World Food Prize Ambassador Quinn
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Ambassador Quinn's Biography

   Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn

     President Emeritus
     The World Food Prize Foundation

     Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, assumed the leadership      of the World Food Prize Foundation on January 1, 2000, following a 32 year career as a Foreign                    Service Officer in the U.S. State Department. Amb. Quinn retired from the Foundation on January                3, 2020. 

Inspired by the vision of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the founder of the World Food Prize, Ambassador Quinn, over his two decade long leadership of the Foundation, endeavored to build this annual $250,000 award into the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”

Held each October in Des Moines, the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony, “Borlaug Dialogue” International Symposium and Global Youth Institute grew dramatically in size and stature under his direction. 

Speakers at events he hosted include: President Xi Jinping, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Princess Haya bint Al-Hussein and Bill Gates who launched his multi-billion dollar global initiative to end poverty at the World Food Prize. 

With the support of the John Ruan family, Ambassador Quinn led the campaign that successfully raised over $30 million to restore the century old Des Moines Public Library and transform it into the World Food Prize Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates. Under his direction, the building's restoration incorporated over $4 million in stunning original artwork and attained LEED Platinum status, the highest level of energy efficiency and resource conservation. 

Ambassador Quinn also served as Chairman of the Committee which raised the funds and selected the artist to create the statue of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, which was unveiled on March 25, 2014 in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

During his diplomatic career, Ambassador Quinn served: as a Rural Development Advisor in villages in the Mekong Delta at the beginning of the Green Revolution; on Henry Kissinger's National Security Council staff at the White House; as Refugee Counselor at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Vienna; as deputy American ambassador in the Philippines; Chairman of the U.S. Inter-agency Task Force on POW/MIAs; culminating with his assignment as U.S. ambassador in Phnom Penh.

Dr. Quinn emerged from these experiences as one of the US government's foremost experts on Indochina. He is widely acknowledged as the first person anywhere to report on the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the origins of that radical movement. While serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, the development program he implemented of improved seeds and upgraded rural roads led to the complete eradication of the Pol Pot regime.

A fluent speaker of Vietnamese, Dr. Quinn acted as interpreter for President Gerald Ford at the White House and personally negotiated the first ever entry by U.S. personnel into a Vietnamese prison to search for U.S. POW/MIAs. He was also a member of the first U.S. team to ever gain entry to a former Soviet prison in Russia. 

While serving on assignment to the staff of Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray, he: coordinated public security arrangements for the historic visit of Pope John Paul II; structured Iowa's first in the world commitment to rescue the Vietnamese "Boat People" refugees; directed the State's response to tornadoes and a prison riot; and was Director of Iowa SHARES, the humanitarian campaign that rushed food, medicine and medical volunteers to starving Cambodian refugees and genocide victims.

In March 2019, in ceremonies at the House of Lords in London, Ambassador Quinn became only the second person ever to receive the Aegis Trust Steven Krulis Champion of Humanity Distinguished Service Award for his leadership in first identifying and then eradicating the genocidal Khmer Rouge organization.

Elected as a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy, Ambassador Quinn has received numerous national honors and awards for his actions in multiple dangerous and violent situations during his Foreign Service career. Among them are:

  • The Secretary of State’s Award for Heroism and Valor for his four lifesaving rescues during his six years of service in Vietnam during the war, as well as his efforts to protect American citizens exposed to danger during military conflict in Cambodia;
  • Being the only civilian to receive the U.S. Army Air Medal for his participation in helicopter combat operations in Vietnam;
  • White House Meritorious Honor Award for his initiative and leadership in evacuating refugees from Saigon as South Vietnam fell; 
  • The Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the highest recognition for Foreign Service Officers, for his national leadership in accounting for POW/MIAs; and
  • Being the only three time recipient of the American Foreign Service Association Award for Intellectual Courage and Dissent in Challenging Policy.

On three consecutive years, Ambassador Quinn and his Embassy won the government-wide Director of National Intelligence Award for Exceptional Political Reporting. 

He also received the Order of the White Elephant from the Kingdom of Thailand, as well as Commendations from the: 

- -Treasury Department for his leadership in capturing the highest ranking North Korean terrorist ever apprehended; 

- - Drug Enforcement Administration for breaking up an international drug trafficking ring; 

- -Justice Department for his role in identifying and convicting two individuals engaged in espionage against the United States.

In his 20 year tenure as president of the World Food Prize, Amb. Quinn has received the following awards, many of which are the highest national level honors that these organizations present:

  • The American Farm Bureau Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award
  • The FFA Distinguished Service Citation
  • The Indian Council of Food and Agriculture Global Leadership Award
  • The Crop Science Society of America Presidential Award
  • The AFA Leadership in Agriculture Award
  • The George Washington Carver Distinguished Service Award
  • The White House Champion of Change Award
  • The Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Humanitarian Award
  • The M.S. Swaminathan Environmental Protection Award
  • The Global Child Nutrition Foundation Gene White Lifetime Achievement Award 
  • The Slovakia Peace Prize

On May 30, 2014, Dr. Quinn became only the 23rd person in Iowa history to receive the prestigious Iowa Medal, the state’s highest citizen honor, joining such illustrious Iowans as: President Herbert Hoover, Vice President Henry A. Wallace, Professor George Washington Carver, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Norman Borlaug.  

A graduate of Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, Ambassador Quinn has an M.A. in Political Science from Marquette University and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Maryland. He and his wife Le Son have three adult children.

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn (ret.)

President Emeritus, The World Food Prize / Des Moines, Iowa

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© 2023 World Food Prize Ambassador Quinn. All rights reserved.