and exacerbates existing ones. I am pleased to see our Faculty Affiliates working on systemic global development themes, such as food security, entrepreneurship, and migration, among others, in addition to adjusting their research agendas to work on this once-in-a-generation pandemic. The King Center is directly supporting research related to COVID-19, including through our junior faculty grants. Associate Professor of Economics Arun Chandrasekhar adapted his work in Bihar, India to examine how the pandemic is impacting information flows, health behaviors, and access to and use of government benefits. Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering William Tarpeh is planning to test wastewater and fecal sludge for SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in Dakar, Senegal, giving public health officials more information about the spread of the virus. Additionally, his lab will develop an ammonia-based disinfectant from the fecal sludge and wastewater through a nitrogen-extraction process.
Despite COVID-19 disrupting research agendas, the King Center has maintained its support for Stanford faculty conducting research on critical, systemic issues in global development. We recently awarded a junior faculty grant to Irene Lo, an assistant professor of management science and engineering, to advance her research improving information-sharing platforms for informal supply chains in low- and middle-income countries. And our faculty-led research initiative dedicated to reducing lead exposure informed new regulations in Bangladesh around the neurotoxin lead chromate, after researchers from the initiative discovered the substance was ending up in the household spice, turmeric. We will continue to foster innovative faculty research through the center’s multi-disciplinary initiatives, junior faculty grant program, and other funding mechanisms.
Adapting Student Opportunities
Another core aspect of our mission is advancing student scholarship and research for both undergraduate and graduate students. While the coronavirus has hampered student fieldwork, the center is adapting opportunities for at-home research assistantships and providing more research funding to graduate students.
Last year, the King Center awarded a record number of fellowships to eight PhD students and research funding to 14 students. This significant increase in support to graduate students will assist in covering costs and interrupted research.
For undergraduates, our summer field research assistant program transitioned online, so that students can still gain valuable research experience working with a faculty mentor. Additionally, we expanded our program to provide research opportunities for undergraduate students during the school year under the guidance of a Stanford faculty member.
The Next Generation of Leaders in Development Research
I’d like to also extend a warm welcome to our two new postdoctoral fellows, Nirvikar Jassal and Madeline McKelway, for the 2020 – 21 academic year. Both Nirvikar and Madeline study pressing issues in India, including ethnic conflict and gender inequality. I am excited to see their contributions to the center this upcoming year. In the forthcoming years, we are planning to expand our postdoctoral fellows program with the dual goals of helping to build a larger and more diverse pipeline of scholars focused on poverty alleviation, as well as assisting graduate students around the world endure a coronavirus-strained job market. Stay tuned for more details.
Stanford-wide Collaboration, and Beyond
Faculty and students involved with the King Center hail from all of Stanford’s seven schools. Global development is a multifaceted process that obviously requires a multiplicity of disciplinary approaches. I am excited to continue the King Center’s intentional outreach to schools, institutes, and departments across campus to create new partnerships, including with Stanford’s new ventures and beyond.
The university’s Long-Range Vision includes the creation of Stanford Impact Labs, an innovative research and development pipeline for the social sciences, and a new school focused on climate and sustainability. Both enterprises will address critical issues related to poverty alleviation and global development, including climate change, and I expect that many King Center affiliated faculty and students will get involved in these new ventures. Reaching beyond the Farm, the center is actively planning to collaborate with the King Climate Action Initiative at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) within the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This new initiative, supported by our shared benefactors, Bob and Dottie King, will work with government officials and researchers to identify and scale-up strategies for emission reductions as well as climate change adaptation and resilience.
On September 16, two days from now, the center is hosting another webinar in its coronavirus-related series on COVID-19: The Impact in Africa. The virus’ spread across sub-Saharan Africa has been more modest than originally feared, however lockdown measures and the global economic downturn have disrupted livelihoods and stalled efforts against other health scourges in the region such as HIV and TB. During this panel discussion, I will be speaking with Belinda Archibong, assistant professor of economics at Barnard College, Agnes Binagwaho, vice-chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity, and Albert G. Zeufack, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa. I’m looking forward to hearing their insights and I sincerely hope you will join us.
Finally, next month, we will be releasing our annual report, where you can review the King Center’s impact in the development-research community and in policymaking. Please keep a look out for the report in your email inboxes. If you like to request a printed copy, please reach out to us.
I always welcome the opportunity to hear from you and how we can serve you, whether you are a faculty member, student, visiting scholar, or supporter. We are truly grateful for your interest and philanthropy. Stay safe and healthy.
Faculty Director, King Center on Global Development
Professor, Department of Economics