John McArthur

John W. McArthur

John W. McArthur is senior fellow and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution. He co-founded and co-chairs the 17 Rooms initiative, a new approach to catalyzing action for the Sustainable Development Goals. Outside of Brookings, he is a senior adviser to the United Nations Foundation, a member of Policy Horizons Canada’s Deputy Minister Steering Committee, and a member of Novata’s Sustainability Advisory Board.

He was previously the chief executive officer of Millennium Promise Alliance, the international nongovernmental organization. Prior to that he served as the manager and deputy director of the U.N. Millennium Project, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s independent advisory body mandated to recommend an action plan for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In that role he was also actively involved in a range of targeted policy scale-up efforts, including for malaria control and for an African Green Revolution.

He has been a senior fellow with the Hong Kong-based Fung Global Institute, taught at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, and served as policy director at Columbia’s Earth Institute. Earlier in his career he was a research fellow at the Center for International Development at Harvard University, where he supported the World Health Organization’s Commission on Macroeconomics and Health and co-authored the “Global Competitiveness Report.”

In 2006, he proposed a new form of graduate degree to provide rigorous cross-disciplinary training for a new generation of sustainable development practitioners. This led to him co-chairing, in 2007-08, the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation (no relation). He then co-founded the Global Network (now Association) of MPD Programs launched across five continents.

From 2016-22 he served as a board governor of the International Development Research Centre, the Canadian Crown corporation. He has also served as a member of the UNICEF Advisory Group, the Global Nutrition Report’s Independent Expert Group, and Grand Challenges Canada’s Scientific Advisory Board. He has chaired Global Agenda Councils for the World Economic Forum and in 2016 was an adviser to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission.

In 2009 he was recognized as a Young Global Leader. In 2021 he was named one of Apolitical’s 100 most influential academics in government.

He recently co-edited the books “Keys to Climate Action: How Developing Countries Could Drive Global Success and Local Prosperity” (Brookings, 2023) (see chapter 1 for overview) and “Breakthrough: The Promise of Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development” (Brookings, 2022) (see overview). His research has been published in a variety of academic journals, and his writing for more general audiences has appeared in venues such as Foreign Affairs, Project Syndicate, the Globe and Mail, South China Morning Post, Horizons, and Stanford Social Innovation Review.

McArthur grew up in Vancouver and is a Canadian citizen. He completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) at the University of British Columbia, a Master in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and master’s and doctoral degrees in economics at Oxford University, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar.

  • Areas of Expertise

    • Agriculture and Rural Development
    • African Economies
    • Global Health
    • Graduate Education for Sustainable Development
  • Current Positions

    • Senior Adviser, United Nations Foundation
    • Member, Sutainability Advisory Board, Novata
    • Member, Deputy Minister Steering Committee, Policy Horizons Canada
  • Past Positions

    • Deputy Director, U.N. Millennium Project
    • CEO, Millennium Promise
    • Board of Governors, International Development Research Centre
    • Policy Director, Earth Institute at Columbia University
    • Faculty Member, Columbia School of Public and International Affairs
    • Co-chair, International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice
    • Project Manager, Global Competitiveness Report
    • Research Fellow, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  • Education

    • D.Phil. (2009), M.Phil. (2000), Rhodes Scholar, University of Oxford
    • M.P.P., Harvard University (1998)
    • B.A. (Hons), University of British Columbia (1996)
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