“Land is the chief source of livelihood for a majority of the world’s poor. And when the legal system is used to provide the poor with assured access and long-term rights to even a small portion of land, it can make a huge difference to their household’s income, security, and status.”

Roy Prosterman, Founder and Chair Emeritus of Landesa

About Roy Prosterman

Roy Prosterman founded Landesa (formerly known as Rural Development Institute) in 1967 to institutionalize the work he began in the mid-1960s: to fight rural landlessness, one of the chief structural causes of global poverty. With passion and professionalism, Prosterman attracted a small team that shared his vision and commitment. Landesa works to secure land rights for the world’s poorest people. Landesa partners with developing country governments to design and implement laws, policies, and programs that provide opportunity, further economic growth, and promote social justice.

Roy Prosterman is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served on the Harvard Law Review board of editors. He joined the faculty of the University of Washington Law School in 1965 and was named the first John and Marguerite Walker Corbally Professor in Public Service in 1991. He has been director of the law school’s post-doctoral program in Law of Sustainable International Development. Prosterman has received many awards and distinctions in addition to the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, including the 2003 Gleitsman International Activist Award and a Schwab Foundation Outstanding Global Social Entrepreneur. He has also been nominated for The World Food Prize, Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, and Alcan Prize for Sustainability.

Current Operations of Landesa

As a result of Prosterman’s leadership, Landesa has become an effective advocate for international land law and policy reform. Based in Seattle, with field offices in China, India, and Indonesia, Landesa has attorneys and staff working with the governments of 40 developing nations, foreign aid agencies, and other partners to design and implement fundamental legal, policy and programmatic reforms to help the world’s rural poor.

Described by a nominator as a “worldwide champion of land rights for the world’s poor,” Roy Prosterman’s leadership of Landesa has included work in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. Through a comprehensive understanding of rural land issues and the interaction among financial, land, and labor markets the work of Roy Prosterman and Landesa has resulted in more than 100 million families’ gaining ownership or ownership-related rights to more than 270 million acres of land.

The current major initiatives of Landesa include:

  • Global Homesteads Program: Collaborating with Indian and Indonesian policymakers to endow the extremely poor with land, with the potential to help hundreds of millions around the globe;
  • Women and Land: Supporting women’s efforts in developing nations by enhancing their rights to rural land and their ability to control income generated by that land;
  • Legal Aid: Helping fledgling landowners in the newly privatized farmlands of the former Soviet Republics;
  • Post-Conflict Land Dispute Resolution: Serving as land-law advisor in Rwanda and Angola;
  • Bringing Dead Capital Back to Life: Advising the government of China as it undertakes what may be the most extensive property rights reform in history;
  • Global Advisor to Foreign Aid Donors: Carrying out rural land tenure assignments around the world on behalf of clients including World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Approach and Distinguishing Features

Landesa is distinctive for many reasons, one of which is the extent to which it has stayed focused on its mission of securing land rights for the world’s poorest people. Since 1967, Landesa has helped more than 100 million poor families in 35 countries gain legal control over their land. In January 2015, Landesa ranked #14 on the Top 100 NGOs in the world list compiled by Global Geneva, a leading philanthropic consulting firm specializing in international development, global health, and poverty solutions.


Kravis Prize in Nonprofit Leadership

2006 Recipient

Roy Prosterman (Landesa) Photos

Roy Prosterman Award Ceremony