Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine provide new gift to expand, improve training for humanitarian aid leaders

Spring/Summer 2012 ]

Wars, natural disasters, genocide, and other tragedies in recent years have transformed global humanitarian aid into a $160 billion-a-year industry that employs 240,000 people in thousands of organizations across more than 100 countries. But too often, would-be humanitarians are ill-equipped to deal with the difficult and dangerous situations they find on the ground—armed militias, blocked roads, earthquake-damaged buildings, or masses of displaced people on the move.

Now, a $5 million grant from Jonathan Lavine, MBA ’92, managing partner of Sankaty Advisors, Bain Capital’s credit and fixed income affiliate, and his wife Jeannie Lavine, AB ’88, MBA ’92, will enable the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) to significantly expand its ongoing efforts to train the next generation of humanitarian leaders.

Under the new Lavine Family Humanitarian Studies Initiative (HSI), 250 or more students a year—up from about 100—will be able to study at the School to learn how to provide aid effectively, efficiently, and safely. Both entry-level students and current fieldworkers will have access to courses, simulated trainings in rural and urban settings, and case studies.

“The Lavine gift will help HSI extend the reach of humanitarian education to an international scale and boost the impact of humanitarian relief by focusing on professional skill building and evidence-based research on best practices,” says Michael VanRooyen, HHI director and a professor in the Department of Global Health and Population. It will also make HSI the world’s largest program in humanitarian studies.

A U.S. Navy helicopter takes off after delivering supplies to victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Reuters/staff photographer

A U.S. Navy helicopter takes off after delivering supplies to victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Reuters/staff photographer

In addition, the expanded HSI will serve as the foundation for a new Humanitarian Academy—the first global center of its kind—that will coordinate Harvard-wide efforts in humanitarian issues and help define a new field

The Lavines decided to support HHI to “give back to Harvard broadly” to mark their upcoming 20th business school reunion.

“Why is a business school alumnus doing this?” Jonathan Lavine asked. “Because cutting-edge management practices are critical in the effort to help systematically alleviate humanitarian problems all over the world. Too often people are asked to donate to the tragedy of the moment on television. But when we found Mike VanRooyen, we were blown away by what he’s doing every day all over the world. He and HHI are involved in groundbreaking and innovative work that will address some of the world’s biggest problems and help people for many years to come.”

Read Can Doing Good Be Done Better? to learn more about efforts to improve humanitarian aid.