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Service Beyond Self - Jordan Ryan '69

Jordan Ryan serves as Assistant Administrator for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. He also serves as Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery. In this capacity, he works with developing nations that are prone to natural disasters or conflicts.

“We work with those countries to cope with those crises and assist that population to get back on their feet,” he explained.

As its name suggests, the bureau is also concerned with helping nations identify and mitigate crises before they happen. “Our work is trying to prevent conflicts or alleviate tension before things explode,” said Ryan. That includes helping countries prepare for disasters like earthquakes. “You never can prevent a natural disaster, but you can do a lot more these days to know where the risks are and be prepared,” Ryan explained.

Ryan has enjoyed a long and distinguished career with the UN. He joined the UNDP in China as Assistant Resident Representative in 1991. Between 1993 and 1996, he worked as Senior Assistant Resident Representative, from 1996 to 2001 he served as Deputy Director, then Director of the Office of the UNDP Administrator in New York and from 2001 to 2005, he was Deputy Resident Representative in Vietnam where he was one of the key inspirations for the “Delivering as One initiative,” a program to increase the UN system’s impact through more coherent programs, reduced transaction costs for governments, and lower overhead costs for the UN system.

Ryan always wanted to live an international life. “Even when I was at Webb,” he said, “I always thought it would be wonderful to live and work overseas.”

After graduating from Yale with a BA in anthropology and receiving his J.D. from the National Law Center at George Washington University, he joined a law firm based in Saudi Arabia. In the late 1970s, he earned an M.A. in International Relations from Columbia University and became a legal advisor for a firm operating in Beijing. In China, Ryan finally got the opportunity he had been seeking, “I had always wanted to get into the U.N. but never had any luck,” he said. After a brief temp assignment, he joined UNDP in 1991. “One thing I learned at Webb,” he said,” is you just roll up your sleeves and do what you have to do.”

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