Michael Carter and Gary May
Michael Carter (left) accepts the 2022 Chancellor's Award for International Engagement from UC Davis chancellor Gary May on March 9, 2023. Photo credit: TJ Ushing / UC Davis

MRR Innovation Lab Director Honored at UC Davis for International Engagement

MRR Innovation Lab director Michael Carter accepted the 2022 Chancellor’s Award for International Engagement at UC Davis at a ceremony hosted by UC Davis Global Affairs on March 9, 2023.

The award recognizes Carter’s contribution to international engagement, from his research and outreach on poverty reduction and food security to his teaching with UC Davis students at the starts of their research careers. This annual award is given to honor exceptional international engagement by UC Davis faculty and staff in carrying out the university’s mission of teaching, research and outreach.

“Michael is dedicated to building strategies to address poverty in low-income countries,” said UC Davis chancellor Gary May as he introduced Carter’s award. “Through these efforts he has touched the lives of students and scholars at UC Davis and throughout the developing world.”

Carter, a distinguished professor of agricultural and resource economics, has spent decades developing and testing ways to create opportunities for rural families in least-developed countries. With his colleague Chris Barrett, an economist at Cornell University, Carter developed a model of poverty traps in low-income countries that has become a foundational concept that explains why some families stay poor.

“The risk of environmental disasters like drought makes people poor and it also keeps them poor,” said Carter. “It changes how people make decisions about productivity because they can’t afford to take risks on more productive but also more expensive inputs because it may put them in the worst position in the event of a disaster.”

Carter and Barrett built upon this work with colleagues from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya to develop the first index insurance contract using satellite-based measures of vegetation. This innovation made it possible to offer low-cost insurance to people in the driest parts of Kenya who can use the insurance payouts to keep their livestock alive when there is no forage.

Today, Carter continues to try new approaches that give rural families ways to secure their futures and even achieve prosperity. These include bundling credit, savings accounts and insurance to meet the changing needs of rural families. It also includes Family Insurance, which provides women in the driest parts of Kenya an independent means to supporting their families in a drought.

In addition to leading the MRR Innovation Lab, Carter is director of the Resilience+ Innovation Facility, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He is also director of the Quality Insurance Certification (QUIIC) initiative, which was established at UC Davis with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Carter’s nominators for the award wrote, “Through excellence in research, service and teaching, he has brought the world to students and colleagues at UC Davis and inspired them to explore it and has brought the best of what UC Davis has to offer to confront one of the world’s most important challenges, global poverty reduction.”

Also awarded the 2022 Chancellor’s Award for International Engagement was Jennifer Chow, associate director of student support in the Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs. Chow has been central to the campus support provided to international students and their families, including her work to address difficult situations and tragedies while maintaining cultural sensitivity.

Also honored at the ceremony were Jaimey Fisher and David Masiel, who received the Excellence in Teaching of Study Abroad Award. This award recognizes UC Davis instructors who go above and beyond in designing and teaching in UC Davis Study Abroad programs.

Learn more about the UC Davis Chancellor's Award for International Engagement.