As new director, Fukuyama discusses his vision for CDDRL


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Francis Fukuyama greets audience members after speaking at a public lecture in Burma. August 2015.
Photo credit: 
Yangon School of Political Science

On September 1, Francis Fukuyama became the fourth director of the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute. In his initial days as director, Fukuyama took a moment to reflect on his vision for CDDRL and some potential pathways to grow the Center’s research agenda and teaching mission. A leading scholar of political development, Fukuyama discusses how he can apply some of his own theories of governance to inform CDDRL’s research agenda, and how his favorite leadership moment - from a movie - defines his leadership style.  

What is your vision for CDDRL?

I think that it is important to build on what CDDRL has achieved up to this point. The Center is well known and respected around the world as one of the most important research programs into the development of democratic institutions. It's important to keep sight of that focus, and to expand it to other areas. For example, we recently took on the question of democracy in developed countries with the Program on American Politics in Comparative Perspective. High quality democracy can never be taken for granted, even in the Untied States, and it will face many challenges in the coming years from populism, immigration, and cultural conflict. The nature of authoritarian government is changing as well, as regimes learn from one another how to control technology and manipulate media.


Where are some areas where you would like to expand CDDRL’s reach?

Although CDDRL is primarily a research institution, we see education as an integral part of our mission and our research interests. I would like to build out from our existing practitioner-based programs like the Draper Hills Summer Fellows Program and the Leadership Academy for Development, with similar offerings for Stanford students. We want to teach theory that is useful and connected to practice, and help students get skills that will be useful to them as leaders who can shape events in the real world. We're already in the process of building a case library, and expanding the use of cases in our teaching.


What excites you the most about your new position?

We have a unique opportunity at Stanford to leverage the resources of a top university in the study of political institutions. CDDRL and FSI more broadly can make connections with researchers in public health, engineering, law, and the business school, as well as the substantial intellectual capacities in the broader region.

If we look inward, CDDRL has a great faculty and staff, one that brings together a huge number of different perspectives in stimulating ways. We've always had a strong pre-and postdoctoral program, and I, like many professors, find I learn more from my students than the reverse.


How will you bring your scholarship and focus on governance to your new position?

I think that many failings of democracies - both old and new - are related to their failure to perform. That is, we want to be free from tyranny and oppressive governments, but we also want our government to provide those basic public goods and services like public safety, education, health, and infrastructure. The study of democracy is not just about limiting government, but also making it more effective and capable. There have been protests against Lebanon's elected government in recent weeks for not being able to pick up the trash, or provide reliable electricity. So while knowing how to dispose of garbage or how to make customers pay for their electricity, so that there are revenues to build a reliable grid, do not at first seem like components of democracy, they actually are. Unfortunately, we academics have spent much more time and energy focusing on how to limit state power, rather than on how to make the exercise of that power more effective and in line with the demands of citizens. There has been a large volume of writing on the relationship between democracy and growth, but relatively little about how democracy relates to the quality of the state. So this constitutes a big research opportunity for the future.  


Are there any principles of state-building or public administration that can be applied to your role?

First of all, the very words "public administration" makes most people immediately fall asleep; so let's refer to the art of making governments deliver better public services and shape behavior in positive ways. Theorizing in this area has been dominated in recent years by economists who tend to focus, as economists do, on incentives and material motives. But they seldom take account of leadership and the kinds of moral incentives that are needed to make organizations function well - the kinds of motivations that make people want to stay late in the office or do their best even when other people aren't watching. It's always seemed to me that the same institution can perform better or worse with the same material resources depending on how the people in it see their common goals and objectives, and how they're able to work together on an informal basis. This is what's been called "social capital," and its important both in governments as in the most modest organization. So our social capital at CDDRL is something that I want to preserve and grow.


Which leader – living or dead – do you most identify with the most and how might you adapt their leadership style to your own?

I can’t think of a leader I identity with, but I can think of a favorite leadership moment. It is the one portrayed in the movie Invictus, when Nelson Mandela decides to put all his effort into supporting the South African national team, the Springboks, in the 1994 Rugby World Cup. Under Apartheid, rugby was the sport of white South Africans, while the blacks played soccer. The film portrays Mandela going up against the assembled African National Congress leadership, who want to withdraw support from the Springboks, saying it represented the racist old regime. Mandela argued instead that winning the World Cup should become a national goal for the new, multiracial, and democratic South Africa. He had to convince lots of skeptical whites as well that there is a place for them in the country. In the end, the Springboks were inspired to defeat the New Zealand All Blacks (with a great performance of their hakka war dance), and win the championship.

I can’t think of a single more brilliant example of nation-building. We typically think of nation-building as related to tangible things like the formation of armies and ministries that sit in buildings. But the more important dimension of nation-building has to do with identity, that is, belief in a single, overarching story around which citizens can unite. For better or worse, identity in the contemporary world is more often then not built around sports. I thought it was remarkable that Mandela, having spent all those decades in jail, would understand so clearly the importance of symbols, and spend his precious political capital on something that. We’ve had plenty of other recent examples of leaders in places like Iraq or Afghanistan who were completely blind to this dimension of leadership, or worse yet, saw leadership as an opportunity to pursue their own sectarian or personal advantage.

I suppose this applies in a small way to CDDRL as well. Even small organizations have identities that make them cohesive and guide their actions. CDDRL has been a center dedicated to understanding and promoting the development of accountable and law-based government around the world. We want to train students and build research programs with this in mind, and I think that one of the legacies of our past leaders has been the fact that everyone understands this.