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Grateful for Ambassador McDonald’s Leadership

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

"The only way to solve a conflict at any level of society is to sit down face to face and talk about it."

John W. McDonald, US Ambassador (1924-2019)


Ambassador John W. McDonald, a US statesman dedicated to achieving peace by promoting consistent interaction among individuals and by building sustainable institutions passed away peacefully surrounded by family on May 17, 2019. Concerned about social, economic and ethnic problems around the world, Ambassador McDonald served as a lawyer, diplomat, international civil servant, development expert and peacebuilder and was the architect of several international institutions.


Ambassador McDonald was among the founders of the United Nations Environment Programme while he served as Director of Economic and Social Affairs at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the State Department in the early 1970s. He had contributed to the creation of several UN offices previously, and was a main driver behind the deliberate design of the new environmental entity where the United States played an important leadership role.


In 2009, during the Global Environmental Governance Forum that our team convened in Glion, Switzerland, Ambassador McDonald recalled: [i]

"As we began to move into 1971, I sat down and I wrote out four resolutions. The first set up the terms of reference of the governing body. The second … of the Secretariat. The third set up a special fund designed along the lines of the UNDP fund, outside of the regular budget and designed to attract government support for special projects in the whole field of the environment. And the fourth resolution was a coordinating committee chaired by the head of UNEP with all of the other agencies in the UN system who had a piece of the serious action of the environment, to sit together and ensure that there was no overlap and duplication."

The result of this effort was the articulation of form, function, and financing through Resolution

2997, which created the United Nations Environment Programme. Ambassador McDonald had

been instrumental in the creation of several UN offices previously—including the UN Fund for

Population Activities, UN Volunteers, and the post of UN Disaster Relief Coordinator— and

recognized the need for a central structure for all environmental efforts. The current global

environmental governance architecture is therefore a product of the vision of Ambassador John W. McDonald.


In 2011, recognizing the Ambassador’s critical role in global affairs, the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston created the Ambassador John W. McDonald Award for Leadership and Innovation in Global Governance and Conflict Resolution. This award is given to a graduating student in the department for showing leadership and innovation in global governance and conflict resolution. The following students have received the award to date:

Ambassador McDonald’s life and work continue to inspire us all to integrate thought and action in solving global challenges through innovative means.


To support the Ambassador John W. McDonald Award for Leadership and Innovation in Global Governance and Conflict Resolution, please make a donation in honor of Ambassador McDonald here.


[i] See Quest for Leadership documentary



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