It was early 2001, I think, when I got a call inquiring about future-flow securitization of remittances. She was preparing for a talk at the UN, the caller said, and she was intrigued by yet another way in which remittances impact the migrants’ country of origin. That was two years before I began my research on remittances. The caller that day was Dr. Sharon Stanton Russell, a pioneer in the field of remittances and migration, a mainstay of migration studies at MIT and the Inter-University Committee on International Migration (IUCIM).
Sharon passed away on February 27, 2013. More than 300 people attended her funeral on March 23.
In 1986 Sharon published Remittances from International Migration: A Review in Perspective. In 1992, with co-author Michael Teitelbaum, she wrote another remarkably forward-looking paper International Migration and International Trade. Her writing appears as relevant today as it was then:
"Is international migration an important issue for those concerned with international trade and the balance of payments?
“First, the magnitudes of human flows across national boundaries have become very large over the past three decades… Second, the international financial flows that follow such human movements are substantial. The total value of official remittance inflows (credits) worldwide was US$ 65.6 billion in 1989…. For reference as to orders of magnitude, official developmental assistance in 1988 was US$ 51 billion; during the period 1982-1984, the total annual average value of trade in coffee (the most important non-oil primary commodity) was US$ 9 billion. Third, international migration is …. central to international trade in services.”
Sharon spent a year at the Bank in the early 1990s. After reviewing the Bank’s programs and interviewing staff, she wrote, in International Migration: Implications for the World Bank:
“International migration is not a high profile matter within the Bank, but more is being done than meets the eye. The topic is addressed in the Bank's ongoing work program through economic and sector work, policy dialogue, and in project preparation and lending.”
Two decades after her pioneering work at the Bank, her vision is beginning to take shape: now the Bank is a leading player in the field of migration and development.
In the spring of 2007, after I gave a talk at the IUCIM, at Tufts, Sharon and her husband (Dr. Robert Russell, M.D. and a later president of the American Society of Nutrition) graciously invited me to a delicious dinner at their beautiful home. Before we parted that evening, Sharon cut a few branches from a Christmas cactus plant, wrapped them in a plastic bag, and handed them to me. “This plant is a gift from my grandmother,” she said. “You put these branches in a jar of water. They will grow roots. You can plant them. For your children.”
As I write, I am looking at the plant in my sun room. It is thriving.