Peter Sondakh and the Harvard Connection

There is some interesting news of a huge gift given to Harvard University, ostensibly to boost Indonesian studies at one of the world’s top universities:

A $20.5 million gift -- described as one of the five largest in the Kennedy School's 74-year history -- is funding the creation of a new Institute for Asia as well as a new Indonesia Program at the Kennedy School.

The Kennedy School today announced the gift from the Rajawali Foundation, the charitable arm of the PT Rajawali Corporation, one of Indonesia's largest conglomerates. The private company, founded in the early 1980s by billionaire owner and director Peter Sondakh, is a major player in cement, retailing, palm oil, hotels and other industries.


This is good news of course because the US has a pretty poor reputation when it comes to research on Indonesia. So hopes are high the gift will lead to better research on the world’s largest archipelago.

But why has Peter Sondakh made the gift? For purely altruistic reasons I hope, but if you’ve ever studied economic psychology you’ll know that people very rarely give money away for nothing. And as for the money being donated to a foreign university rather than to a university in Indonesia, that should also raise a few questions, I think.

According to Professor Anthony Saich, director of the renamed Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Kennedy School, not many Indonesians study at Harvard:

"I think that one of the big advantages of this gift is that Southeast Asia generally has been poorly studied and understood across Harvard, and we have barely one or two students here a year from Indonesia".

Well that might be true.

But just look at
who they do have!


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