Faculty Research Profiles


Is it possible to have a meaningful career while also making a decent living? This is a question that Professor John Hammock has faced, and one that he is regularly asked by his students at The Fletcher School. As a graduate of Fletcher’s MALD and PhD programs, founder of the Feinstein International Famine Center and former Executive Director of prominent non-governmental organizations ACCION International and Oxfam America, it seems that Hammock has succeeded in doing just that. However, he is interested in exploring how other people have made personal life-changing decisions affecting their careers and life paths, and his current research explores this interest from several angles.

“I’m trying to get at individuals,” he says. “How do people make decisions in their lives, within the system, to make a difference?”

To this end, Hammock is currently working on a book entitled Practical Idealists: Changing the World and Getting Paid, published by Global Equity Initiative of Harvard University and distributed by Harvard University Press. The title will be on bookstands in August 2008. Drawing upon his private and professional experiences, the book is personal in tone and is intended to help idealists find a place in today’s working world. Along with sharing his own expertise in the book, Hammock is also conducting a series of interviews with people at crucial junctures in their lives—graduating from college, finishing graduate school, or entering retirement—to analyze how they decide to pursue work with meaning. He hopes to compile this information into another volume.

“There are key times you make decisions in your life about what you’re going to do in the future,” Hammock says. “People need role models to find out how they’re going to have meaning in their lives as well as make a living in a capitalist society.”

That society and its systems, Hammock feels, are poorly designed, and the aim of another project he is spearheading is to change the status quo. He is working on the creation of an ethics and development program at Fletcher, which will explore the role of ethics and values in designing human development and human security systems.

While his main research interest is at the personal level, he is working with Dr. Sabina Alkire, a noted ethics and economics scholar, who is working on the measurement of multidimensional poverty and human development at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, of which Hammock serves as the North American Director.

“It seems to me that if you want to make an impact in today’s world, you need to understand the economic system,” Hammock says. “Change comes about by influencing individuals, institutions and policymakers. You have to reach all three if you want to make an impact.”