Laurence Simon

Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

laurence simonI am a cultural geographer at the Heller School at Brandeis where I serve as the Professor of International Development and Director of the Center for Global Development and Sustainability. I’ve worked in many settings around the world including Central America, Southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, and South Asia. Earlier in my career I worked for Oxfam America, The World Bank and The United Nations Development Programme. I was the founding President and CEO of the American Jewish World Service which is today a leading human rights organization. I also partnered with Israeli scientists to adapt hermetic technology to safely store incoming grain shipments for humanitarian operations in Africa. That work led to my founding of GrainPro, Inc. – the leading manufacturer and distributor of hermetic technologies for durable grain and organic commodities such as coffee and cocoa. The importance of this work is that the storage is 100% pesticide-free with zero losses over long periods thus protecting the health of farm families and the ozone layer of the atmosphere. The hermetic storage technology was the first to meet the requirements of the Montreal Protocol to eliminate methyl bromide as a fumigant.

Human rights and ethical development policies and practices have been the thread that has run through my life’s work. Early on, I began to see problems of disenfranchisement and discrimination in all the countries in which I worked, including my own here in the US. In South Asia, caste discrimination and atrocities have plagued societies for over two thousand years. While Untouchability was outlawed in the Indian Constitution after independence, and while conditions have improved some, Dalits (a word Untouchables adopted and which means Broken or Oppressed People), are still largely poor and subjected to discrimination even to atrocities that would be all too familiar in the pre-civil rights southern states of our country. Caste is a belief that one is born into rigid caste categories due to their prior lives. To believe in Untouchability is to live without any notion of injustice.

Our Center for Global Development and Sustainability founded Brandeis’ first academic journal in cooperation with the Brandeis Library. The peer-reviewed open access journal is called CASTE: A Global Journal on Social Exclusion and advances scholarship into caste in South Asia and caste-like social formations in other cultural traditions.