The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University is pleased to announce that the Summer Fellows Program hosted by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) is becoming the Fisher Family Summer Fellows Program on Democracy and Development, effective March 31. To date, it has been known as the Draper Hills Summer Fellows Program.
The new name reflects a generous gift from the Fisher family – Sakurako (Sako), ‘82, and William (Bill), MBA ‘84 – that secures the future of this important and impactful program.
“The Summer Fellows Program is a natural way to invest in the international community,” said Sako Fisher, who serves as a member of the university’s board of trustees. “Creating networks across cultures and investing in educational opportunities that empower people to build something together are fundamental to our family ethos.”
Launched in 2005, the Summer Fellows Program brings together an annual cohort of approximately 30 mid-career practitioners from countries in political transition who are working to advance democratic practices and enact economic and legal reform. With the previous support of Bill Draper and the late Phyllis Draper, and Ingrid Hills, the program has grown through the years into a robust network of nearly 500 alumni representing 97 countries.
For three weeks each summer, a new cohort of fellows arrives on Stanford’s campus to attend classes and workshops under the direction of faculty at CDDRL and the Freeman Spogli Institute. The experience offers participants not only the opportunity to learn from the FSI community, but from one another’s experiences.
“We try to provide a mixture of practical skills, networking tools and a stronger intellectual foundation so they can think about their future careers to determine the most strategically impactful way they can behave and act in the present,” explained Francis Fukuyama, the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI and a longtime contributor to the Summer Fellows Program. "The program makes a tangible contribution to the building of democratic institutions around the world, and I am grateful to the Fishers for their support in making sure this will continue for many years to come."
The Fishers have a history of dedication to educational programs at FSI and CDDRL. The Fisher Family Honors Program at CDDRL provides Stanford seniors from different majors and schools with the opportunity to carry out original, policy-relevant research on topics concerning democracy, development, and rule of law and meet personally with high-level policy professionals and government officials. After writing a thesis paper, they graduate in their majors with honors in Democracy, Development and Rule of Law.
“I am deeply grateful for this incredible gift. The Summer Fellows Program truly epitomizes what we do at CDDRL in bridging theories of positive political and economic change to the practice of actually doing so,” said Kathryn Stoner, Mosbacher Director of CDDRL. "The Fishers’ generous support is transformational, not only to the lives and work of our future Fisher Family Summer Fellows, but also to the global alumni network of activists and policymakers who have passed through this program over the last 18 years and to the broader Stanford community who will benefit from interacting with them in the years to come.”
With their endowment of the Summer Fellows Program, the Fishers hope to support positive policy solutions by providing an intellectual space where honors students, FSI’s graduate students, and the summer fellows can continue to make connections and build bridges with one another. For Sako Fisher, a first-generation immigrant to the United States, building these bridges is particularly meaningful.
“These fellows are ripples in a pond,” she said. “What starts here at Stanford grows and spreads, and the impact of these connections is amplified all over the world.”
The opportunity for networking and connection-building are a fundamental part of the program’s success. Fellows come to the program from every corner of the globe, including most recently Armenia, Belarus, Brazil, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, India, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Lebanon, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Republic of Congo, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Ukraine, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
Though geographically diverse, the fellows share the common goals of the advancement of democracy, human rights, and civil liberties in their own countries.
“When fellows start to realize that the challenges they are facing are part of a global pattern, that changes the perspective,” said Larry Diamond, the Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at FSI and another core faculty advisor of the Summer Fellows Program. “You realize that your situation is not unique, and you can draw strength from this solidarity and the sharing of experiences.”
That network of support is empowering for fellows, who often leave their three weeks on campus with renewed commitment to tackle the challenges in their home countries.
“This program literally saved my life,” said Nicholas Opiyo, an internationally acclaimed civil liberties lawyer from Uganda.
When Opiyo arrived at Stanford in July 2016, the pressures and stress of his work advocating for human rights were pushing him not only to reconsider his career choice, but threatening his mental health. His time learning with other fellows and hearing their stories gave him the encouragement he needed to pick up and move forward with his work. He has since gone on to receive the Sakharou Fellows Prize from the European Union Parliament, the German Africa Prize, and the Human Rights Tulip Prize from the Dutch government.
The work of other summer fellows has similarly been recognized. In 2022, the Russian human rights organization Memorial was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties and the Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski. Memorial is an international human rights organization aimed at documenting past and present political repression in Russia and the former USSR. Two former fellows, Anna Dobrovolskaya (class of 2019) and Tonya Lokshina (class of 2005), were leaders in the non-profit until it was forced by the Russian government to close in 2021.
“The impact of the Summer Fellows Program is often a two-way street,” explained Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor in International Studies. Relationships with past fellows have helped shape his own work in important ways, he said. “This extraordinary gift by the Fisher family empowers changemakers abroad and directly inspires valuable new ideas and connections for faculty here on campus.”
The endowment of the program will ensure that these kinds of connections continue to form, and the impact of FSI and its fellows will continue to grow and deepen across the globe. The first cohort of Fisher Family Summer Fellows on Democracy and Development will arrive in July 2023, and Sako and Bill Fisher are already eager to meet them and hear their stories.
“This is an investment in the world,” the Fishers emphasized. “We truly believe that supporting these efforts to build connections across disciplines and across cultures is one of the most important things we can do, and working through Stanford and CDDRL is an incredible opportunity to further those goals.”