Recent Duke University graduates first began working as Fellows with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 1995. The Hart Fellows Program, part of the Hart Leadership Program at Duke’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, was initiated and directed by Kirk Felsman, a Duke faculty member and clinical child psychologist who had spent two decades working with NGOs on child policy issues in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Under Felsman's direction, the program developed working relationships with humanitarian agencies on five continents.
In 1997 Public Policy Professor Alex Harris, a photographer and founding member of the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke, joined Felsman in working with the Hart Leadership Program. With the support of CDS staff members, Harris collaborated with Fellows and their host NGOs on shaping documentary projects into advocacy materials—producing publications, exhibits, and Web sites. As NGOs began to realize the impact of this work, the demand for “documentary fellows” grew.
In response to this burgeoning interest, Felsman and Harris collaborated with CDS, long a leader in the documentary field, to found the Lewis Hine Documentary Fellows Program. Established in 2002, the program provides teaching, training, and fellowship opportunities to socially motivated young adults with documentary interests and experience. In addition to sponsoring and disseminating the documentary work produced by Hine Fellows, the Hine Program has also worked with selected former Hart Fellows to publish and disseminate their documentary work. In 2002-2003, the Hine Program sent out its first Fellows to organizations in Egypt and South Africa.