Kravis Prize Recipient Roy Prosterman Visits Campus

Rural Development Institute founder Roy L. Prosterman, described as a “worldwide champion of land rights for the world’s poor,” and recipient of the inaugural 2006 Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, will visit the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Wednesday, Nov. 15 to discuss “Using Land Rights to Attack Global Poverty.” The public portion of the program begins at 6:45 p.m.; seating is on a first-come basis.

In the mid-1960s, Prosterman truncated his career as a court lawyer to instead teach law and lead the fight for designing and implementing fundamental legal, policy, and programmatic reforms in land rights issues. His interests were stimulated in part by a trip to Liberia in 1963 while working on a case for employer Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York. Liberia’s poverty and derelict infrastructure would leave an indelible impression as to how the world’s poorest livedwith Prosterman recalling it “beyond the point of poverty.”

Last May, Prosterman was awarded the inaugural Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership for his pioneering work in fighting for the rights of the rural poor to own land. The Kravis Prize, which carries a $250,000 award, honors extraordinary leadership in the non-profit sector, was created to acknowledge and honor the vision, boldness, creativity, and determination required of leaders in the not-for-profit world.

Prosterman’s work in land reform followed soon after his notice of a law journal article in 1966 about confiscatory land reform measures in Latin America. Certain the government would encounter a civil war under those tactics, he was impelled to formulate what is now called democratic land reform, outlining a non-violent program in the spirit of fully compensated eminent domain, rather than taking land away and giving it back to indigenous groups.

Through RDI, Prosterman and a team of staff attorneys have connected with 40 developing nations, foreign aid agencies, and other partners to design and implement fundamental legal, policy, and programmatic reforms that have improved the lives of more than 400 million people through ownership or ownership-like rights to more than 90 million acres of land.

“We’ve found more recently that even a home garden, as little as one-tenth of an acre or less, can be very transformative for the lives of the rural poor households,” Prosterman has said.

Prosterman is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School, where he served on the Harvard Law Review board of editors. He joined the faculty of the University of Washington Law School in 1965 and was named the first John and Marguerite Walker Corbally Professor in Public Service in 1991. He has been director of the law school’s post-doctoral program in Law of Sustainable International Development and is the author or co-author of several books, including Land Reform and Democratic Development (The Johns Hopkins University Press), and Agrarian Reform and Grass Roots Development: Ten Case Studies (L. Rienner Publishers).