Kian Tajbakhsh (Ph.D. Columbia 1993) is Senior Advisor to the Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University. In this role, Dr. Tajbakhsh works on university-wide initiatives focused on global migration. He is also a Fellow with Columbia’s Committee on Global Thought and a professor of Urban Planning and Urban Studies, focusing on questions of local governance and democracy, local economic development, spatial planning, and the challenges of global urbanization. His research interests also include the challenges facing cities as well as competing paradigms of world order. He is currently completing a book on local government and democracy in Iran.
Before joining Columbia, Tajbakhsh worked for fifteen years as an international expert in three related areas of urban policy and local government reform; democracy and human rights promotion; and international social science research collaboration. His urban policy research and consulting specializes in governance and decentralization, with a focus on strengthening local democratic political institutions. His consulting work included several World Bank projects, one as the lead author of a major municipal management and local economic development study of Iran. As part of an EU-funded public diplomacy initiative, he directed a pioneering multi-year collaboration between mayors and civil society groups from more than a dozen cities from the Netherlands and Iran. Drawing on this range of expertise, Tajbakhsh has delivered executive-level training to municipal and local government officials from countries including China, Iran, and Nepal. He has worked in several countries across Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia including Iran, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
Reflecting his commitment to democracy and human rights, Tajbakhsh was the Open Society (Soros) Foundation’s representative in Iran, where he directed several initiatives aimed at strengthening civil society. He supported projects that enhanced women’s rights and expanded the role of NGOs in public health, freedom of information, and human rights law. As part of his interest in connecting theory to practice, Dr. Tajbakhsh was academic advisor to the innovative OSI international policy fellowship program hosted by Central European University (CEU), Budapest to support rising civic leaders from Muslim-majority countries.
From 1994 until 2002, Dr. Tajbakhsh was a professor of urban policy at the New School University. In his role as social science researcher, he has helped coordinate a number of international social science research collaborative projects in the Middle East and South Asia sponsored by organizations such as SSRC (USA), IDRC (Canada), and the Ford Foundation.
Tajbakhsh was among the pro-democracy activists arrested and detained by the Iranian government during the Green Movement protests in 2009. After several years under house arrest, he was one of the five Iranian-American dual citizens whose release was negotiated under the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2016 by the Obama Administration.
His recent publications include: “What Are Iranians Dreaming about Today? Reflections on the Islamic Revolution at 40” (2019); “Authoritarian State Building through Political Decentralization and Local Government Law” (2019); “Who Wants What from Iran Now? The Post-Nuclear Deal U.S. Policy Debate” (2018); “Hind Swaraj: Reading Gandhi’s Critique of Modernity in Tehran”(2018). He is the author of two books, The Promise of the City (University of California Press 2001), and Social Capital: Trust, Democracy and Development (Tehran 2005). He co-edited the book City Diplomacy: The role of local governments in conflict prevention, peace-building, post-conflict reconstruction (2008 The Hague). Tajbakhsh has also published essays on politics, culture and cinema in Iran and India.