The 5,000+ extraordinary individuals who comprise the Coca-Cola Scholar family each come from different backgrounds, are fueled by different passions and live by different definitions of success. But one thing is certain: All of them want to help shape the future of a better world. By connecting with their communities, striving for personal and professional growth, and giving back at every opportunity, they embody the spirit of Coca-Cola’s commitment to make a positive difference in the world. As we celebrate our 25th class we'd like to share the remarkable journeys of some of our Scholars. Read their stories »

Following a Dream to the Other Side of the World

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.

“The Coca-Cola Scholarship allowed someone like me to have the means to execute my vision. It made a huge difference in the trajectory of my life.”

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. adobe creative cloud . 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.”


  • Carolyn Norton says:

    Ryan, you are just a rockstar in every way. We are blessed to know you! Thanks for sharing this with us!

    Like (4)

  • Daemon Baizan says:

    “So, don’t believe all of the despair. Instead, hang in there and be part of the change.”

    Those are great words of encouragement, Ryan, and it sounds like you’re making the most of some great opportunities!

    Like (2)

  • cheryl chessa says:

    So proud of how you have gone from the boy growing up with my daughter in a little community in Maine
    to a man making such a difference in our world while following your dreams and passions!

    Like (2)

  • Sharon Simpson says:

    I am so proud of all the things your have done and continue to do. Your incouragement to young men and women is as outstanding as you are. What a wonderful articile. Remember I still think you can be President one day. Love Tataunte.

    Like (2)

  • Mary Ann Sibley says:

    Enjoyed the article! You make the people who know you very proud. We hope to see you next time you are home, take care.

    Like (2)

  • Mohamed Dansoko says:

    Keep looking up and going forward. You are true asset to us your colleagues in the field.


  • Momar Diop says:

    An article as inspiring as your own trajectory. So proud to have you as a friend. May God keep blessing you.

    Like (1)

  • Denise Treadwell Smith says:

    Very impressed and proud, Ryan, but not surprised! So glad you have found your passion and can apply it globally as well as close to home through the scholarship. Keep up the great work!

    Like (1)

  • Carrie Regan says:

    Such inspiring words Ryan! I’m honored to be a fellow ’89 Scholar–and your friend!

    Like (1)

  • Melissa LePage says:

    Wow! I also grew up with you through my teenage years. You were one of my best friends. LQQks like you amazing then and even more amazing now…still love u …and am very proud.


  • Jen Sirois Day says:

    You are an inspiration, Ryan. So glad you are living your dream.

    Like (1)

  • Patti Ross says:

    Thanks to my Malawi mentor for participating in this project. You bring it home!