getting down to basics

Rural Development Institute (RDI)

The Rural Development Institute (RDI) is an international nonprofit organization working to end global poverty by helping to secure land rights for the world’s poorest. For more than 40 years, RDI has worked in more than 40 countries to help secure land rights for more than 400,000,000 people. Nominated for the Nobel Prize and other prestigious awards, RDI partners with governments, world leaders, NGOs, foundations, donor agencies such as the World Bank, USAID, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and others to design and implement land laws, policies and programs that provide opportunity, further economic growth and promote social justice.


RDI was founded by Professor Roy Prosterman, a Harvard Law School graduate who left his Wall Street career at Sullivan & Cromwell to teach at the University of Washington School of Law where he established the Law in Sustainable Development Program. Troubled by the escalating conflict in Vietnam, Prosterman recognized that secure land rights could provide the rural poor a place to grow food to feed their family and a foundation to raise themselves out of poverty without being forced to join the Viet Cong. His “land to the tiller” program led to a 30% increase in rice production, and an 80% decrease in Viet Cong recruitment.


Based in Seattle, RDI has field offices in Beijing, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; Delhi and Bangalore, India; a legal aid center in Russia and staff in Kigali, Rwanda.

RDI’s Work

RDI has worked in over 40 countries. Today, RDI works in China, India and post-conflict areas of Africa with a focus on women’s land rights. Women comprise over 50% of the world’s population, are responsible for 60-80% of the world’s food production and yet own less than 5% of the world’s titled land.

RDI’s “micro-land ownership” program in India and Pakistan provides landless families with a micro-plot as small as 1/10th of an acre on which they can build shelter, grow food to supplement the family diet and income, and raise livestock or start a micro-enterprise. Like the idea that started the “micro-credit” movement, “micro-land ownership” has the potential to provide opportunity for millions of the world’s poorest.

Awards and Honors

(2007) Finalist, Hilton Humanitarian Award, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

(2006) Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, Henry R. Kravis Institute in Leadership, Claremont McKenna College

(2003) Gleitsman International Award, Gleitsman Foundation

(2002) Outstanding Global Social Entrepreneur, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

(1996) Courageous Award, Washington State Bar Association

(1991) John and Marguerite Walker Corbally Professor in Public Service

(1993) International Citizen of the Year, Seattle International District Rotary

(1990) Outstanding Public Service Award, University of Washington

(1973) Ralph Bunche Award for Outstanding Contribution to World Peace through Law, Seattle-King County Bar Association.


“Forty years ago, Roy Prosterman was struck by the non-apparent truth that what keeps the world’s poorest people poor is their inability to own the land they work. Since then, he and RDI have shown what wonders can be wrought from a piece of land when the people who till it, own it.” - Bill Gates, Sr. • Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“The advice of the Rural Development Institute has been more valuable than any foreign technical advice I have received.” - Bekbolot Talgarbekov • Former Minister of Agriculture, Republic of Kyrgyzstan

“RDI’s valuable recommendations have aroused the attention of party and government leaders within China’s central government. . . . They have been extremely impressed by RDI’s unique work methods and focus on providing practical recommendations to existing problems.” - Chen Xiwen • Director, Rural Work Group State Council, Peoples Republic of China

“At the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, we boast that we have helped over 800,000,000 out of poverty; RDI alone has been responsible for half of those.” - Pamela Hartigan • Managing Director, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

External links


  • Andy Zieminski. “Saving Asia from the Ground Up.” The Washington Times, August 2007.
  • Kristi Heim. “Visionary’s cure for global poverty rooted in the land.” The Seattle Times, May 2006
  • Zhu Keliang and Roy Prosterman. "From Land Reform to Economic Boom." China Business Review, July-August 2006
  • Roy Prosterman. "The U.N.'s Empty Plan for Poverty." Far Eastern Economic Review, April 2005
  • Roy Prosterman and Tim Hanstad. "Getting down to basics in a fight for children's lives." The Seattle Times, December 22, 2004
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