UC Berkeley News


Campus center to develop solutions to issues facing world's poor
Initial funding of $15 million from UC Regent and philanthropist Richard Blum will jump-start center's efforts to alleviate poverty

| 19 April 2006

The creation of a major new multidisciplinary campus initiative to improve the quality of life for impoverished people by helping them develop their full economic potential was announced this week by Chancellor Birgeneau.

Vice Chancellor for University Relations Don McQuade signs a gift agreement funding the new Blum Center for Developing Economies, as Richard Blum (center) and Chancellor Birgeneau look on. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

The Blum Center for Developing Economies is being launched with a $15 million gift, which includes a $5 million challenge grant, from San Francisco financier, philanthropist, and UC Regent Richard Blum. The center will tap the campus's expertise and resources to achieve significant - and financially sustainable - solutions to problems affecting the nearly 3 billion people in the world who are living on less than $2 a day.

"I believe UC Berkeley can have a singular effect in the fight to alleviate human suffering," says Blum. "If you look at the dangerous political divisions in today's world, you will find that most extremism has its roots in poverty and lack of education. We hope that our center will help train the next generation of leaders to be dedicated to alleviating poverty in the developing world." The center will put together teams of students and faculty, from other UC campuses as well as Berkeley, to work in specific areas abroad where UC's expertise could be applied, Blum adds.

The Blum Center will have two purposes: to educate Berkeley students about the world of foreign assistance, its potential and challenges; and to draw on faculty expertise from a wide range of disciplines including governance and law, affordable technology, agriculture, health-care services, infrastructure, and general economic development. It will also focus on encouraging and developing entrepreneurship.

Several initiatives will be launched within the center's first three years, all with a student-service component. Plans also call for the new center to offer courses in fall 2006, with the expectation that the curriculum will eventually lead to a certificate in the area of developing economies, or a major or minor. Campus officials say there is every indication that the center's classes and initiatives will attract enthusiastic participation from both students and faculty, many of whom will be involved via in-country fieldwork.

Berkeley is the perfect site for the new center, says Blum. "It's always been a place of activism, of new ideas, of compassion and wanting to help people, whether domestically or internationally. When the idea [for the center] hit me, Chancellor Birgeneau immediately said, 'I think that's terrific.' And I have encountered nothing but enthusiasm from the faculty, from the people putting this center together. I couldn't be happier with the response."

An executive director for the center is being sought, and a physical location for the center is yet to be determined.

Local self-sufficiency

Blum has been devoted to helping solve the issues of poverty for three decades, with particular emphasis on investing in local communities to help them develop greater economic self-sufficiency. "Globalization has a lot of winners, but there are a lot of losers," he said recently in a conversation with Public Affairs representatives at University House. "There are billions of people on the planet who live in grinding poverty and ignorance. And if you can educate them, create an opportunity for a decent standard of living, you are going to have fewer political problems."

Blum founded the American Himalayan Foundation 25 years ago, which runs more than 130 projects in the Himalayan region, ranging from schools, health services, and cultural preservation to forest restoration and small-scale economic development.

He also founded the Global Economy and Development Center at the Brookings Institution three years ago and has served on the board of trustees for the Atlanta-based Carter Center for many years. The Carter Center was established by former President Jimmy Carter to address issues of conflict resolution, health care in Africa and elsewhere, and world poverty in general.

Dalai Lama delighted

Carter, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, all close friends of Blum's, have agreed to serve as honorary trustees on the Blum Center's board of trustees. In a recent letter to Blum the Dalai Lama wrote: "I am delighted to know our message of kindness and compassion has taken a new practical dimension by the establishment of this new center at Berkeley."

Said Carter in a prepared statement, "I believe this new center is a significant and innovative step forward in creating enhanced awareness about one of the world's most pressing problems."

The Blum Center will be a unique, university-led model for fighting global poverty, according to Richard Lyons, professor of finance and executive associate dean at the Haas School of Business, who is working with Blum on creation of the center. Lyons said the center's board of trustees will be chaired by Laura Tyson, former president of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Clinton administration, former dean of the Haas School of Business and current dean of the London School of Business.

"I am extremely pleased at how eager and responsive everyone - from the faculty to the deans to the chancellor - has been to make this center a reality," reiterates Blum.

Blum, who holds both a B.S. and M.B.A. from Berkeley, founded Blum Capital Partners, LP, in 1975. He later co-founded Newbridge Capital, a pioneer investor in private equity in Asia, which today has six offices in Asia and is one of the major foreign investors in the region. He is also chairman of the board of CB Richard Ellis, Inc., a large real-estate-services group.

He is the founder and chair of the American Himalayan Foundation, co-chair of the international council of trustees for The World Conference of Religions for Peace, is on the board of trustees of the Brookings Institution, the American Cancer Foundation, and Glide Church AME in San Francisco; he is a member of the governing council for the Wilderness Society as well as for numerous other public boards and nonprofit organizations.

Named Business Leader of the Year by the Haas School of Business in 1994, Blum is on the UC Board of Regents and currently chairs the board's finance committee. He is married to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).