October 24, 2017


James Stephenson
James Stephenson MIA ’07

Family and friends of the late James Stephenson MIA ’07 have established the James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellowship to provide financial support to an outstanding SIPA student each year. The fellowship will be awarded to a returned Peace Corps volunteer who exemplifies Stephenson’s commitment to international development and humanitarian aid.

Stephenson, who died unexpectedly on July 25 in Copenhagen, spent much of his adult life working on international development — in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

"James Stephenson embodied SIPA’s mission of service and leadership,” said Dean Merit E. Janow. “This fellowship will help perpetuate his important legacy by supporting others who share his passion and dedication. I salute James’s parents for their vision in making this gift.”

Stephenson’s father, David Stephenson, said the purpose of the fellowship is to encourage former Peace Corps volunteers like his son “to commit to work at the rough edge of economic and political development in the third world.”

Raised in southern California, Stephenson earned a BA in history at Columbia in 1999. After graduating he worked for Colorado Clean Water and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria before returning to Columbia for graduate school. At SIPA Stephenson concentrated in Economic and Political Development and earned a certificate in Bulgarian, Serbian, and Russian languages from the Harriman Institute.

During his career Stephenson worked for the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, and International Relief and Development, which assigned him to Baghdad’s “red zone.” There he worked to increase employment and political stability by helping the Iraqi people develop businesses.

After 15 months in Iraq Stephenson moved on to Mercy Corps in Sri Lanka, where he pursued economic development programs as the nation concluded its long civil war. He was instrumental in gaining the release of Tamil civilians from POW camps and their return to farms and fields cleared of mines.

Stephenson eventually joined a subsidiary of the Copenhagen-based Danish Refugee Council. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, and working in Somalia and Somaliland, he designed programs to reduce armed violence among and within Somali clans. After successfully establishing local government structures for nonviolent dispute resolution, he adapted the model to address similar challenges in South Sudan, Tunisia, Mali, and Nigeria. At the time of his death, Stephenson was preparing to leave for a new assignment in northern Nigeria.

 For information about supporting the James Mead Stephenson Memorial Fellowship, please contact SIPA’s Development Office at devsipa@columbia.edu.