fbpx In Memory of John Ruggie (1944-2021) | Harvard Kennedy School

John Ruggie smiling on a sofa in his office.

All of us who are part of the Corporate Responsibility Initiative join many others from around the world in mourning the passing of John Ruggie on September 16th. He was a good friend, an esteemed colleague, an effective coalition-builder, an outstanding teacher, scholar, policy maker and practitioner, and a man of great integrity, kindness and compassion. Through the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the many people whose minds and hearts were touched by him, John leaves an enduring legacy that will continue to improve the lives of millions of people around the world, particularly those who are the most vulnerable.

In the words of our colleagues at Shift and Corporate Responsibility Initiative program fellows, Caroline Rees and Rachel Davis, “A light has gone out in the world. More than a light. John was a beaming beacon for so many of us who had the privilege to know him, to work with him, to learn from him, to laugh with him, to love him. He achieved academic heights that his colleagues at Harvard and around the world will attest to in the days and weeks to come. Yet his ideas and insights never rested on paper, for his gift was to turn them into the tools of tangible change and his passion was to make the world a more equal and just place. He did both.” Read the full Shift Project tribute here.

To his students, John was a revered teacher, supportive mentor and adviser, and an inspiration. As one of the many messages from former students has noted, “John’s work has shaped my career and helped me make sense of the world, and for that I will forever be grateful. …Spending even just a little bit of time with him will remain one of my proudest moments.” In the words of another former student, he “…opened up a whole new world for me. I learned so much in such a short amount of time and continue to be inspired.”

To the policy makers, practitioners, academics and activists in the corporate responsibility and business and human rights community, John was both an iconic leader and a good friend, engaged partner and “fellow traveler.” Additional tributes can be found here.

John influenced change within individual companies and investors, across entire industry sectors, and at the level of national policies and regulations, and global governance frameworks. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, fondly called the “Ruggie Principles” by many, and the UN Global Compact will continue to influence policy and decision making and improve people’s lives for years to come. As the founding Faculty Chair of the Corporate Responsibility Initiative, as he did in all his work, he combined the credibility of evidence-based research and analysis with practitioner dialogue and shared learning among leaders in business, government, and civil society to drive more responsible business practices.

Like many others who were blessed to know John, I loved and respected him 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 respecting human rights and tackling injustice and inequality. Our CRI community is deeply saddened by his passing, while forever grateful for the lifelong insights and lessons we’ve learned from him, and for the joy and privilege of having known him.

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: www.shiftproject.org. In case of questions, please contact ruggielegacyfund@shiftproject.org. Shift is registered in the U.S. as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

Jane Nelson
Director, Corporate Responsibility Initiative