- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Alum Focus: Bill Haney, Renaissance Man—Doing Something About Many Things That Matter

Summer 2008

When Bill Haney was a freshman at Harvard, he launched a company that provided air pollution systems for power plants —systems now in use throughout the world. Since then, he has helped start almost 20 technology companies. His most recent business venture is the development of cost-efficient, environmentally sound homes that dramatically reduce the environmental footprint of conventional houses and can be built in a week. These Blu Homes will soon be on the market.

Haney, a research fellow Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program 1997-2001, was at the Kennedy School in February not to talk about his environmentally sensitive homes, but to introduce The Price of Sugar, his most recent documentary film. One of a dozen films he has written and produced, The Price of Sugar, narrated by Paul Newman, focuses on thousands of dispossessed Haitians who toil in the Dominican Republic under armed-guard on plantations harvesting sugarcane, much of which ends up in U.S. kitchens. The film was shortlisted for the 2008 Academy Awards.  In addition, Haney has just completed a full-length feature film about the impact of U.S. drug laws on the rights of poor people. American Violet should be in movie theatres within a year.

Haney is also the co-founder and president of Infante Sano, a nonprofit dedicated to improving maternal and neonatal health care in Latin America and the Caribbean in a medically sound and culturally sensitive manner. Since the launch of the pilot program in the Dominican Republic—working with communities to use and enhance existing health services with needed medical supplies and equipment, training, and recommended interventions—infant mortality in the target province has dropped 40 percent. With plans to be helping more than 30,000 mothers and children each year by the end of 2008, Infante Sano intends to begin operations in its second country in 2010.

Haney credits his years at Harvard for inspiring and motivating his entrepreneurial activities. As an undergraduate he met Belfer Center Director Graham Allison, and that continuing relationship brought him to the Belfer Center as a fellow many years later. After working on environmental and natural resources issues for 20 years, he applied for a fellowship because he thought the Kennedy School would allow him the best opportunity to work collaboratively on issues he cared about “most deeply and pragmatically.”

Also, Haney says, “Graham’s particular blend of passion, compassion, and irreverence is a very compelling force. He has a magical way of engaging and inspiring young people.”

Others at the Kennedy School have also had a significant impact on Haney. Henry Lee, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program, is a mentor and friend. “Henry is a very deep, effective, selfless thinker on environmental and natural resources issues,” Haney says —someone he continues to call upon for ideas. He also has high praise for Joseph McCarthy, senior associate dean at the Kennedy School. “Joe may well be the most humane single person I’ve ever met,” Haney says. “In his quiet, gracious, humble way, he makes a difference in people’s lives every single day.”

Haney’s experience at the Kennedy School helped convince him that perhaps his most effective way to make a difference was through “bringing ideas to life,” whether through nonprofits, films, or companies.

"Almost everybody asks ‘what can I do to leave things better?’” Haney says. “I don’t think my interest in doing that is any different from anybody else’s.” Most important, he says, is to “work passionately on something that matters.” Also, he adds, you have to be willing to take chances and to try things where you might fail.

Asked if there one venture of which Haney is most proud, he hesitates an instant.

“When someone walks up to you with a healthy baby and tells you that the baby would not be alive without the hospital you helped equip —it doesn’t get much better than that.”

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Communications Office. Alum Focus: Bill Haney, Renaissance Man—Doing Something About Many Things That Matter.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Summer 2008).