U.N. World Food Programme Director David Beasley to receive Vandenberg Prize on May 23


David Beasley

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan (WACWM) has announced the recipient of its fourth Vandenberg Prize—which goes to a national or international leader who has been influential in developing global understanding and collaboration on the world stage.  The first three prizes were awarded to Ambassador (ret.) Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. (2020); General (ret.) James N. Mattis (2021); and Ambassador (ret.) Marie Yovanovitch (2022).

The recipient of the 2023 Vandenberg Prize is David Beasley. Until this spring, he was the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The WFP was the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and is the world’s largest humanitarian organization saving lives in emergency and using food assistance to build a pathway to leave, stability, and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters, and the impact of climate change.

Governor Beasley was recommended for the position by then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, and served in that capacity since 2017.

He will receive the Vandenberg Prize on Tuesday, May 23, at 12 noon, in the Amway Grand Plaza Ambassador Ballroom.

Prior to the U.N. appointment, Governor Beasley spent a decade working with high-profile leaders and on-the-ground program managers in more than 100 countries, directing projects designed to foster peace, reconciliation, and economic progress.

From 1995 to 1999, Mr. Beasley was the Governor of South Carolina during years of economic transformation for the state. He was also the first Governor of that state to make a public push for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol dome, a move that earned him the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

The Vandenberg Prize is named after Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg (1881-1951) and was the inspiration for founding the Council in 1949 by Grand Rapids attorney (and later Federal Judge) Douglas Hillman and businessman Edgar Orr.

In addition, the Council will present the annual Hillman-Orr Award to a West Michigan individual or institution that mirrors the intent of the Council’s founding leaders to bring global awareness and international understanding to the West Michigan community.

The 2023 recipients will be Sonja Johnson, the executive director of the Van Andel Global Trade Center at Grand Valley State University and Kendra Kuo, the office director of the U.S. Commercial Service based in Grand Rapids. Together, Sonja and Kendra have been the driving forces of countless programs, events, and conversations with businesses about global trade in the region, culminating in the annually anticipated and well-attended Michigan World Trade Week every May in Grand Rapids.

Hillman and Orr were inspired by the life and work of Senator Vandenberg, an isolationist who became a strong advocate of internationalism in the wake of World War II. Vandenberg forged bipartisan support for the Marshall Plan and NATO and was appointed one of the first U.S. delegates to the brand-new United Nations. Senator Vandenberg has always been considered the “patron saint” of the Council.

“David Beasley is a special American leader who looked beyond our shores to what this country can do, in partnership with countries all over the globe, to alleviate hunger and the pain of displacement caused by forces beyond the control of oppressed people,” said Michael Van Denend, the executive director of WACWM.

Governor Beasley has been an effective fund-raiser for the WFP, increasing the annual donations to this life-saving global initiative from $6 billion when he arrived in 2017, to $14.2 billion in 2022. He is also recognized as a person able to garner bi-partisan support in the U.S. Congress and to establish multinational collaboration to address the world’s critical food issues.

“Sonja Johnson has been a tireless champion of global engagement and trade at the Van Andel Global Trade Center for nearly 20 years, serving as one of our primary experts in global supply chain, customs compliance issues, and foreign-trade zones. Kendra Kuo has worked with the U.S. Department of Commerce for over 20 years. An enthusiastic advocate and knowledgeable trade leader, she has helped hundreds of Michigan companies navigate the complex trade environment so that they can thrive globally,” noted Van Denend.

The Council is grateful for a formational gift by The Meijer Foundation to launch this special recognition of the importance of global connectedness to West Michigan. Longtime World Affairs Council corporate supporters Amway and Bank of America are also major sponsors.

There is media time set aside for interviews with Governor Beasley from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the 23rd, in the hotel lobby area. 

More information on the Vandenberg Prize event can be found here .