UW Today

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March 30, 2006

Roy Prosterman awarded Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership

Roy L. Prosterman, founder and chairman emeritus of the Rural Development Institute and UW professor of law, has been named the recipient of the inaugural Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership for his pioneering work in fighting for the rights of the rural poor to own land, one of the underlying causes of global poverty. The Kravis Prize, which carries a $250,000 award, honors extraordinary leadership in the nonprofit sector. Prosterman has designated the Rural Development Institute to receive the award money.

The prize, administered by Claremont McKenna College and Henry R. Kravis, a trustee; the Kravis Leadership Institute, and Marie-Josée Kravis, economist and Hudson Institute senior fellow, is funded by the Kravises. The Kravis Prize will be presented May 6 at ceremonies in Los Angeles.

“Our goal in creating The Kravis Prize was to acknowledge and honor the vision, boldness, creativity, and determination required of leaders in the not-for-profit world,” said Henry Kravis. “It is important to acknowledge both individuals and institutions, and to recognize that an ‘entrepreneur’ in the not-for-profit world brings to bear similar skills and disciplines as a ‘business entrepreneur’ in achieving extraordinary goals. Roy Prosterman embodies these qualities, and is the ideal leader to receive the inaugural Kravis Prize.”

Prosterman founded the Rural Development Institute (RDI) 25 years ago to institutionalize the work he began in the mid-1960s, fighting one of the chief structural causes of global poverty — rural landlessness. He attracted a small team who shared his vision and his commitment.

As a result of Prosterman’s leadership, RDI has become an extraordinarily effective advocate for international land law and policy reform. Based in Seattle, with field offices in China, India, and Indonesia, RDI attorneys and staff have worked with the governments of 40 developing nations, foreign aid agencies, and other partners to design and implement fundamental legal, policy and programmatic reforms to help the world’s rural poor.

Prosterman was described by a nominator as a “worldwide champion of land rights for the world’s poor.” His leadership of RDI has included work in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. Through a comprehensive understanding of rural land issues and the interaction among financial, land, and labor markets the work of Prosterman and RDI has resulted in more than 400 million people gaining ownership or ownership-like rights to more than 90 million acres of land.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served on the Harvard Law Review board of editors, and the University of Chicago, Prosterman joined the faculty of the UW 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.

“Land is the chief source of livelihood for a majority of the world’s poor. And when the legal system is used to provide the poor with assured access and long-term rights to even a small portion of land, it can make a huge difference to their household’s income, security, and status,” Prosterman said. “The inaugural award of The Kravis Prize is of greatest importance not because it recognizes RDI’s work, or mine, but because it throws a spotlight on the practical steps that can be taken to address major aspects of global poverty by addressing the land issue.”


The current major initiatives of RDI include:



  • Global Homesteads Program, collaborating with Indian and Indonesian policymakers to endow the extremely poor with land, with the potential to help hundreds of millions around the globe;
  • Women and Land, supporting women’s efforts in developing nations by enhancing their rights to rural land and their ability to control income generated by that land;
  • Legal Aid, helping fledgling landowners in the newly privatized farmlands of the former Soviet Republics;
  • Post-Conflict Land Dispute Resolution, serving as land-law advisor in Rwanda and Angola;
  • Bringing Dead Capital Back to Life, advising the government of China as it undertakes what may be the most extensive property rights reform in history;
  • Global Advisor to Foreign Aid Donors, carrying out rural land tenure assignments around the world on behalf of clients including World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Candidates for the Kravis Prize were solicited from an international cadre of confidential nominators selected on the basis of their breadth and depth of knowledge of the non-profit sector. Selection criteria included boldness, innovation, creativity, consistency, persistence, and effectiveness in bringing a vision to fruition, realizing the mission of an organization, and demonstrating best practices in managing that organization.