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  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development
Lori Leonard has been appointed the inaugural chair of the Department of Global Development, effective January 1, 2021.

Launched at the start of this year, Global Development draws on the expertise of more than 60 researchers engaging on issues ranging from agricultural production and gender and wealth inequality to environmental sustainability and climate change. An executive committee has steered the initial phase of the new department. Leonard will join the executive team until her five-year term begins.

“Lori is an inspiring leader, accomplished scholar, and innovator who is dedicated to delivering social impact in New York and around the world,” said Max J. Pfeffer, executive dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor of global development. “This department brings together scholars, practitioners, staff, fellows and students to address directly humanity’s biggest challenges. Lori’s scholarship and engaged social activities are ideal representations of our collective mission, and she is the right person to lead this new department forward.”

Leonard joined Cornell in 2014 and has been an active scholar in the study of gender and development, the ethnographic study of natural resources, especially oil in sub-Saharan Africa, and the sociology of waste. From 2016-2019 she directed the Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Institute for Global Development. Currently she is director of the MPS degree program in Global Development, the director for undergraduate studies for the development sociology major, and faculty-in-residence on north campus.

Global Development has two majors with nearly 200 undergraduate students exploring topics of international agriculture, rural development and development sociology. As director for undergraduate studies for development sociology since 2019, she has worked to strengthen advising practices, build community among new students, and recognize student engagement on and off campus.  

A new Global Development major is under review by New York state education officials. The comprehensive major will emphasize engaged learning opportunities with pillars in the studies of agriculture and food systems, environment and development, and social and economic development.  Leonard co-chaired the committee that designed the proposed curriculum for the new major, which is anticipated to welcome its first class in 2022.

 “With so much uncertainty and turmoil around the world, we are seeing the role Global Development can play in generating useful knowledge about these complex and transdisciplinary challenges and in delivering solutions at home and abroad,” Leonard said.

“I am thrilled to continue the department’s early momentum and to advocate for innovative ways that bring our full intellectual and scientific might to make a difference in the world.”

As a scholar she has mainly focused on social and environmental issues in New York state and across Africa. She has examined the effects of a wide range of improvement projects on everyday life, ranging from an oil pipeline in Chad to public health interventions in the U.S. to stem the spread of HIV. Gender research has been interwoven into most of her work, and insights from her research have informed development practices across the world.

She has been a scholar in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy and at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. She has twice been the recipient of a J. William Fulbright Fellowship. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, amfAR, state agencies and private foundations. She is a member of the graduate fields of Global Development, Development Sociology, and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Cornell.

Faculty spotlight

Lori Leonard


  • Sc.D./1996, Harvard University, Health & Social Behavior and Population & International Health
  • M.S./1992, Harvard University, Health & Social Behavior
  • B.A./1985, St. Olaf College, English Literature and Psychology


Lori Leonard's current research focuses on the social and environmental implications of consumption, disposability, and the global circulation of used and secondhand things.

Professor instructing student about compost

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