For more than a decade, the South Asia Institute at Harvard University has funded faculty research and student study across the region, and built a global academic community committed to better understanding the unique challenges faced by these many countries and diverse populations. Ongoing academic and cultural exchanges in fields ranging from science and social science to the arts and humanities — incorporating experts from across Harvard — complement the 143 South Asia-related courses taught on campus this year alone.

On Wednesday, in an effort to ensure the institute’s important work continues with the capacity to sustainably support faculty, students, and collaborators, Lakshmi Mittal and his family announced a $25 million gift to establish an endowed fund for the institute. In recognition of the Mittal Foundation’s generosity, the center will be renamed the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute at Harvard University.

“International centers like the South Asia Institute at Harvard University serve as a vital conduit between the University and the world we study,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “The generous support from the Mittal family is a testament to both the important work being done by this community of scholars and students and the continuing impact it will have in the region.”

“South Asia has played a dynamic and influential role in the development of our world since the very first civilizations,” said Mittal, chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company. “Ensuring that we fully understand its history and unique dynamics is a critical enabler in helping to shape a successful future.”

Tiona Zuzul, D.B.A. ’14, conducted field research in Allahabad, India, during Kumbh Mela in 2013. Photo by Meenah Hewett
Tiona Zuzul, D.B.A. ’14, conducted field research in Allahabad, India, during Kumbh Mela in 2013. The work was in concert with research being done by Tarun Khanna, director of the South Asia Institute at Harvard University. Photo by Meenah Hewett

The Mittal family has long supported educational endeavors and public policy development in India as a means of positioning the country — and the region — for future success. This gift to Harvard aims to direct more resources to the challenges that these emerging economies face.

“As someone who was born in India, the long-term prosperity of India and its neighboring countries matters a great deal to me and my family,” Mittal added. “Harvard is one of the world’s greatest learning institutions, with a unique ability to facilitate dialogue and drive thinking and progress.”

Founded in 2003, the South Asia Initiative became a University-wide interdisciplinary institute in 2010 under the leadership of its current faculty director, Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School.

The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute serves as a nexus for Harvard’s engagement with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, as well as diaspora populations from these countries. The institute currently engages more than 250 faculty from a variety of disciplines across Harvard and peer institutions; provides annual funding for more than 50 students to participate in research, internships, and immersive language study; supports postdoctoral fellowships; hosts visiting artists at Harvard; sponsors lectures, conferences, and leadership training in the region and on campus; and works with government, academic, and civil society organizations in-region, especially through its local offices in India and Pakistan.

“We are so grateful for the Mittal family’s support and what it will enable us to learn and share — across the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities — and the many people and institutions it will allow us to engage,” said Khanna. “The world stands to benefit for generations from the work that these resources will generate.”

Mapping the Kumbh Mela

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In 2013, the Gazette examined Harvard’s sweeping interdisciplinary work at the Kumbh Mela, a religious gathering in India that creates the world’s largest pop-up city.