Rajiv Shah, former USAID administrator, named as next Rockefeller Foundation president

By Amy Lieberman 05 January 2017

Rajiv Shah, former USAID administrator, will be the Rockefeller Foundation’s next president. Photo by: Sean K. Harp / U.S. Department of Defense

Rajiv Shah, a former administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, will be the Rockefeller Foundation’s next president, the U.S.-based philanthropic organization announced on Wednesday.

He will replace Judith Rodin, who has held the role since 2005, and begin work on March 1.

At 43, Shah is the youngest — and first Indian-American — to serve as the foundation’s president, the organization noted in an embargoed media release. He oversaw work at USAID from January 2010 to February 2015 and led responses to various humanitarian emergencies, including the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

Shah, who was appointed to the USAID role by President Barack Obama, won bipartisan support and maintained funding levels, but some initiatives, such as the drive to localize aid, have had hiccups, critics said.

Shah also pressed for greater focus on public-private partnerships and reform of U.S. food aid. The Global Food Security Act — which requires a government strategy for global food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition — was approved in July 2016, following the passage of two other food and energy initiatives under Shah: Feed the Future and Power Africa.

“For over a century, The Rockefeller Foundation has been at the forefront of providing solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges,” Shah said in a statement. “I am honored and inspired by the opportunity to build on this 103 year history of results and lasting impact. I look forward to charting a course for The Rockefeller Foundation to engage with partners to promote the wellbeing of humanity, and to take on the challenges of today and tomorrow both in the United States and around the world.”

After leaving USAID, Shah founded Latitude Capital a private equity firm that works on power and infrastructure projects in Africa and Asia. Last year, Shah also joined the Rockefeller Foundation’s board of trustees, which is chaired by Richard Parsons, former CEO of Time Warner.

“The board of trustees couldn’t be more excited about the dynamism and experience that Raj Shah will bring to this great philanthropic institution,” said Parsons in the media release. “Raj was the unanimous choice of the trustees after a very competitive search process. Judith Rodin transformed The Rockefeller Foundation and positioned us as a global leader in innovative philanthropy. We can think of no better person than Raj Shah to lead the cutting-edge work of this institution going forward.”

The next leader of the Rockefeller Foundation will need to embrace the idea of expanding a regional presence worldwide, says C.D. Glin, the organization’s former associate director of the Africa Regional Office. He spoke with Devex in December, before the announcement of Shah. The foundation currently has offices in New York, Nairobi and Bangkok.

“They are really intentional about having these regional offices and Rockefeller focuses on market driven solutions … we need to be a part of the place where those things are occurring and more and more foundations are embracing the need to be on the ground more,” said Glin, now the president of the U.S. Africa Development Foundation.

Under Rodin, Rockefeller adopted a “proactive philanthropy approach,” and a system that recognized the benefits of having “the expertise at the intersection of the issues,” Glin explained.

“She made us much more adaptive and responsive to the changes that are happening. Because the reality is these changes are not static, so our knowledge cannot be static and our ability to move with the speed of change became an invaluable aspect of that work,” he said.

In 2015, the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations, issued $196.6 million in contributions, grants and gifts, and maintained assets of more than $4.2 billion.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

Amy%2520headshot
Amy Liebermanamylieberman

Amy Lieberman is a reporter for Devex, based out of New York, where she covers global development around the city and out of the United Nations. She has previously worked as a freelancer, reporting on the environment, social justice issues, immigration and development. Her coverage has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate and The Los Angeles Times, among other outlets. She received her M.A. in politics and government from Columbia Journalism School in 2014.


Join the Discussion