John in his office at HKS.
John in his office at HKS.

M-RCBG mourns the passing of John G. Ruggie, a former Center Director and long-time HKS professor. Most recently, he held the title of Berthold Beitz Research Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs and throughout his

distinguished career, made significant contributions to both the theory and practice of international relations, winning numerous awards and being named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Ruggie was a former director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. John Haigh, M-RCGB co-director and lecturer in public policy, said: “John was a giant in the field of international relations and identifying and refining the role of business and addressing humanitarian and social issues. He will be missed.”

“John was a person of principle and practicality,” added Larry Summers, Weil director of M-RCBG and Charles W. Eliot University Professor. “He made the world a better place by helping to harness corporate power into the pursuit of a more humane world. The keenness of his intellect was matched only by the generosity of his spirit. The Kennedy School, the M-RCBG, and I will mourn his passing and will miss him very much in the years ahead.” 

John with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
John with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Before joining the Kennedy School, John taught at the University of California at Berkeley and at San Diego, as well as at Columbia University, where he also was dean of the School of International and Public Affairs. In addition to his academic roles, John served as United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning and later as the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights. He is best known for developing the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, whose core elements have been adopted by many governments, businesses, and international organizations (including FIFA, the global governing body of football/soccer).

As John wrote on the tenth anniversary of the Principles earlier this year: “[They] have helped turn the idea that companies are responsible for preventing and addressing adverse impacts of their business on people’s basic dignity and equality into a mainstream proposition—thereby helping to provide a path beyond shareholder primacy toward multi-fiduciary obligations.” And he remarked last year: “Our fragile world is in desperate need of systemic change.”

Jane Nelson, director of the Corporate Responsibility Initiative that John led, that “John was much loved and respected for his wisdom, humanity, generosity of spirit and warm humor. He combined a superb intellect and strong principles with great kindness and compassion and a deep commitment to achieving practical progress in global efforts to respect human rights. He mentored, advised, and inspired thousands of students, as well as policy makers and practitioners from around the world, and touched the lives of many others.”

Kathryn Sikkink, Ryan Family Professor at HKS, was another of Ruggie's many mentees. “He was my dissertation advisor, mentor, and friend,” she said. “I know of no other international relations scholar who made such original intellectual contributions to theory at the same time as being a pathbreaking actor in global governance.” 

Former Dean David Ellwood wrote: “John was a monumental figure on the world stage and embodied the very essence of the Kennedy School mission. He was a pragmatic idealist who worked tirelessly.” And former dean Joe Nye told me: “One of my proudest achievements as dean was to recruit John to join the Kennedy School. We are all enriched by his life and diminished by his loss.”

For other remembrances of John, please see :

HKS Tribute: A monumental figure: Harvard Kennedy School remembers John Ruggie 

Shift Project Tribute

Business & Human Rights Centre: Prof. John G. Ruggie, author of the UN Guiding Principles, has passed away 

A Realist Tribute to an Extraordinary Idealist (Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy)

In Memory of John Ruggie (Corporate Responsibility Initiative Director Jane Nelson)


The Ruggie family has requested that any gifts or donations in honor of John’s memory be made to the non-profit organization, Shift. Shift was founded in 2011, following the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Its mission is to embed the UNGPs into practice and build a world in which business gets done with respect for people’s human rights and dignity. John served as Chair of Shift’s Board. Shift’s leadership will work with Mary Ruggie in the coming weeks to define a process for how the Fund can best be used to honor John’s legacy and advance his vision in the world.

Donations may be sent to the following address and will receive due acknowledgement.

Shift Project, Ltd.
Attention: John Ruggie Legacy Fund
902 Broadway, Floor 6
New York, NY 10010 USA

Further information about the John Ruggie Legacy Fund will be available in due course on Shift’s website: In case of questions, please contact Shift is registered in the U.S. as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.