The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.
The Harvard Project aims to understand and foster the conditions under which sustained, self-determined social and economic development is achieved among American Indian nations through applied research and service.
What Works, Where, and Why?
Overview of the Harvard Project
Founded by Professors Stephen Cornell and Joseph P. Kalt at Harvard University in 1987, the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (Harvard Project) is housed within the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Through applied research and service, the Harvard Project aims to understand and foster the conditions under which sustained, self-determined social and economic development is achieved among American Indian nations. The Harvard Project’s core activities include research, education and the administration of a tribal governance awards program. In all of its activities, the Harvard Project collaborates with the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. The Harvard Project is also formally affiliated with the Harvard University Native American Program, an interfaculty initiative at Harvard University.
At the heart of the Harvard Project is the systematic, comparative study of social and economic development on American Indian reservations. What works, where and why? Among the key research findings:
Sovereignty Matters. When Native nations make their own decisions about what development approaches to take, they consistently out-perform external decision makers on matters as diverse as governmental form, natural resource management, economic development, health care, and social service provision.
Institutions Matter. For development to take hold, assertions of sovereignty must be backed by capable institutions of governance. Nations do this as they adopt stable decision rules, establish fair and independent mechanisms for dispute resolution, and separate politics from day-to-day business and program management.
Culture Matters. Successful economies stand on the shoulders of legitimate, culturally grounded institutions of self-government. Indigenous societies are diverse; each nation must equip itself with a governing structure, economic system, policies, and procedures that fit its own contemporary culture.
Leadership Matters. Nation building requires leaders who introduce new knowledge and experiences, challenge assumptions, and propose change. Such leaders, whether elected, community, or spiritual, convince people that things can be different and inspire them to take action.
For over two decades, the Harvard Project has undertaken hundreds of research studies and advisory projects. Results of Harvard Project research are published widely. Summary treatments are provided in “Reloading the Dice: Improving the Chances of Economic Development on American Indian Reservations” (Cornell and Kalt) and “Sovereignty and Nation-Building: The Development Challenge in Indian Country Today” (Cornell and Kalt). Both papers, plus many additional publications are available on the Harvard Project’s Research and Publications page.