UC Berkeley News


Scharffenberger will lead Blum Center
A veteran of international-development efforts, he learned what poverty is - and what it isn't - during a Peace Corps stint in Senegal

| 04 October 2006

George Scharffenberger

George Scharffenberger is the new executive director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, Chancellor Birgeneau announced this week. The center was established on campus earlier this year to create a unique and innovative resource for combating global poverty and hunger.

An integral part of the center's mission is educating Berkeley students, through both traditional coursework and student service-learning opportunities, about the nature of poverty, efforts to address it, and the challenges facing national and international development organizations and programs.

Scharffenberger brings to Berkeley more than 30 years' experience in the design, management, and evaluation of international economic- and social-development activities. He has held senior executive positions in three international non-governmental organizations and in an internationally oriented information-technology company. Over the past decade, his interests and work have had a particular focus on technology and the development of and support for information-based communities and networks.

"George Scharffenberger's background is a wonderful fit for the Blum Center and for Berkeley," said Birgeneau. "Not only will George provide the expertise needed to direct the center, he will also serve as a great role model for those students who are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to become involved in the center's work." The center has already drawn more 300 students to its inaugural course offering this fall, the chancellor noted (see the Sept. 6 issue of the Berkeleyan for details).

"George has earned his stripes in the field," added Richard Lyons, executive associate dean at the Haas School of Business, who is serving as faculty director for the center. "He has a wealth of experience managing international development projects, and he understands how to apply best-practice standards to these types of ventures. His expertise will provide the center with the knowledge and leadership necessary to successfully structure and administer large-scale poverty-alleviation initiatives with significant student involvement."

Scharffenberger, whose first day on the job was Monday, said he was especially drawn to the center by its ability to impact students in a meaningful way. "The Blum Center provides a unique opportunity to combine the lessons I have learned along my route, my skills and enjoyment in leading and managing complex organizations, and my passion for the transformative role that young people can play by both contributing to and gaining from active participation in poverty-focused international efforts," he said.

Scharffenberger's career in international development began with a transformative experience of his own. Following his graduation from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, he served as a Peace Corps community-development agent in a small West African village. "I slept, ate, and worked within a Senegalese community that, despite its outward poverty, welcomed me with bottomless generosity," he said. "From my adopted family, I learned much about poverty - what it is, and what it isn't. The lessons of those days have traveled with me over the succeeding decades."

In addition to his work in Senegal, Scharffenberger, who has a master's degree from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex (UK), has served in multiple technical-assistance roles, including long-term work in Madagascar, The Gambia, and Morocco, with shorter assignments in Haiti, India, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. He is fluent in Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal.