The Kennedy School shield is embedded into the floor of the Taubman building


The mission of the Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is to develop ideas and foster practices for equal and inclusive, multi-racial and multi-ethnic democracy and self-government.

Our Values

The Ash Center believes that diverse perspectives are paramount to better understanding and addressing real-world problems. As a global community that brings together students, faculty, staff, and fellows, with practitioners and policymakers from around the world, we focus on advancing excellence in democracy and self-government. We are committed to fostering an environment of rigor, curiosity, and integrity. As a Center, we therefore value and respect different opinions, lived experiences, and diverse research and policy areas and approaches. We continue to strive for excellence while creating an equitable and inclusive community for all.

Harvard Kennedy School

The Ash Center is proud to be part of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Harvard Kennedy School’s mission is to improve public policy and leadership so people can live in societies that are more safe, free, just, and sustainably prosperous. By combining cutting-edge research, the teaching of outstanding students, and direct interaction with practitioners, we have an impact on solving public problems that no other institution can match.

Students and alumni of Harvard Kennedy School are showing their commitment to public service in their countries, states, cities, and tribal governments around the world.

Director Archon Fung

Archon Fung, Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government at Harvard Kennedy School, was appointed director of the Ash Center in July 2022. His research explores policies, practices, and institutional designs that deepen the quality of democratic governance with a focus on public participation, deliberation, and transparency. He has authored five books, four edited collections, and over fifty articles appearing in professional journals. He received two S.B.s — in philosophy and physics — and his Ph.D. in political science from MIT.


The Ash Center was established in 2003 as the Ash Institute to address critical issues of governance and make governments more effective and responsive. Its history begins with three great visionaries: Susan Berresford, former president of the Ford Foundation, and Roy and Lila Ash.

In 2001, the Ford Foundation announced a $50 million endowment gift to Harvard Kennedy School to permanently support activities focused on innovation and best practices in government. As the largest single donation HKS has ever received and the largest single endowment ever made by the Ford Foundation at that time, the grant heralded the importance of the work of what would become the Ash Center in generating powerful and bold new ideas to make government and democratic institutions more responsive, transparent, and effective.

Roy and Lila Ash

In 2003, an extraordinary gift from two extraordinary people allowed HKS to augment the Innovations in Government Program by underscoring the connections between innovation and democratic governance. The benefactors, Roy and Lila Ash, dedicated their lives to serving the public good in both business and government, as well as through extensive volunteer and philanthropic endeavors.

Roy Ash was a cabinet member in two US government administrations who was best known as the founder of the modern Office of Management and Budget. He argued that while considerable scholarly attention was being applied to the questions of governance in the government, most of that work related to specific public policy and current programmatic issues. Roy called for an application of concentrated scholarly attention to the very nature of democracy, and with his wife, Lila, provided a generous endowment to establish the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation. “We have to consider the concept of democracy fragile and in need of real and constant hands-on care,” said Roy Ash. “The purpose of the Institute [now Ash Center] is to encourage thoughtful and focused attention to the nature, principles, functioning, and continued innovation and adaptations essential to a living and effective democracy.”

Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia

In 2008, under the leadership of Ash Center then-Director Anthony Saich, the Asia Programs at HKS (now the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia) joined the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Two years later, the permanently endowed Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia was established as part of the Ash Center to bring together academics and practitioners from around the world to enhance research, teaching, and training on public policy and governance issues of critical importance in Asia.

The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

In 2016, Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School announced a collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies to create flagship Executive Education experiences and tailored supports focused on city leadership and city management. With a generous gift of $32 million, the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative was created and housed at the Ash Center to advance education about leadership and management in cities around the world. The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative was incubated for five years at the Ash Center, at which point through the generous support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the initiative developed into the newly established Bloomberg Center for Cities.

Project on Indigenous Governance and Development, Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Initiative

In 2019, the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, now known as the HKS Project on Indigenous Governance and Development joined the Center. The Project was founded in 1987 and works to understand and foster the conditions under which sustained, self-determined social and economic development is achieved among the US American Indian nations and Indigenous communities worldwide. Two years later, the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability (IARA) Project under the direction of Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad joined the Ash Center, where it continues its groundbreaking work using research and policy to promote antiracism as a core value and institutional norm.

Nonviolent Action Lab, Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation

In 2023, the Nonviolent Action Lab and Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation joined the Ash Center’s portfolio of flagship programs. Under the leadership of Erica Chenoweth, the Nonviolent Action Lab produces and disseminates up-to-date knowledge on nonviolent action, how it works, and global trends in success and failure. The Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation, led by Danielle Allen, researches and develops 21st-century governance innovations for healthy democracy.

Today, the Ash Center has grown into the premiere academic institution at Harvard for the study of and engagement with democracy and democratic governance in the United States and around the world.