Established by Soka University of America (SUA) founder, Daisaku Ikeda, the Pacific Basin Research Center (PBRC) began operations in January, 1991 as an advance research unit of SUA, a private, undergraduate, liberal arts university which opened its doors ten years later in 2001. Reversing the customary evolution of universities from undergraduate instruction, SUA hosted special and graduate studies from 1987 and 1994 respectively that preceded the undergraduate program. During this interregnum, PBRC developed a distinctive research program that drew international attention not only to the Center but to the prospect of a University similarly devoted to pursuing research and education leading to the peaceful development of the Asia Pacific region.
With twenty-seven years of teaching at Harvard and as a prolific scholar and international authority on public administration and policy, Harvard Professor Emeritus, John D. Montgomery (1920 – 2008), was formally inaugurated as the first director of PBRC on January 2, 1991. In the initial years, the PBRC operated out of the director's Harvard office at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
On May 3 of 2001, Soka University of America officially opened, welcoming its first class of students in August of that same year. With operations as a full-scale institution of higher learning in Aliso Viejo, California underway, the PBRC office transitioned to SUA in July of 2004. It was at that time that Dennis A. Rondinelli (1943-2007), then a distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, accepted the role of the second director of the PBRC. Under Rondinelli’s leadership, PBRC launched a distinguished speaker series, a visiting professorship series, a Faculty Summer Research Grants program and a new publication series, including under his editorship Globalization and Change in Asia (Rienner 2007) and Leadership for Development: What Globalization Demands of Leaders Fighting for Change (Kumarian 2009).
In the summer of 2007, William Ascher of Claremont McKenna College was selected to direct the PBRC. Since its inception, Ascher has contributed as a PBRC Advisory Board member and contributor to PBRC publications, working closely with founding Director, John D. Montgomery and Ascher’s immediate predecessor, the late Dennis A. Rondinelli. Ascher noted at the time of his appointment that “the foundations for the PBRC’s distinctive role in exploring sustainable, humanistic development have been brilliantly laid by my friends and colleagues, Jack Montgomery and Dennis Rondinelli. I am very much looking forward to building on their bold accomplishments.” In 2010 the PBRC published two books, Physical Infrastructure Development: Balancing the Growth, Equity, and Environmental Imperatives (Palgrave Macmillan) and Cultural Change and Persistence: New Perspectives on Development (Palgrave Macmillan). Current projects include a broad collaboration, involving 25 scholars, on “Averting Inter-Group Violence through Economic Development Strategies”, and “The Evolution of Development Thinking and Practice.” The PBRC is a partner with Palgrave Macmillan in a book series on “Politics, Economics, and Inclusive Development”.