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SPOTLIGHT

Oscar Harkavy, Leader in Population Programming

 

Oscar “Bud” Harkavy, an influential figure in the international population movement that he once described as a “transcendent world problem”, and one of the founders of The LAFF Society, died September 20 at the age of 96.
 
 
He had worked at the Ford Foundation for 35 years, beginning in 1953, and both witnessed and contributed to its growth as a major force in philanthropy. He had been teaching at the business school at Syracuse University, from which he had received a doctorate in economics, when he was hired by Ford to help develop programs designed to modernize business school curricula. 
 
He was then “told”, as he later put it, “to do population”, and spent the remainder of his career at the Foundation creating and directing programs that, in collaboration with other foundations and international organizations, helped establish what he called the “modern population movement”.
 
“Helping to meet the challenge of population (issues) along with those in agriculture,” he wrote in an essay while still working at the Foundation in 1977, “has long been considered by the Ford Foundation as essential to the survival and well being of people and societies around the world.”
 
After he retired from Ford, in 1995, he wrote about the inception and development of that movement in the book Curbing Population Growth: an Insider’s Perspective on the Population Movement.
 
“….the Ford Foundation’s rather offhand entry into the population field in 1952,” he wrote, was “motivated more to please certain members of the Board of Trustees whose wives were devotees of Margaret Sanger than by a serious appreciation of a transcendent world problem.
 
“Public opinion was affected to some extent by contemporary conservationists who viewed with alarm the threat of ‘overpopulation’ to the natural environment, but birth control was still a sensitive subject in the early fifties, more a ‘private vice’ than a ‘public virtue’.
 
“….the flowering of the population movement (developed) as changes in the political and social environment transformed it from a relatively weak women’s social movement to a worldwide phenomenon of overarching geopolitical importance…. 
 
“There followed two decades in which population programs flourished. Beginning in the mid-1960s, a heterogeneous collection of organizations, public and private, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its counterparts in other industrial countries, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Bank, the International Planned Parenthood Federation…joined the Population Council and Ford Foundation in forming ‘a population community’ that shaped the population movement.”
 
After he left Ford, Bud was a consultant to the Population Council and chairman of the board of the Population Resource Council. And he helped found LAFF.
 
He was one of 10 former staff who got together in 1991 to form an organization they hoped would help alumni of the Foundation “remember old bonds, possibly renew acquaintances, perhaps even help one another professionally, and satisfy sheer curiosity”.
 
He was LAFF’s first vice president, serving until 1995, and its president for the next two years.
 
Survivors include his wife of 69 years, Frances, two sons and three granddaughters.
 
Many of those he worked with and influenced paid tribute to him at his funeral service on September 22. One eulogy, delivered by Richard Mahoney, who worked in the population program from 1970 to 1979, recalled Bud’s influence and generosity. 
 
“In 1970,” he said, “you brought me, as a fresh PhD, to New York for to work with Anna Southam in reproductive biology and contraceptive development. My degree was in physical chemistry. You gave me a chance. 
 
“Working with you and Anna, we launched major programs in Japan and Australia and helped continue programs in India, Egypt, Thailand and elsewhere. These were in addition to the major programs you and Anna had launched in the U.S. and Europe.
 
“After only a few years, you promoted me to be the youngest program officer in the Foundation and allowed me to run the reproductive biology and contraceptive development program, the largest in the world. You gave me a chance. 
 
“One day, you gave me a letter from a grantee who had invented an IUD and wanted advice on patenting. You asked me to address this issue about which I knew absolutely nothing. As a result of work with Sheila McClain, the Ford Foundation became the first donor in any field to develop an intellectual property rights policy for the benefit of the poor. This policy became the model for many other organizations, including USAID and WHO. 
 
“You encouraged me to work with Gordon Perkin on the founding of the Program for the Introduction and Adaptation of Contraceptive Technology (PIACT), which eventually became PATH. You arranged for me to lead these new efforts in the Philippines and Indonesia. This led to the founding of new local organizations still active today working on reproductive health. Also, PIACT Bangladesh was established. PATH regional offices were set up in Bangkok and Jakarta, which remain active to this day.
 
“After returning to PATH headquarters in Seattle, I worked with Gordon to launch the International Task Force for Hepatitis B Immunization, initiating a global effort leading to the availability of HepB vaccine in all developing countries, thus almost eliminating liver cancer as a cause of death.
 
“I left PATH to help launch, under the United Nations, the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, Korea. The IVI is now a full member of the global effort to combat vaccine preventable infectious diseases. 
 
“All of these things came from your vision and trust. 
 
“One of your greatest gifts to me was to teach me to write English. You carefully edited all my writing and one day you handed me a little book by Strunk and White, The Elements of Style. 
 
“I most remember your intellectual power, great modesty, personal dignity and trust in others while being one of the most influential and impactful people in global population efforts.
 
“The world is a much better place because of you.”
 
Mahoney later added, “Bud was very modest and self-effacing. He was reluctant to make speeches, and, when he did, he often began by saying something about some things he had done, like co-author a paper on family planning. He would say, ‘Those are my bona fides.’
 
“Of course, he needed no such bona fides. At the time, he controlled the largest philanthropic budget devoted to population in the world. Under his guidance, the Foundation, and other organizations influenced by him, had directed funding to many great initiatives that had accelerated global progress in population.”
 
Gordon Perkin, who worked in the population program from 1966 to 1980, also spoke at the funeral, saying:
 
“You sent us to Bangkok, where we worked on family planning and were able to set up one of the first midwife training programs for delivery of contraceptives. 
 
“Next you sent us to Ghana, where we followed Lyle Saunders and helped establish the first national family planning program in Sub Saharan Africa.
 
“Our next assignment, which you supported, was with the World Health Organization in Geneva. We helped establish the Human Reproduction Programne at WHO.
 
“Next you recommended us to Stan Nicholson, who was setting up a new Foundation office in Brazil. This was a regional position covering all of Latin America. We were able to establish the Latin America Program in Human Reproduction (PLAMIR), among other initiatives.
 
“Then onto Mexico, where we were able to initiate PIACT with initial funding from your office. Today, PATH is a Seattle-based non-profit that works in 75 countries and has an annual budget of over $300 million. Having moved to Seattle, we led PATH through its initial growth years. 
 
“We then moved to the Gates Foundation, where we were able to convince Bill and Melinda to invest in Global Health. During our five years as Director of Global Health we were able to make 180 grants totaling over $3 billion.
 
“All of this is a part of your legacy.
 
“You were always supportive, encouraging and a great mentor. I learned much from your guidance and support. You were probably the most influential person in my life. I will be forever grateful.
 
“I hope I did not disappoint.”
 
Two members of the staff at the Rockefeller Archive Center sent a tribute to a man they knew professionally and personally. Pat Rosenfield, Consultant for Research and Education, and Rachel Wimpee, Historian and Project Director for Research and Education, wrote: 
 
“Each year, dozens of researchers encounter the name Oscar Harkavy via a vast collection of his papers at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC). As the repository for the Ford Foundation records, as well as LAFF’s and dozens of other third-sector organizations, the RAC preserves and makes available for research the Ford-related records that Bud Harkavy created over his multi-decade, groundbreaking career at the Ford Foundation. 
 
“What is unusual about those archives, however, was Bud’s willingness to have researchers from around the world interview him, to go beyond the paper trail. 
 
“Those interested in population, business education, urban development and more would have the unique opportunity to meet not only Bud, but Fran, whose involvement in and recollections of the Ford years continue to astound us. Several RAC researchers in the recent past were thrilled to talk with them both over the telephone and, on occasion, in person. 
 
“Bud’s contributions to the work of philanthropy profoundly changed fields and people's lives. After leaving Ford, Bud continued his work by telling the story of philanthropic involvement in population at that midcentury moment. 
 
“Bud crisply, and with characteristic modesty, wrote a remarkable book about the trajectory of foundation support for population, Curbing Population Growth, which offers a firm grasp of what building that new field of research entailed. Bud described how collaborations developed across the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the Population Council, and how together with grantees, they developed and strengthened the fields of demography, family planning and women's reproductive health services.
 
“While working on a multi-year Ford Foundation history project, we had the delightful privilege of visiting Bud and Fran, to spend an afternoon hearing Ford stories not always revealed in the paper trail. They hosted us to a delicious lunch and tirelessly answered our numerous questions about their colleagues and friends, for they had collected experiences that went back almost to the beginning of the Foundation’s modern international era. Their reminiscences and behind-the-scenes stories brought to life people like Rowan Gaither, Henry Heald, Paul Ylvisaker, McGeorge Bundy, Doug Ensminger, Wally Nielsen and many more.
 
“But that was not the first time Pat and Bud had crossed paths. Thanks to Michael Teitelbaum, Pat had the privilege of getting to know Bud in the late 1970s while she was working on environment and development issues at Resources for the Future. In 1978, as she was about to leave to start a new research program at the World Health Organization on social sciences and tropical diseases, Bud and Michael described to her the groundbreaking work of the Population and Development Fellowship Program, which was co-funded by Ford, Rockefeller and the Population Council, and all the terrific social science recipients in developing countries. 
 
“With an interest in furthering the interdisciplinary careers of their Fellows, Bud and Mike suggested that she might want to meet them as she traveled to start her new program. Thanks to Bud and Michael, Pat was able to tap into that network and move quickly to build her grants program. 
 
“Bud and Michael can thus also take credit for helping launch another interdisciplinary social science research program nurtured by the Population and Development Fellowship and applied to the field of health. 
 
“We see in the papers, and in the history of philanthropy, that the name Bud Harkavy looms large, as a creative philanthropic innovator and implementer of the twentieth century. Perhaps most important, however, we remember him as a kind and generous colleague and friend.”

 


Comments (1)

Emily Vargas-Baron 12/23/2019 2:55:14 PM
For Bud Harkavy I am delighted to read the eulogies regarding Bud’s many personal qualities and his great contributions to the Foundation’s Population Program. Somehow, though, no one mentioned his leadership in shepherding The Ford Foundation’s pioneering program called: Child Survival/Fair Start for Children (CS/FS). This unique early childhood survival and development program was created in the early 1980s. Previously, from 1972-1978 in the Ford Foundation Office for Colombia and Venezuela, we provided technical and financial support for the first experimental research project on early childhood intervention for children who were at high risk of developing delays and disabilities. This groundbreaking project was conducted in impoverished neighborhoods of Bogotá, Colombia. After leaving Bogotá in 1978, I used the Foundation’s leave taking gift of $12,000 and “lessons learned” from our research to Austin, TX and founded CEDEN, one the first early childhood intervention (ECI) programs in the US. This R&D center contributed to the 1986 authorization of the Federal ECI program entitled IDEA, Part C. CEDEN provided technical support to the Federal ECI program and several State ECI programs. In 2019, CEDEN, which is now called “Any Baby Can,” celebrated its 40th Anniversary. It has a $12 million annual budget, serves thousands of children and families in Central Texas, and provides technical support in other countries. Bud’s CS/FS also provided complementary funding for seven experimental early childhood programs in the US as well as programs in other world regions. His initiatives contributed directly to the publication of a volume on these seven CS/FS sites, including our CEDEN program. Furthermore, it led to the development of the international Child Survival movement, the global focus on early childhood development, and finally in more recent years, to support for the establishment of early childhood intervention programs in over 98 countries. Without Bud’s vision and international leadership, it would have taken several more years to bring about global support for early childhood development and early intervention. Bud was a deeply kind, empathetic, brilliant and dedicated person who enjoyed supporting and mentoring younger colleagues. I strongly believe that his leadership for child survival and early childhood development fully complemented his many contributions to the population program. We have now arrived at the “last mile stage” of child development where far greater investment is needed for early childhood intervention services to ensure ALL children of all abilities, income levels, ethnicities and genders will achieve their full potential. Bud understood these challenges and he convinced others to invest in children. In Bud’s honor, I would like to suggest that the Foundation assume, once again, the mantle of leadership for young children and families in low-income settings, and most especially in those countries that urgently need considerably more technical and developmental support to improve child development. Emily Vargas-Baron Director, RISE Institute Washington, DC

 

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