Emory Report
February 26, 2007
Volume 59, Number 21

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February 26, 2007
Ranchod-Nilsson to lead Institute of Developing Nations

BY kim urquhart

Sita Ranchod-Nilsson, formerly director of Denison University’s international studies program, has joined Emory as the first director of the new Institute for Developing Nations. The IDN is a University-wide research institute that focuses on development and poverty alleviation.

“Dr. Sita Ranchod-Nilsson has a superb academic background in African studies and on-the-ground experience in a number of African countries. She also brings a superior set of administrative capabilities honed while directing International Affairs at Denison University,” said Tom Robertson, executive faculty director of the IDN. “She is the perfect fit for our needs as we design and launch the new Institute for Developing Nations.”

A key outcome of Emory’s strategic planning process, backed by endowment commitments from Emory and The Carter Center, the IDN will bring into conversation faculty research on development issues with The Carter Center’s mission to improve the lives of the poor. “Our goal is to do research that complements the work of The Carter Center and that also moves in new directions,” Ranchod-Nilsson said.

Ranchod-Nilsson will work with the IDN’s academic advisory board to define a research agenda for the new institute and to build research communities that will focus on that agenda.

“Members of the board are engaged with development issues from a wide variety of perspectives. At this time, when development studies and development practice are at a crossroads, this partnership between Emory University and The Carter Center holds the promise of approaches that will influence both the scholarship on and practice of development,” Ranchod-Nilsson said. “Our academic board will decide what our research priorities are. My job is to help build programs that will support our agenda.”

Initially IDN will focus on sub-Saharan Africa, a region with the deepest poverty in the world. Sub-Saharan Africa is an area of expertise for Ranchod-Nilsson, whose research has focused on gender politics in that region. She has published research on African women’s involvement in Zimbabwe’s war for liberation and on gender politics in Zimbabwe since independence. Ranchod-Nilsson has a Ph.D. in political science, African studies, from Northwestern University and an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Denison University, where she later taught.

As associate professor and director of international studies at Denison University, Ranchod-Nilsson restructured the university’s international program into an interdisciplinary effort that more accurately reflected the changing global realities and changing conceptualizations of area studies within the academy.

She said she was initially attracted to Emory for its aspirations to become a truly global university. “It seemed to me that this was an institution that took internationalization very seriously,” she said. “When I visited in the fall, I was impressed with the vision of Emory as an institution that not only prepared its students for a global future, but also saw as part of its mission engagement with pressing global problems like poverty. The opportunity to help realize this mission is very exciting for me,” she said.

Since arriving on campus Jan. 2, Ranchod-Nilsson said she has “hit the ground running,” having recently returned from Africa where she represented Emory at The Carter Center’s Replication Conference for the Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative. But she said the top priority is to help shape IDN’s research agenda, which will lay the groundwork for future initiatives. As she saw while in Africa, “the daily toll of poverty in places like Ethiopia is very sobering. We need to find new approaches to development that will make a difference,” she said.

History professor Clifton Crais, who sits on the IDN academic advisory board, has worked with Ranchod-Nilsson for more than 15 years in the fields of African and international studies. He said that Ranchod-Nilsson has the skills and vision to lead the new institute. “I can’t think of anyone [better for the position] who is conceptually rich but also has such a wonderful administrative mind in terms of building institutions in ways that are really durable but are also very innovative,” Crais said.