Funding research in the world's poorest places

Funding research in the world's poorest places

Nearly $370,000 has been awarded to Stanford researchers trying to improve conditions in some of the world’s poorest places.

The money comes from the Global Underdevelopment Action Fund, which was established four years ago by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies to provide seed grants to faculty designing interdisciplinary research experiments.

“It’s money that we can deploy quickly and that we can use in a very flexible way,” says Stephen D. Krasner, deputy director of FSI and chair of the Action Fund awards committee. “We can target specific kinds of activity that we’re interested in — not just because we think the activities themselves are worthwhile, but because we think they can really contribute to the interdisciplinary community that we’re building at FSI.”

The 12 Action Fund grants range from projects with immediate social impact to those designed to build an academic foundation for future work. The seed grants provided by the fund often are the first steps toward a sustainable research project funded by other sources, as well. Krasner says the grants are also awarded in part to impact policy and help solve problems that benefit from a multifaceted approach.

One such project comes from Stephen P. Luby, a professor of medicine and new senior fellow at FSI and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. His project aims to curb pollution from Bangladeshi brick kilns, which may seem like a strange topic for Luby, who studies infectious diseases. But by broadening the viewpoint, the issue is more complex than only replacing the kilns with more efficient models. Solving the problem requires an understanding of social pressures and government regulations as well.

“I’m interested in working with people who want to solve real problems,” Luby says, explaining what brought him to Stanford. “FSI collaboration can really convene the group.” The “intensely interdisciplinary” nature of the project made it perfect for FSI, he says.

“That kind of project can have a real impact on health,” says Krasner, who adds that interdisciplinary research is key. “It typifies the kind of work that we like to support with the Action Fund.”

Another project will study electricity in East Africa, headed by economics professor and FSI Senior Fellow Frank Wolak. Households powered by solar batteries are found throughout the region, but until recently it has been difficult to determine how the power is being used within the home. Wolak’s team will use iPad tools to track household appliance usage and investigate how households are making decisions about power consumption. The double-faceted approach will answer crucial questions related to the distribution and use of power in the developing area.

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, co-director of FSI’s Center on International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and incoming director of FSI, was awarded an Action Fund grant to study refugee communities around the world. Cuéllar, a law professor, will focus on a renewed approach to refugee camps for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the U.N.’s request. In addition to Cuéllar’s background in law, the project will also employ students to help rethink camp logistics, architects focused on improving camp design and CISAC’s expertise in maintaining a collaboration with UNHCR.

In three previous rounds of funding since the Action Fund was established in 2010, $694,000 has been awarded to support 19 research projects.

Throughout the spring, past projects will be featured during Action Fund Fridays in Encina Hall. Topics will range from medical technology in India to poverty concerns in rural Africa. Events will be held at noon on March 22, April 26, May 10, May 24 and June 7. 

For more information, visit or contact Elena Cryst at 650.723.3369.