Remembering Peter Bell

April 15, 2014

We pay tribute to Peter Bell, who died on April 4th following a battle with cancer. Peter dedicated his life to pursuing justice on issues surrounding poverty and human rights.  As a senior research fellow at the Hauser Institute, he focused on the roles of humanitarian NGOs in multilateral diplomacy, and served as chair of the NGO Leaders Forum.

Peter's association with Harvard University dates back decades. He served on the steering committee for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and on the board of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.  Prior to joining the Hauser Institute in 2007, Peter was a visiting fellow at the Carter Center after having served as president of CARE USA for ten years.  Earlier in his career Peter served as President of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation; Special Assistant and later as Deputy Under Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the Carter Administration; and as head of the Ford Foundation office in Chile.   

Our condolences go out to Peter's wife Karen, son Jonathan, daughter Emily and his two granddaughters. A memorial service will be held Wednesday April 23 at 11 a.m. at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Gloucester.  Also, a website has been established to host tributes in Peter's honor:  

The following are reflections from Peter’s colleagues across the University:

“We at the Hauser Center were honored that Peter decided to spend so many years with us, sharing his considerable lifetime experience with us as well as the INGOs he served with his work during that time.” Christine Letts, Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in the Practice of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School.

 “[Peter] lived a modest and relatively private life, yet did more to shape American philanthropy over the last five decades than perhaps any of his contemporaries, and certainly more to establish its integrity.
Peter’s philanthropic projects set standards for good government, human rights, and justice, engaging hundreds of reformers and activists in the work, and inspiring countless more… Peter led the NGO Leaders Forum, which brought together the chief executives of the largest humanitarian organizations in the United States, including CARE, World Vision, Oxfam, Save the Children, and more. One of our last collaborations was to bring many of these leaders together with leaders of the International Criminal Court and those in civil society pursuing international justice to discuss practical ways to advance peace, justice, and safety in tandem in some of the world’s most violent conflicts.  It was classic Peter: success was highly unlikely except perhaps over the long-term, but the stakes were high, the principles were clear, and Peter knew there were practical steps we could take now that would move us forward.”  Christopher Stone, President Open Society Foundations (formerly Faculty Director, Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations).

“I had the privilege of watching Peter in action in his role as convener of the NGO Leaders Forum. He didn't need any formal authority -- his influence came from his ability to listen with empathy and yet agency, in relationships built not over years but decades, and a statesman-like ability to nudge a group towards collective action. He was compassionate, understated, and always nurturing of new leadership and ideas.

My last meeting with Peter was in early April of 2013 at Greentree, just as the spring blossoms were emerging. I took this photo of the landscape there at the time, which now reminds me of his enduring impact and spirit.” Alnoor Ebrahim, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School

"Peter Bell was a giant in the international development community, a true champion of social justice, and one of the most genuinely good, decent human beings - well respected and admired by all who came to know him.  Throughout his illustrious career and his travels to all corners of the world, Peter remained devoted to his family and to his home town, Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The world is a better place because of Peter Bell.   He will be sorely missed - but his spirit will live on in the memories of all who had the good fortune to know him and to work with him." Marty Chen, Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; Affiliated Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design; International Coordinator,  WIEGO Network

“Peter was a great friend and support to me during my time at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and then after I assumed the directorship of Harvard's FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.  His astute counsel, unfailing patience, consummate kindness, and deep knowledge helped guide my own strategic thinking and markedly improved our programs at both of these humanitarian and human rights enterprises at Harvard.  I was honored to count him among my good friends at the University.  We will miss him greatly.” Jennifer Leaning, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights; Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights

“My relationship [with Peter] goes way back to his early career at the Ford Foundation…He and I spent a great deal of time talking with one another about the possibilities of…effectively engage[ing] practice communities…I then worked for Peter for a while when he was the head of the Clark Foundation…It was a great opportunity to look closely at how a Foundation tried to intervene in a very complex, highly politicized state level public system…Given this history, I was delighted when we were able to host Peter at the Hauser Center. I benefitted enormously from his steady purpose, and excellent judgment…I always liked the idea that passion provided the energy required to face up to reality in a cool way, and Peter was an embodiment of that ideal…I will keep his memory as a source of strength and guidance for me in the future.” Mark Moore, Hauser Professor of Nonprofit Organizations, Harvard Kennedy School

“In the early 1970s, Bob Keohane and I developed the concept of transnational relations that looked at global affairs through a non-governmental lens. We assembled an interesting group of scholars and practitioners to explore different aspects of the topic. Peter wrote an essay on The Ford Foundation as a Transnational Actor. It was lively and illuminating, as one would expect from such a lively and illuminating person. Peter was then the Ford Representative in Chile, on leave at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard. We were lucky to have him as a member of the group, and after. He will be missed.” Joe Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard Kennedy School

Peter Bell

Peter Bell

Peter Bell, Senior Research Fellow, Hauser Institute.