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Helleiner, Gerald Karl
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Gerald Karl Helleiner was born in St. Polen, Austria on October 9, 1936, the third son of Karl Ferdinand Helleiner, the provincial archivist, and his wife, Grethe Deutsch. Gerald’s name was registered as “Gerhard”, changed in primary school in Canada to “Gerald”. After Anschluss in 1938, life became difficult for the family because Grethe was Jewish. Ordered to divorce her, Karl resolved to take his family out of Austria, first by sending his two eldest sons to England early in 1939. Karl left in August, followed by his wife and Gerald in August, on the last plane out of Vienna before the outbreak of war. With the help of Gert Ladner, an Austrian friend at the University of Toronto, and financial assistance from British and Canadian organizations, including the Society for the Protection of Learning at the U of T, the family arrived in Toronto on Christmas Eve, 1939.
Gerald attended Brown School on Avenue Road in Toronto and Oakwood Collegiate Institute, graduating from the latter in 1954, where he was valedictorian. He then “drifted onward…to Victoria College (“Vic”) at the University of Toronto because university study was expected of me and the cost of studying elsewhere would have been prohibitive.” He entered the four-year programme in Commerce and Finance, a concentrated programme in economics, but found many of the courses boring so switched in second year to political science and economics He also signed up with the University Naval Training Division, which meant he got to travel to Halifax, the Caribbean and Esquimault for two summers. He gained experience in student governance, first on the Vic student body, then as its representative to the university-wide Students’ Administrative Council and, finally, as a member of the External Relations Committee which gave him his first direct exposure to American politics. Before the beginning of fourth year, he married a fellow Vic student, Georgia Stirett.
During Helleiner’s summer job at the end of third year in Ottawa, he was encouraged to pursue graduate work in economics and to apply to Yale University. He was accepted there for the fall term in1958 and spent the better part of seven years in New Haven. A Woodrow Wilson Fellowship made going possible. He became immersed in international economics, macroeconomics, and enjoyed, in particular, Lloyd Reynolds’ seminar on “national economic organization”. By the fall of 1961 he had successfully defended his doctoral thesis. He was then given an assistant professorship in the newly-established Economic Growth Center which was at the frontier in development economics. Here he received his first exposure to Africa – in 1962-1963 he was seconded to Nigeria as a research associate at the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Ibadan where he also lectured in economics. Thus began his long and fruitful association with the application of development economics in Africa. In addition to his teaching duties at Yale, Helleiner gained administrative experience as director of undergraduate studies in economics. There was, however, no prospect for permanent employment there so, when he was offered a tenured associate professorship at the University of Toronto in 1965, he returned to Canada.
At the U of T, Professor Helleiner began by lecturing to fourth year (honours) students in international economics and graduate students in development. He was in Toronto only a year before leaving for Tanzania where, for the next two years, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, he was the first director of the Economic Research Bureau, “designed to produce policy-relevant studies in support of the newly independent government,” at University College, Dar es Salaam. His research was on matters of agricultural marketing pricing policies. This was the first of a number of academic positions that Professor Helleiner accepted outside the University of Toronto. In 1971-1972 he took a sabbatical leave as a visiting fellow at the newly created Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex. This marked the beginning of a long association with the Institute (he returned there for the summer of 1975 and for 1975-1976) that was reflected in his 1998-1999 participation in the international advisory committee that conducted an independent t review of development studies in the United Kingdom. In 1979 he was a visiting fellow at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford.
On his return to Toronto in 1968, Professor Helleiner was appointed director of a new diploma-level trainng program for East African civil servants. Over the following three years he annually organized the training of half-a-dozen African students, whom he selected in East Africa each year. He did not, however, recommend the continuation of the project because he did not see much benefit accruing to Tanzania.
Back in Toronto, he made a point of not accepting senior administrative posts but sat on a number of committees. For two years (1972-1974) he was director of the PhD program in economics, at a time when it faced serious problems, and he subsequently helped expand the University’s development studies programs through judicious hiring. He was actively involved in the discussions and controversies that led to the eventual breakup (in 1981) of the Department of Political Economy into its components: political science, economics, and commerce. He did not approve of the direction the new department, with its emphasis on economic theory, took: “Instead of imaginatively creating a uniquely diverse alternative programme, Toronto struggled to attract students to a third-rate conventional one.” Though matters did not improve in the ensuing years, the number of doctoral students in development economics increased steadily during the 1980s, with a consequent increase in Professor Helleiner’s supervisory duties (he supervised about half of those completed in economics in that decade). His students grew to resent the compulsory courses in economic theory and econometrics, the manner in which they were taught, and the belittling of their (the students) interest in development. This resulted in a flurry of internal memos as a review of the core PhD courses began in the fall of 1988, a review that did not stop “the juggernaut of overly emphasized compulsory course in economic theory” but did result in “some useful statements of departmental intention, and probably helped to improve the quality of the offerings in theory….” Professor Helleiner subsequently withdrew largely from the internal departmental wrangling, partly because, in the 1990s, he “faced enormous commitments outside the University – to the G24, IFRPI, WIDER, the North South Institute, and others.” He did, however, write the occasional strongly-worded and carefully argued memo when it seemed imperative to do so. He took early retirement in 1998 but maintains an office in the Munk Centre for Global Studies.
A significant amount of Professor Helliener’s work has occurred outside the confines of his departmental duties at the University of Toronto. From 1969 he was deeply involved “in attempts directly and personally to influence Canadian government policies…sometimes dealing directly with CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency], sometimes making presentations to parliamentary committees, writing to the media, or speaking to and strategizing with NGOs,” both at local groups and at international meetings. Family reasons dictated that he would not be working in Africa again for extended periods, so he shifted his focus “to developing expertise and making contributions with regard to Northern, and particularly Canadian, policies relating to developing countries…and towards intensified research and advocacy in the sphere of international economics. His relationships with senior bureaucrats and government ministers generally were often thorny, that with CIDA being a prime example.
Professor Helleiner’s curriculum vitae list his involvement with over forty professional posts. He had membership in many professional organizations and but accepted administrative positions in only a few. The first, in 1967, was vice-president of the Economic Society of Tanzania. In 1969 he was elected president of the Committee on African Studies in Canada. That year it co-sponsored the Montreal conference of the African Studies Association, a divisive event that led to the creation in 1971 of the Canadian Association of African Studies. Since 1978 he has been a member of the North-South Roundtable of the Society for International Development. From 1986 to 1989 he served as international representative of the Canadian Economics Association. Since 2003 he has chaired International Lawyers and Economists against Poverty (ILEAP).
He has devoted a lot of time to major research institutes, beginning with the North-South Institute, where he was deputy chair (1976-1990) and chair (1990-1992). From 1984 to 1990 he sat on the program advisory committee Overseas Development Council in Washington, DC. At the World Institute for Development Economics Research in Helsinki (WIDER), he was a member of its international advisory committee from 1986 to 1995; this led to a long consultancy contract and three of his major publications. He sat on the board of trustees of the International Food Policy Research Institute from 1988 to 1994 and was chair from 1990 to 1994. He was a member of the board of trustees of the Economic and Social Research Foundation of Tanzania from 1996 to 2001.
In the 1970s and the 1980s Professor Helleiner sat on or chaired numerous groups under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat, including study groups on the Common Fund (1977), Protectionism (1982), the International Financial and Trading System (1983); a team on the rehabilitation of Uganda (1979) and an advisory group on economic recovery for the government of Guyana (1988-1989). He had a long association with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) starting with expert groups on economic co-operation among developing countries (1975) and a new programme of action for less-developed countries (1980). In the 1980s he was a member of several United Nations advisory groups and committees and began an association with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The latter, for example, funded the Tanzania Advisory Group (1981-1982) and a symposium in Nairobi on the IMF and Africa that he chaired (1985). From 1989-1996 he was involved with the Brookings Institution project on the history of the World Bank. From 1991-1999 he was research co-ordinator for the Group of Twenty-four (G24), a developing country caucus in the IMF and the World Bank. From 2003 he has sat on the G24 Research Advisory Committee. In 1992-1993 he was a member of the Economic Policy Advisory Group of the Macroeconomic Research Group (MERG), South Africa. In 1994-1995 and periodically thereafter to 2000, he chaired a Group of Independent Advisers on Development Co-operation Issues between Tanzania and Its Aid Donors and later advised and monitored three consultative group meetings. From 1997 to 2003 he was a member of the executive board of the African Capacity-building Foundation based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Professor Helleiner’s involvement with the research institutes and governmental, quasi-governmental bodies, and non-governmental organizations often included research contracts and consultancies. In addition to the organizations mentioned above, others he worked for (the list is far from complete) included the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Development Authority in East Africa, the International Labour Office, the Institute for Research on Public Policy in Ottawa, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Brandt Commission, the University of the West Indies, and UNICEF.
Given his level of activism elsewhere, it is not surprising that Professor Helleiner agreed to sit on the editorial boards of academic and professional journals; the number of boards – 20 – is. The first was World Development; he joined in 1973 and is still a member. All have some connection to economics, social studies, development economics, or labour; of these, six focus on development studies. Another six journals focus on Africa, especially East and West Africa. Two are Canadian – International Journal and Canadian Foreign Policy, and one, Bangladesh Development Studies, demonstrates that his interest in development studies extends well beyond Africa.
Professor Helleiner is a prolific writer of articles, books, and book reviews, and much sought after as a speaker at conferences and other venues. He is the author or editor of 18 books, over 100 refereed articles and contributions to volumes, and even more non-refereed publications.
He has been the recipient of numerous honours, including three honorary degrees (Dalhousie University, University of the West Indies and University of Guelph), several fellows, and the Order of Canada. Dr. Helleiner and his wife live in Toronto.
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