East-West Center Oral History Project: Shabbir Cheema
Shabbir Cheema

Shabbir Cheema, born into a large family in rural Pakistan, came to Honolulu in August 1969 to study on an EWC grant. After obtaining a Ph.D in political science from UH, he taught at the University of Science in Malaysia. Then he began his long career with the United Nations, starting at the UN Centre for Regional Development in Nagoya, Japan. In 1988 he returned to Honolulu to hold a joint appointment with the UH’s Department of Urban Planning and the East-West Center. After a year he went to United Nations Headquarters in New York where he spent the next 18 years working on issues of governance, urban management and democracy. During that time he served as the Director of Governance of the UN Development Program.  In 2008 he returned to EWC as a senior fellow heading up the Asian Governance and Democracy Initiative (AGDI). Dr. Cheema is contributor and co-editor of the three volume series on Trends and Innovations in Governance (United Nations University Press, 2010) and author of Building Democratic Institutions: Governance Reform in Developing Countries (Kumarian Press, 2005) and Urban Shelter and Services: Public Policies and Management Approaches (Praeger, 1987). He is also contributor and co-editor of Decentralizing Governance: Emerging Concepts and Practices (Brookings Institution Press, 2007) and Reinventing Government for the Twenty-First Century (Kumarian Press, 2003).




  • Personal Background
  • Life at EWC - Accepting EWC Scholarship - Orientation, Late ‘60s - Student Life, Late ‘60s/ Early ‘70s - UH Studies - Problem-Oriented Institutes
  • Life After EWC - UN Work in Regional Development
  • Return to EWC, 1988 - Work with EWC Population Institute
  • Career at the UN - Developing Governance Program
  • Return to EWC, 2008 - Asia Pacific Governance - Democracy Initiative (AGDI)
  • Ties That Last - Life-long EWC Friendships - Jefferson Hall & Saga Cafeteria
  • EWC’s Impact   - On Career, Perspectives - On Inter-Cultural Understanding - Bridge Between Developed and Developing World - On Management Style
  • EWC Mission
  • Personal Legacy


Interview Quotes
“... East-West Center’s scholarship provided me with good opportunities both in my academic pursuits and in enhancing my understanding of different cultures. So, in that sense I would say, coming to East-West Center was really a transforming experience for me, both personally and professionally.”


"Another good memory of East-West Center is some of the dialogue sessions we organized by the students and the staff. I remember actively participating in a seminar in which Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, was a speaker. And he and I had a 10 minutes back-and-forth debate. I kept on telling him how he could achieve development with democracy also.  Why does he have to control and suppress people’s expression, and he kept on telling me that, look, you need to have stability first before you open up too much..."


"The East-West Center experience affected my professional career a great deal because I studied development here, I studied democracy here, I studied public administration here, and I have been applying the skills learned here in my career over the years. There’s a direct linkage between what I did here as a student, and what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years in my professional career."


These narratives, which reflect interviewees’ personal perceptions, opinions and memories, may contain errors of fact. They do not reflect positions or versions of history officially approved by the East-West Center.