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RTI Stories

RTI Earns the “International” in its Name

A small project in Nigeria ushers in six decades of global research

Although it wasn't yet an official part of its name, RTI first earned the descriptor "international" In the fall of 1961, when the institute undertook its first overseas project in Nigeria, devoted to agricultural statistics (two years would pass before its second international project, again in Nigeria). It's a much different story today, with hundreds of diverse projects spanning the globe in dozens of developing countries, ranging from Indonesia to Nepal to Madagascar.

As it was throughout the 1960s and 1970s, RTI's international work is predicated on helping governments in developing nations build governing infrastructures; improve water quality, energy efficiency, agricultural production, sanitation, pollution, literacy, and health care; and optimize the allocation of resources. As diverse as it is, this work is closely aligned with the institute's mission of improving the human condition and turning knowledge into practice.

RTI does much of its work for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), whose primary objective is to assist developing countries while furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives. Other clients include the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations, and governments of developing countries. For example, RTI was a founding member of the USAID consortium called Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), dispatching researchers to developing countries to analyze their water and sanitation problems and train local technicians in remediation tactics.

Some early international projects of RTI included helping the government of Morocco plan and carry out measures to address malnutrition and, in the 1970s, assisting the fast-growing city of Tamale, Ghana, in executing plans for better health care services, roads, drainage ditches, and other infrastructure. "Ghana was rapidly urbanizing, which caused increased demand on services like sewers, water, and streets," explains project lead Jim McCullough.

RTI's international projects proliferated in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, running the gamut from developing a research and development center devoted to solar, wind, and hydroelectric power in northern Africa to helping the central ministries of Indonesia craft national laws facilitating local-level governance. Dan Goetz, who joined RTI's Office for International Programs (OIP) in 1983, recalls his first USAID-funded project to create a property-tax system for local governments in Tunisia, "something that would make it possible for Tunisian towns to no longer hand-copy their tax rolls but actually start managing data." A small improvement, it may seem, but one that helped this struggling African nation get its finances in order and proved to be of immense benefit to its citizens.