Don Leonard is an Assistant Professor of Practice at the Knowlton School and the Center for Latin American Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in Government from Cornell University as well as a Masters in Regional Development from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. From 2013-2014 he was a Niehaus Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs. Between 2014-2016 he was a research fellow at Tulane University in the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research.
His research focuses on how the forces of globalization affect development outcomes in Latin America and across the global south. Leonard is currently completing a book project that examines how exposure to international trade altered the development of Latin American states by incentivizing public infrastructure investment and industrialization. When an earlier era of globalization that lasted from roughly 1870 until 1914 exposed the agrarian societies of Latin America to international trade, this trade provided the basis for an expansion of the middle sector of the income distribution. Where agrarian societies like the Dominican Republic were exposed to greater trade, members of this middle sector became a crucial source of political pressure for public infrastructure investment and industrialization during the 1930s when the international trade regime collapsed. In countries like neighboring Haiti that were less exposed to trade during the 1800s, they never developed a substantial middle sector of society before the trade crisis of the 1930s. Consequently, they failed to make the kinds of investments in public infrastructure that would have supported industrialization.
Current research explores public infrastructure provision at the local level by examining the performance of Latin American municipalities in the execution of their annual budgets. Preliminary findings based on a statistical analysis of 312 local governments in Bolivia—South America’s poorest economy—identify conditions under which international non-governmental organizations (iNGOs) can be an effective catalyst for improved municipal government performance. In particular, the findings highlight the importance of civil society organization (CSO) strength at the local level for holding both municipal governments and iNGOs accountable.
Leonard has presented this research at annual meetings of the International Studies Association, the American Political Science Association, and the Latin American Studies Association. He has also served as a reviewer for the journal publications World Politics, Comparative Politics, and Comparative Political Studies.