The Marc Lindenberg Center for Humanitarian Action, International Development and Global Citizenship at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs has its first faculty director. Sanjeev Khagram, who was most recently a visiting professor at the Institute for International Studies at Stanford, and an assistant professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, assumed the post July 1.
The Lindenberg Center’s research, teaching and engagement programs are designed to contribute to creating a more just, equitable, democratic, secure and sustainable world. Named after the late dean of the Evans School, the center was created three years ago to prepare students and faculty across the University for life and work in a globalized world.
So it’s fitting that the center’s new director is himself a global citizen. Khagram was born of Indian parents in East Africa and came to the United States as a refugee at the age of 5. He grew up in New Jersey and California, but he never forgot the rest of the world.
“I believe that no one should have to experience what my family did,” Khagram said. “So I’ve always been concerned with why insecurity and underdevelopment occurs and how we can better harness knowledge to promote human security and sustainable development.”
The Khagram family were victims of Idi Amin’s policies in Uganda. They were among about 100,000 Indian families in the country who had been there for several generations, originally encouraged by the British to form a merchant class in Africa during colonial times.
But, Khagram explained, one night during a radio broadcast, Amin announced that all Asians had to leave the country. They were given just 48 hours to get out; their property was confiscated and their bank accounts frozen by the government. Khagram and his family spent three months in a refugee camp before being given the choice of emigrating to England, Canada or the U.S.
The family landed in New Jersey, where Khagram grew up with the priorities many immigrant families display. “Everything was focused on my sister and me,” he said. “We were always encouraged to do well in school, to get a college education, and to give back.”
Khagram’s parents were not college educated themselves, and had to struggle to regain a decent life after losing everything in the expulsion. Khagram says they suffered not only from overt prejudice, but from a sense of isolation in a community where there were few other Asians.
Both siblings were influenced by their childhood experience; Khagram’s sister grew up to become an immigration lawyer, and he pursued an undergraduate development studies major of his own design — one that combined engineering with the social sciences. He started out in engineering, Khagram explained, because he thought that large infrastructure was the way to create progress. But during his sophomore year, he spent time in India and was involved in development projects.
“I realized increasingly that although development projects are important, the policy environment, institutional arrangements, economics and politics — those were the key facilitative conditions,” Khagram said. “I realized there were a lot of elements across disciplinary boundaries needed for development, so I created my own major.”
He went on to graduate studies, earning a master’s in economics and a doctorate in political science, both at Stanford.
Khagram has done extended fieldwork in five countries — Brazil, India, Nigeria, Thailand and South Africa — and done research or shorter-term fieldwork in eight others. From 1998 to 2000, he was senior policy adviser and led the drafting of the final report for the World Commission on Dams, arguably one of the one most innovative global governance experiments of the last decade.
Khagram’s research has been in an area he calls transnationalism, the study of the movement of images, ideas, people, goods, diseases, etc. across borders and boundaries.
“If we look around the world, there are around 200 countries,” Khagram said. “More than half of those weren’t around 70 years ago. Two-thirds didn’t exist 100 years ago. And yet, social life crossed those boundaries, even as those boundaries themselves were changing. The work is about how these kind of transnational processes and phenomena and dynamics have been shaping human life, both its problems and possibilities, for millenia, and how that knowledge might enable more creative approaches to decision-making processes, policies and institutions in the contemporary period.”
In his teaching, Khagram thus says he is most concerned that his students become “not only critical thinkers but also creative doers.
“I think there’s been a loss in recent years of public imagination—not only here in the U.S. but across the world,” he said. “We have been very much about how to fix problems in a kind of technocratic way. As a teacher, I want to contribute to creating imaginative thinkers and doers.”
He’s done some of that already. Former students of his are doing such things as heading up OxFam in Sri Lanka, working in the government of post-apartheid South Africa, working as manager of corporate responsibility at the Pfizer Corporation and starting a conflict resolution organization in the Middle East.
One group of former students started an organization called Global Justice Now with the goal of reenergizing students in the U.S. on issues of global justice. Khagram has served as chair of their board of directors for the past two years and has seen 80 to 90 chapters crop up around the country. “We don’t have one at the UW, so I’m going to have to get one started,” he said.
Khagram plans to teach the Evans School’s gateway course in winter on transnational and global affairs, and a Jackson School course on human security in spring.
Why was Khagram attracted to the UW? “I think it’s best to reverse that question,” he said. “Why would I not to be attracted to the University of Washington? It’s a university that’s in the top 20 worldwide; it’s internationally renowned. There are wonderful faculty across campus, especially in fields like security, environment and development which I care deeply about. The two units I’ll be most involved with — the Evans School and the Jackson School — are fantastic places. There is a really great leadership team in place all the way up to our new president. I’m very excited to be here.”
The Evans School is equally pleased to have him. “Professor Khagram brings to the school internationally recognized scholarship, policy expertise and extraordinary personal life experience in the emerging field of transnational studies,” Dean Sandra Archibald said. “This is a powerful combination to help UW students learn about how the rise of nongovernmental organizations, citizen groups, and social movements across national borders is changing international relations and policy, and the implications for global governance.”