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Harvard launches new global initiative to support multi-disciplinary faculty collaboration around the world

New Harvard Global Institute will focus initially on China; first grant will support climate change research in China

Harvard has long been an international institution, but a new University-wide effort hopes to create a globalization strategy as intentional as it is inherent.

Called the Harvard Global Institute (HGI), the effort was established at the recommendation of the International Strategy Working Group and the Faculty Advisory Committee on Global Institutes. While the committee recommended against establishing a large physical presence – such as an overseas campus — for the university, there is a recognition that as scholarship, business, and populations become more international, certain University activities will require a greater level of engagement with both distant regions and with academics expert in local aspects of problems and cultures.

“Today, knowledge is increasingly shared across national boundaries, and challenges must be understood in their broadest geographic context,” Harvard President Drew Faust wrote in a letter to faculty members announcing the new institute and its inaugural grants. “In order to fully participate in an ever more connected world, Harvard must leverage its extraordinary intellectual and programmatic strengths with a more intentional strategy of engagement, ensuring the highest quality and impact for our teaching and research in the decades to come. One way in which I hope to achieve this important goal is with the creation of the Harvard Global Institute (HGI).” 

HGI will provide larger grants to projects involving teams of established faculty members, as well as smaller grants to faculty members exploring more experimental topics. HGI’s grants are intended to foster research into topics that transcend disciplinary and regional boundaries, such as climate change, urbanization, education, water, and migration.

“The landscape of higher education is changing rapidly,” said Krishna G. Palepu, the Ross Graham Walker Professor of Business Administration and Senior Advisor to the President for Global Strategy. “Intellectual leadership requires engagement with the most compelling ideas and problems, which in a globalized world may transcend national boundaries or be rooted in local cultural contexts. While Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, our academic activities, research, and learning increasingly take place around the world.”

Harvard has a long tradition of global engagement. The University’s first international student-faculty expedition took place in 1761, when John Winthrop took students across enemy lines to Newfoundland during the Seven Years War to observe the transit of Venus. Today, the University supports more than 700 projects around the world. More than half of all College students have an academic experience abroad, while all first-year business school students complete a global field module in another country. About a quarter of all sponsored research expenditures are on projects that have a global aspect, and the University supports more than 80 research centers and 15 field offices abroad.

The launch of HGI was made possible through support from Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Beijing-based Wanda Group. Wang views this gift as a mutually beneficial collaboration between China and one of the world’s leading teaching and research institutions.

“Having Harvard faculty, students, researchers on the ground in China, to help address some of the country’s most pressing needs will be immensely beneficial,” Wang noted. “And it is our hope that the discoveries the HGI enables will not only improve the lives of everyone in China, but also have applications around the world.”

HGI recently announced that it has awarded its first grant: $3.75 million for a new, multidisciplinary, collaborative project to investigate climate change, energy security and sustainable development in China, led by atmospheric scientist Michael McElroy, the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies, and economist Dale Jorgenson, Samuel W. Morris University Professor.

The new initiative will be based at the Harvard Center Shanghai, a University-wide center started five years ago, and will involve a wide range of activities, including research, public lectures, conferences and research symposia, a research seminar series, policy consultations with decision makers, public outreach, and a summer course in China for undergraduate and graduate students.

“This kind of major, cross-disciplinary effort deserves Harvard’s support,” said Mark C. Elliott, Harvard’s Vice Provost for International Affairs, Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and the Mark Schwartz Professor of Chinese and Inner Asian History. “The problem of climate change has no boundaries, and efforts to stem green-house gas emissions will pay dividends for us all.”

The project’s central focus will be its research agenda, with a major effort into the science underlying energy, atmosphere, and climate. Other key efforts will focus on policy related to economics, engineering, atmospheric science and environmental health; a city-scale environmental assessment of Chengdu, which has 14 million people in its metropolitan area; and additional work related to social sciences, environmental law, and climate policy.

The Institute will also fund an effort led by Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Civilization Professor Karen Thornber to better understand how communities in China and populations worldwide affected by China’s ecological footprint have grappled with environmental challenges , such as pollution-related diseases. 

For more information, please see the full story in the Harvard Gazette.