Dr Tom Kessinger
 


Dr Tom Kessinger

Dr Tom Kessinger spent his early years in northern New Jersey and is an alumnus of the Ridgewood Public School System. In 1961, after completing his sophomore year at Haverford College, Kessinger took a leave of absence to join the Peace Corps, the first group to go to India. He was posted with three other volunteers at a training center for community development workers just outside the market town of Nabha (population 35,000) in Punjab State in the northern part of the country. His assignment involved working with trainees on rural youth clubs, leading meetings with students and biking to15 different villages where trainees worked directly with village youths, including athletics and musical programmes. He and his co-volunteers also helped introduce modern poultry breeds and management methods in villages around the center. It was also during this time that Kessinger met and married Varyam Chawla who was a member of the faculty at the training center.

In the spring of 1963, Kessinger began thinking about completing his undergraduate education. Seeking to focus on India and South Asia and the broad process of social and economic change over time, he researched institutions that offered appropriate courses - all of them universities, some very large. He discovered the University of Pennsylvania's South Asian Regional Studies Program; the cooperative agreement with Haverford (still in its infancy at the time) meant he could return to Haverford College.

Kessinger graduated from Haverford with the Class of 1965. He earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1972, and spent six years teaching South Asian History, first at the University of Virginia, and, later, at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1977, he began an 11-year tenure with the Ford Foundation where he served in its Indian regional office (which also covered Sri Lanka, and Nepal) as a member of the professional staff and then as the Representative, and headed the Foundation's office in Indonesia as Representative for Southeast Asia based in Jakarta from 1979-87. In 1988 he resigned his post at Ford to become Haverford's 11th president, a position he held until 1996.

Tom and Varyam Kessinger now live in Geneva, where he serves as general manager of the Aga Khan Foundation. His colleagues include two former Peace Corps volunteers and a fellow Haverford alumnus, John Tomaro '64. The Foundation, part of the Aga Khan Development Network, focuses on rural development, basic education, community health, and the development of civil society organisations in the Muslim world. His work takes him frequently to countries in which the Network is active, including Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kenya, Mozambique, and Syria. Dr Kessinger was appointed to the Aga Khan University Board of Trustees in November 2008.​