The first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics is a researcher for a Virginia Tech-managed international program. Elinor Ostrom has won a share of the 2009 prize based on her work on how community institutions can prevent conflict.

The 40th Nobel Prize goes to Ostrom, a researcher for the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP), managed by Virginia Tech’s Office of International Research, Education and Development. Ostrom shares the $1.4 million prize with Oliver Williamson, a professor in the graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley.

In announcing the award today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Ostrom “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.” Ostrom is the principal investigator for SANREM CRSP on how government policy reforms do not automatically translate into new property rights for forest users or show clear benefits to the environment.

“SANREM CRSP has been fortunate to have her on its research team,” said Program Director Theo Dillaha. “Her work in Uganda, Kenya, Mexico and Bolivia on how government policy reforms such as decentralization affect forest sustainability and forest users has been groundbreaking.”

A professor of political science at Indiana University and founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University, the 76-year-old Ostrom is part of a team that works on one of SANREM CRSP’s five long-term research projects.

Ostrom’s research centers on how communities manage their common lands and natural resources including pastures, lakes and forests. Although in recent decades the approach has been to regulate or limit the use of such resources or privatize them, Ostrom’s studies found that common property often is well managed by the people who use it.

"Bureaucrats sometimes do not have the correct information, while citizens and users of resources do," Ostrom said by phone at the press conference announcing her award.

The Nobel committee cited Williamson "for his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm." Williamson's work examines why large corporations tend to develop -- and why they do not -- based on the cost and complexity of transactions, the Nobel committee said.

“Virginia Tech is thrilled to learn Dr. Ostrom is the first woman recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics,” said S.K. De Datta, associate vice president for international affairs at Virginia Tech, director of university’s Office of International Research, Education and Development, and administrative principal investigator for the SANREM CRSP program. “We are proud to have her as a researcher.”

SANREM CRSP is a $27 million, 10-year initiative led by Virginia Tech and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program conducts applied research to develop knowledge and tools that promote environmentally sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. This research drives decision making by natural resource managers and trains future agricultural leaders in developing countries.

SANREM CRSP also supports partnerships among scientists in the United States and in developing countries focused on increasing food security and managing natural resources, reducing poverty, and empowering women and other underrepresented groups. Indiana University is one of 17 U.S. universities with which SANREM has partnerships.

This story was written by Deanne Estrada.

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