University of Pittsburgh: Tackling Global Issues by Engaging Communities

Jennifer Murtazashvili began her career in the Peace Corps. For the last 20 years, including the last decade at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), she has carried the lessons she learned during her service and has continued to look at global problems from a community perspective.

Murtazashvili will now continue this work within Pitt’s new Center for Governance and Markets, which was launched this fall. “Our goal is to be a global hub for scholars who are trying to understand why certain problems exist, and how people in their own communities, representing their own interests, come together to solve the challenges facing them,” Murtazashvili explained.

The center, housed in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), will provide “a space to discuss a diverse set” of ideas and public policy issues, including international affairs; economic institutions and property rights; governance; and emerging technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrency. Its goal is “to bridge the gap between theory and real-world problems through active community engagement.”

Students will be an integral part of the work. Undergraduate and graduate students who are engaged with the center will have the opportunity to conduct on the ground research with scholars across the globe. They will learn through experience, just as Murtazashvili did as a Peace Corps volunteer. In addition to hands-on field research, the center will support postdoctoral and graduate student fellowships, conferences, workshops, and publications. Center affiliates will include faculty from GSPIA, Pitt’s School of Computing and Information, the School of Law, and the departments of economics, political science, and sociology in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Ilia Murtazashvili, associate professor within GSPIA, and Martin Weiss, a professor in the School Of Computing And Information, will serve as the center’s associate directors.

A Pittsburgh native, Murtazashvili grew up going to the Tree of Life synagogue, which was targeted by a shooter in October 2018. She says the tragedy in her own community gave her greater resolve to create a space that brings together diverse perspectives to work on seemingly insurmountable issues. She hopes the challenges and solutions the center will examine will impact her neighbors and “individuals living everywhere from the Rust Belt to Afghanistan.”

“Our mission is to explore diverse ideas and produce rigorous research on the impact of governance institutions, markets and technology on peaceful coexistence, freedom and well-being,” said Murtazashvili. “That understanding cannot be gained at a distance. We’ll be engaging partners in Pittsburgh and around the world to learn from and with communities.”

The Center for Governance and Markets is supported by a $4.2 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. Ryan Stowers, Executive Director at the Charles Koch Foundation, shared his excitement for the school’s announcement, “Pitt’s new center provides a critical forum for analysis, reflection, and debate on issues related to rapid social and technological innovation that can be applied to improve access to opportunity for all people.”

Read the University of Pittsburgh’s announcement here, and view the grant agreement here.

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