History
Our Mission

The Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence and innovation in governance and public policy through research, education, and public discussion.

Three major programs support our mission:

  • The Program on Democratic Governance researches those practices that resolve urgent social problems in developed and developing societies
  • The Innovations in Government Program recognizes and promotes creative and effective problem solving by governments and citizens
  • The Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia promotes research and training on Asia to disseminate best practices and improve public policy

Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia Established
On January 1, 2010, the permanently endowed Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia was established to bring together academics and practitioners from around the world to enhance research, teaching, and training on public policy and governance issues of critical importance in Asia. Both the Institute and a newly created Harvard Kennedy School Indonesia Program are housed within the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, formerly called the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Asia Programs Joins the Ash Center
Under the leadership of Ash Center Director Anthony Saich, Asia Programs (now Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia) joined the Center in July 2008. The expanded Center leverages the strengths of both organizations in the areas of faculty research, executive education, and student support. Asia Programs is a school-wide initiative integrating Asia-related activities, joined the Ash Center in July 2008.

Leading Center for the Study of Democratic Governance
In November of 2008, Harvard Kennedy School announced an ambitious new initiative linking innovative governance to the world’s major social challenges. Under the new plan, the Ash Center realigned its mission to focus on the study, teaching, and dissemination of solutions to real world problems facing democratic governance. “Under this new initiative, the Kennedy School will deploy the considerable resources of the Ash Center to learning and teaching how processes of governance can be adapted to solve key social problems both in ‘mature’ democracies and in societies undergoing democratic transitions,” said David T. Ellwood, dean of Harvard Kennedy School.

The Ash Institute’s Origins

The Roy and Lila Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, now the Ash Center, was established in 2003 to address critical issues of governance and make governments more effective and responsive.

The Center owes its origin to two great visionaries: Susan Berresford, the former president of the Ford Foundation, and Roy Ash, a cabinet member in two U.S. government administrations who was best known as the founder of the modern Office of Management and Budget.

Celebrating Government Innovation
Berresford noted that among the millions of people engaged in governance activities, there were many who, although unnoticed, were striving to improve the performance and effectiveness of the government. To counter declining faith in government, it was necessary to spotlight, celebrate, and replicate these numerous innovative government programs in the U.S. and worldwide.

“Creative solutions for public problems abound in government at all levels,” said Susan Berresford. That has been amply demonstrated by the Innovations Awards in the United States and is increasingly apparent in other societies around the world.”

With a grant from the Ford Foundation, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University launched the Innovations in American Government Awards in 1985.

Ford Foundation Endowment
In April of 2001, the Ford Foundation announced a $50 million endowment grant to Harvard Kennedy School. As the largest single donation HKS has ever received and the largest single endowment ever made by the Ford Foundation at that time, the grant heralded the success of the Innovations in American Government Awards Program.

Benefactors Roy and Lila Ash Establish Ash Center
In 2003, an extraordinary gift from two extraordinary people allowed HKS to enhance the Innovations Program by emphasizing the connection between innovation and democratic governance. The benefactors, Roy and Lila Ash, have dedicated their lives to serving the public good in both business and government, as well as through extensive volunteer and philanthropic endeavors.

Roy Ash argued that while considerable scholarly attention was being applied to the questions of governance in the government, most of the work related to specific public policy and current programmatic issues. He called for an application of concentrated scholarly attention to the very nature of democracy, and with his wife, Lila, provided a generous endowment to establish the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

“We have to consider the concept of democracy fragile and in need of real and constant hands-on care,” said Roy Ash. “The purpose of the Institute [now Ash Center] is to encourage thoughtful and focused attention to the nature, principles, functioning, and continued innovation and adaptations essential to a living and effective democracy.”