Mary McDonnell

Senior Vice President for Strategic Learning and Special InitiativesPhone: (718) 517-3620


Mary McDonnell is senior vice president for strategic learning and special initiatives of the SSRC, and she leads the Council’s capacity-strengthening, fellowships, and Asia-focused work. McDonnell received her PhD in history from Columbia University with a focus on transregional connections between the Arab Middle East and Southeast Asia, particularly through Islam. She has master’s degrees in both international affairs and journalism, also from Columbia, and worked as a journalist covering Asian and Middle Eastern affairs before joining the Council full time in 1986, where she became founding director of the Abe Fellowship and Vietnam Programs. In 2015, she coedited the SAGE Handbook of Research Management, and earlier she contributed a case study of injury prevention in Vietnam to Structural Approaches in Public Health, edited by Marni Sommer and Richard Parker (Routledge, May 2013), providing a lens on creating achievable policy and behavioral change and offering lessons for other public health interventions while demonstrating the power of evaluation as a tool for strategic learning. Her current work includes a decade-long, qualitative and quantitative assessment of population health in rural Vietnam; and she recently secured a series of grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies. McDonnell is leading learning and evaluation (LEP) efforts for four of the Atlantic Fellows programs: International Inequalities Institute, Racial Equity, The Equity Initiative, and the Global Brain Health Initiative. She also coordinates across all Atlantic Fellows LEP efforts. McDonnell serves on the Expert Working Group of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, on the advisory boards of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the British Council for Mobilising the Humanities. She chairs the Board of Trustees of the School for Social Development and Public Policy at Beijing Normal University and is a founding member of the board of a new NGO, Resources for Health Equity.