VP Brings Field Experience from Liberia, Vietnam

  • Jordan Ryan visits Suakoko in Bong County, Liberia, to assess multiple Carter Center projects there. Traditional leaders named him an honorary paramount chief. (Photo: The Carter Center)

Jordan Ryan, vice president for peace programs, may be relatively new to The Carter Center, but his connection to President and Mrs. Carter dates back to the ’70s.

It all started at George Washington University.

“I arrived in Washington to start law school the day that Nixon resigned,” Ryan recalled. “And I’d been a bartender in college, so I just called the White House and told them I was in town and needed a job. Needless to say the White House operator was surprised, but about four months later, I started working in the Ford administration as a butler. When the new administration came in, I made the transition and worked for a president named Jimmy.”

Ryan stayed on through graduation, working his way up from clearing dirty glasses to serving at state dinners.

“It was one of the best jobs I’ve had,” he said with a laugh.

Since, Ryan has worked at a law firm in Saudi Arabia, earned a master’s degree in international development at Columbia University, and spent nearly 25 years with the United Nations Development Program, which focuses on eradicating poverty and eliminating inequalities and exclusion.

He started as a glorified volunteer in China, analyzing donor data, and ended as an assistant secretary-general, directing UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery in New York. “We had programs to work on both natural disasters and manmade disasters,” he said.

“We weren’t the humanitarian side, but the development side, trying to get people back on their feet. So, for example, cash-for-work programs in Haiti after the earthquake, working with those affected by that incredible typhoon that devastated the Philippines.”

During Ryan’s time as the U.N.’s resident coordinator in Vietnam in the early 2000s, he worked to change the Communist-led government’s approach to handling the rapid spread of HIV, which it saw as a social evil.

He created a consortium that eventually persuaded the government to let an HIV-positive person speak live on television.

“It was the first time that many people had ever seen a person with HIV,” he said. “She was young, from a fishing village outside of Hai Phong, shaking like a leaf... She just looked straight into the camera and talked about what it was like to live with HIV and what it felt like to be discriminated against.”

It was one of the most moving moments of his career.

Ryan also was moved by the horrors he saw while helping oversee the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in Liberia following its 14-year civil war, recalling a country of devastated people, looted buildings, collapsed infrastructure. While there, he chose The Carter Center to serve on the steering committee he created to help disburse peacekeeping funds.

“The Center was very active and very well-regarded and well-respected,” he said. “I had no idea that I’d wind up working here one day.”

Ryan started at the Center in June 2015 and has spent his first months familiarizing himself with the Center’s programs and operations. That included making a trip back to Liberia to see the Access to Justice Project, Global Access to Information Program, and Mental Health Program in action.

“We were able to travel into the countryside and meet the men and women whose lives have been changed because of The Carter Center,” he said. “It was incredibly uplifting.” Ryan is looking forward to finding more ways for the various peace programs to collaborate with each other, and with the health programs, as they do in Liberia: “One of the things I learned from mentors at the U.N. is that these problems are big, and you can’t solve them alone.”

This an exciting time to be at The Carter Center, he said, and he is looking forward to carrying out the Carters’ vision.

“It’s an opportunity to push for things that President Carter and Mrs. Carter deeply believe in that are also things that move me,” he said, “making life better for people — especially those that are the poorest and the most neglected.”

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