Thomas Vallely

Senior Advisor, Mainland Southeast Asia

Headshot of Thomas Vallely
Program Involvement

Vietnam Public Policy Program

Thomas J. Vallely is Senior Advisor for Mainland Southeast Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Vallely founded the Harvard Vietnam Program in 1989, and established the Fulbright School in Ho Chi Minh City in 1994. The school is now part of Fulbright University Vietnam and offers a master’s of public policy—the first-degree program of its kind in Vietnam—and executive training programs for senior officials. The school’s elite Vietnamese and international faculty pursue a diverse research agenda on issues ranging from public finance to decentralization and the law. This research drives the School’s case writing and curriculum development initiatives and is leveraged to engage in a candid and constructively critical dialogue with the Vietnamese government about the strategic challenges confronting the country. Under Vallely’s leadership, the Fulbright School has emerged as a center of excellence in public policy research and teaching and a pioneer in the development of new modes of institutional governance in Vietnam. A primary focus of Vallely’s current work is institutional innovation in Vietnamese higher education and science. He draws on the Program’s experience designing and developing innovative educational initiatives in an environment often hostile to institutional innovation to pursue a dialogue with Vietnamese and international stakeholders about higher education reform and, in particular, regarding the creation of a new top-tier university.

Vallely also directs the Harvard Myanmar Program, which seeks to broaden and deepen the understanding of the development and democratic governance challenges facing Myanmar. For the last four years, he has overseen more than a dozen research projects with the Kennedy School’s counterpart in Myanmar, Proximity Designs. This actionable research can be found at

Prior to founding the Vietnam Program, Vallely was a senior research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, where he worked on strategic and military issues in East and Southeast Asia. He has worked as a political consultant and was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1980, serving until 1987. Vallely received a B.S. from the University of Massachusetts/Boston and an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School. Vallely served with the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam. He currently serves as a member of the US State Department’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board and is the President of the Trust of University Innovation in Vietnam. Since 2010, Vallely has been an advisor to Florentine Films on the PBS documentary The Vietnam War.