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Honors Research Project Examines Foreign Aid Effectiveness


When Raji Shivshanker ’09 participated in the LMU Undergraduate Research Symposium last March, she presented findings about one of the world’s most pressing problems: the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

A political science major, Shivshanker studied the effectiveness of a U.S. foreign aid HIV prevention program called PEPFAR. Launched in 2003, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief provides up to $48 billion to combat HIV/AIDS worldwide. Shivshanker studied the program’s impact in 12 sub-Saharan African countries.

The senior wanted to examine whether certain social and political conditions have shaped PEPFAR’s effectiveness in countries such as Rwanda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. She compared death rates from 2004 to those of 2008 along with variables such as corruption, degree of ethnic diversity, type of government and gross domestic product (GDP) for each country. Shivshanker found that these variables all have an impact on the effectiveness of PEPFAR aid. For example, aid was less effective in countries with a high level of corruption and a large degree of ethnic diversity.

Shivshanker has been interested in Africa since high school. A “Politics of Africa” course she took as a sophomore at LMU was especially interesting to her because the class examined the complex relationship Africa has with the U.S. After completing the course, she chose political science as her major. Seth Thompson, professor of political science taught the class, and he eventually became her faculty advisor for her research project.

When asked about the response she received at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, Shivshanker says she was pleased to have the opportunity to share her research. She says, “I’d been working on my thesis for a long time and it was a rewarding experience to know that [LMU] faculty and the public were genuinely impressed with my work.”

Shivshanker is interested in a career in public policy and she has applied to executive and judicial fellowships in the state capitol.