Rajiv J. Shah Named as New President of the Rockefeller Foundation

Dr. Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), visits a hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 23, 2010. The Department of Defense and USAID are conducting relief operations in the area after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr./Released)

USAID Administrator Shah visits a hospital in Haiti / U.S. Agency for International Development

January 4, 2017; New York Times

The long wait to find out who the next president of the Rockefeller Foundation will be is now over, with the big reveal yesterday in the New York Times of 43-year-old Detroit native Rajiv J. Shah’s designation to that post.

Shah was already a trustee of the foundation, and until recently was the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). At USAID, among other things, he led disaster responses in Haiti and to the Ebola crisis in Africa. (NPQ’s Rick Cohen covered his impact there as he left in 2015.) He is also the founder of The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a federal government body whose creation was mandated in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.

Shah succeeds Judith Rodin, who saw herself, as head of one of the largest foundations in the country, as a power player among government and corporate power players. As this article and previous articles at NPQ note, Rodin was from time to time criticized for attending overmuch to public relations and showmanship and not enough to the foundation’s grantees. As David Gelles of the New York Times writes here:

In recent years, the foundation has focused on the themes of “resilience” and “inclusive economies.” That has resulted in programs aimed at establishing “resilience officers” in 100 cities to focus on disaster relief and a plan that is sending 100,000 inner-city students to see the musical Hamilton.

These efforts have struck critics as public relations stunts more than meaningful agents of change. And Ms. Rodin has drawn fire for spending too much time with corporate partners and not enough time with the recipients of grants.

It will be interesting to see what direction Shah takes as he adopts the Rockefeller mantle, but we must presume he knows the inherent dangers and opportunities of the position. Shah is no stranger to mega-philanthropy, having spent almost a decade at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, finally holding the position of director of agricultural development. He has advanced degrees in medicine and health finance. He is also, like Rodin, an avowed fan of public-private partnerships. In fact, according to Rodin, his experience with such partnerships is one of the things that recommend Shah for the position.

Shah is also known for his bipartisan reach, which may help in some of that partnership-building. Here is a link to his Twitter account so readers can get a truncated read on what interests the new Rockefeller Foundation president.—Ruth McCambridge