January 8, 2013
From a small town in Maine to assisting with peace building and governance in Africa, Ryan McCannell has traveled far pursuing his dream of making a difference in international affairs. Since his eighth grade trip to Sweden as an exchange student, he’s known that the wider world would be his home. As a 1989 Coca-Cola Scholar, he applied part of his Coca-Cola scholarship to study abroad in West Africa and fell in love with the continent. Currently, he is the Division Chief for the Africa Bureau of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides foreign assistance to developing countries in the form of fostering economic growth, health, education and conservation.
“I work in a relatively new field focused on improving government and promoting democracy. Democracy and development go hand in hand and democracies make better partners for the U.S. government,” he explains.
“The Sub-Saharan region of Africa is undergoing a major transformation right now,” he continues. “Economic growth is picking up for the first time and along with it are development challenges for the 21st century. I’m in a position where I can influence how we respond to those challenges. I’m really in my dream job.”
Among his priorities are assisting in the planning for the 2015 Nigerian elections and serving on the board of directors for Hope Through Health, an organization formed to prevent deaths from HIV/AIDS in Togo and elsewhere in Africa.
Over the course of his career, Ryan has gone from being a subject matter expert to supervising today’s smart subject matter experts. He says it’s an interesting challenge to be on the other side, but he enjoys the opportunity to steer people in the direction of their passion. His role as a guide and mentor has kept him connected to the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and he continues to serve on selection committees and to offer career advice to Scholars interested in his field.
“It’s incredibly inspiring for me to be attached to the energy today’s candidates have,” he says. “Some of these students are running organizations on their own in high school. The Coca-Cola Scholarship gives them the extra energy they need to truly succeed.”
“But that’s only part of the good work The Coca-Cola Company does. Through public-private partnerships, the company helps to bring clean water to the people of Africa and elsewhere, and I’ve seen how it’s made a tremendous difference.”
Ryan says being a Coca-Cola Scholar gives him the desire and the opportunities to pay it forward. “Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see someone I’ve worked with and mentored get ahead and do remarkable things.”
His message to current and potential Scholars is one of hope. “When I graduated from college in 1993, we were in the middle of an economic downturn. In fact, my first job was as a waiter in New Orleans,” he remembers. “Just think about how much the world has changed since that time. We can’t predict what new technologies and opportunities will be available to seize in the near future. So, don’t believe all of the despair. Instead, hang in there and be part of the change. It worked out for me in ways I never could have known and it will for you, too.”