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While a law professor at the University of Washington, Roy Prosterman, a Harvard Law School graduate who began his career practicing law on Wall Street, came upon a law review article that raised land confiscation as an acceptable tool for land reform in Latin America. The idea seemed to Professor Prosterman to be utterly dangerous.

He responded with his own law review article Land Reform in Latin America: How to Have a Revolution without a Revolution in which he urged democratic and market-friendly land reform which included full compensation for land acquisitions.

Professor Prosterman’s article garnered the attention of US government officials and others who saw the potential of his ideas – particularly for the escalating conflict in Vietnam. Professor Prosterman was called to testify before Congress and eventually recruited to carry out his ideas in Vietnam during the later part of the war.

His “land to the tiller” program in Vietnam, from 1970 to 1973, gave land rights to 1 million tenant farmers. Rice production increased 30 percent and Viet Cong recruitment dropped 80 percent. A New York Times article at the time called the land reform law Professor Prosterman authored “probably the most ambitious and progressive non-Communist land reform of the 20th Century.”

Soon requests from other countries poured in. Professor Prosterman and a loyal following of researchers and law students began travelling the world, working with governments to create pro-poor land laws and programs.

In 1981 Prosterman formally founded the world’s first non-governmental organization designed specifically for partnering with governments to extend land rights to the world’s poorest, then called the Rural Development Institute (RDI).

In 2004 Prosterman became RDI’s founder and CEO chair emeritus as Tim Hanstad – a long-time colleague and seasoned land specialist – became our second CEO and president.

In 2009 we established the world’s first Center for Women’s Land Rights.

In 2010, our name changed to Landesa, which links the ideals of “land” and “destiny.”

Today, 45 years after Prosterman stood in the rice fields of Vietnam, Landesa has worked in more than 50 countries, and has offices in the US, China, and India. Our staff numbers more than 100.

Landesa is sought after by foreign governments, foreign aid agencies and NGOs alike to help accelerate land rights in order to promote economic prosperity and build a better world for this and future generations.