Campus & Community

Gift launches Hefner China Fund

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Gift will expand and enhance Kennedy School’s China-related endeavors

Kennedy School of Government Dean David Ellwood has announced the establishment of the Hefner China Fund to support the work of the China Public Policy Program at the School. Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hefner III are giving $1 million to expand and enhance the School’s China-related endeavors, under the direction of the China Public Policy Program’s Faculty Chair Anthony Saich, Daewoo Professor of International Affairs. The Hefner China Fund will help to realize the shared aspirations of the Kennedy School and the Hefners for building ties between the United States and China and for helping China meet its public policy challenges.

The China Public Policy Program promotes public policy research and training, and builds ties between the United States and China through conferences, special training programs, and fellowships. China Public Policy Program Fellows have included former heads of state, government think-tank directors, corporate executives, senior military figures, national policy advisers, leading academics, and senior-level staff of international organizations. The Hefner China Fund will support new opportunities and enable “up-and-coming” officials to make a significant impact in the future.

‘This investment in such an important international program is extremely significant and valuable. I am pleased that we are working together in this new partnership.’

– David Ellwood,
Dean of the Kennedy School of Government

The Hefner China Fund will emphasize areas such as energy, culture, and foreign affairs, fields in which the Hefners have significant and long-standing interests and engagement. It will provide Ellwood and Saich the flexibility to enact a wide range of initiatives, and it will have an impact in many ongoing and potential programs.

The fund can:

  • Attract and enroll fellows whose unique profiles will enhance the program;
  • Initiate “track two” (unofficial) forms of dialogue among experts and officials;
  • Sponsor, organize, and convene conferences;
  • Undertake timely research projects and collaboration to give the Kennedy School and its faculty enhanced access to the region;
  • Establish and fund internships;
  • Fund travel in order to expand exchange with major universities and institutions in China and to introduce leading scholars from the region to Kennedy School faculty;
  • Support further Kennedy School case studies related to China and the challenges of China’s development.Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers said that he is delighted about the Hefners’ commitment to the Kennedy School and the gift’s place in the University’s China-related endeavors, which “compose an important part of our global efforts.”Summers observed, “The Hefner China Fund is a timely and valuable contribution that will greatly strengthen our work on China.”

    Ellwood, commenting on the substantive impact the gift will make, said, “This investment in such an important international program is extremely significant and valuable. I am pleased that we are working together in this new partnership.”

    Saich said, “The Kennedy School is the right place to do this work. We are excited to partner with Mr. and Mrs. Hefner to produce a first-rate program of which we will all be proud.”

    “This fund will allow us, through the Kennedy School, to participate in the building of long-term positive relations between America and China, a relationship we believe to be the defining global relationship of the 21st century,” the Hefners stated.

    For over two decades, Robert A. Hefner III has actively pursued his interest in China in the areas of energy, foreign affairs, and contemporary Chinese art ( In 1959, he founded The GHK Company to pioneer deep and ultradeep natural gas exploration and production. During the 1960s through the 1980s, GHK led in the development of technology necessary to successfully drill many of the world’s deepest and highest pressure natural gas wells. In the 1970s, Hefner was also a leader in the industry’s successful efforts to deregulate the price of natural gas. These technological and political accomplishments subsequently led to the development of vast new domestic deep natural gas resources. In 1997, he discovered one of America’s larger onshore natural gas fields. Hefner is a member of the Kennedy School Dean’s Council, is on the Council of Advisors at the National Geographic Society, is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London, and is a Fellow National in the Explorers Club.

    MeiLi Hefner was born in Singapore, of parents from Fujian and Guangdong, China. She has traveled and lived abroad extensively for much of her life. She specialized in hotel management and has worked at the Dorchester and the Berkeley in London, and the Grand Hyatt and the Mandarin in Singapore. She owned her own company for many years, specializing in global branding, marketing, communications, and design.

    The members of the Hefner China Fund Board are Robert and MeiLi Hefner, Dean David Ellwood, Professor Anthony Saich, and former Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye Jr.