Social Enterprise: Landesa (formerly Rural Development Institute)
Social Entrepreneur(s): Roy L. Prosterman, Tim Hanstad
Sector(s): Rural Development, Land and Property Rights, Poverty Alleviation
Location(s): US, China, India, Russia, Africa
Intervene at the policy level for large-scale structural impact.
The Innovation Explained
Landesa works to protect the legal land rights of the poor, especially in rural areas and its innovation is manifested in how it effectively engages governments. “Given the enormity of the land rights problem, it needs a structural solution,” said Tim Hanstad. “Government is the provider, guarantor and defender of land rights, so our approach is to partner with governments to help build a legal framework for property rights.”
In each country where it works, Landesa serves as a bridge between policy-makers and poor farm families, consulting with a wide range of stakeholders and then designing enforceable and politically viable land reforms. “The bulk of our research is out in the field, talking to farmers,” said Hanstad. “But we also spend a lot of time with government officials to build trust and establish a productive working relationship. Our goal is to try to understand what they want to accomplish – not in terms of land rights, because they often don’t think about poverty in that way – but in terms of poverty alleviation and rural development.”
Landesa combines its research on local conditions with its deep expertise on global best practices to make recommendations on improved laws and procedures for land rights, which it presents to government officials. The organization’s role then shifts into advocacy and implementation as governments ratify new laws or endorse pilot initiatives. For example, the Chinese government began guaranteeing all farmers 30-year land rights influenced in part by Landesa’s recommendations, and the organization continues to advise the government on registration and due process in expropriation cases. And in India, Landesa helped design a US$ 200 million government initiative to provide 2 million landless families with “micro-plots” of land totalling 1/10 of an acre.
Over the last four decades, Landesa has helped secure land rights for more than 105 million families in over 45 countries.
Why This Matters
Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas where land is a crucial asset and a primary source of income, security, opportunity and status. Of those people, more than 1 billion lack the legal rights over the land that serves as their source of food, status and income. Studies indicate that land ownership not only boosts agricultural productivity in the developing world, but is also directly linked with improved health, nutrition and school enrolment outcomes.
Landesa’s model is widely applicable beyond land reform. “Social enterprises and NGOs tend to start with a direct service model, and only when they get stuck on policy constraints do they start to think about policy,” said Hanstad. “But often leveraging policy tools can be the most impactful tactic from the start, and our four-step approach of research-design-advocate-implement is highly replicable.”
Be pragmatic and not ideological in your approach. Do not enter with any presupposed solutions in mind. “We are very pragmatic and not ideological, which is what distinguishes us from a lot of local partners and NGOs,” said Hanstad. “Rather than impose your values and beliefs on what others need, be humble about what you think you know and recognize you don’t have all the answers. Every setting and every situation is different. Being a lifetime learner and looking at every person you meet as an opportunity to learn is critically important.”
Consider policy as a starting point. “More social entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations should think about policy not as an afterthought, but rather something they consider from the beginning,” said Tim Hanstad. “Often leveraging tools of policy can be the most impactful ways for a social entrepreneur to start.”