The World Food Prize Foundation

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn

President Emeritus
The World Food Prize Foundation

Effective January 2023, World Food Prize Foundation President Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, has rejoined the organization as a special consultant. 

Amb. Quinn assumed the leadership of the World Food Prize Foundation on January 1, 2000, following his retirement from the State Department after a 32 year career in the Foreign Service. Amb. Quinn retired on January 3, 2020 from the Foundation. 

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

Held each October in Des Moines on or around World Food Day (October 16), the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony, “Borlaug Dialogue” International Symposium and Global Youth Institute have grown in size and stature under his direction. With the support of the John Ruan family, Ambassador Quinn led the campaign that successfully raised over $30 million to restore the historic Des Moines Public Library and transform it into the World Food Prize Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates.

More recently, he served as Chairman of the Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Statue Committee, which raised the funds and selected the artist to create the statue of Dr. Borlaug, which was unveiled on March 25, 2014 in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

During his diplomatic career, Ambassador Quinn served: as a Rural Development advisor in the Mekong Delta; on the National Security Council staff at the White House; at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Vienna; as Chairman of the U.S. Inter-agency Task Force on POW/MIAs; and as Director of Iowa SHARES, the humanitarian campaign that sent Iowa doctors, nurses, medical supplies and food to starving Cambodian refugees.  

Dr. Quinn emerged from these experiences as one of the US government's foremost experts on Indochina. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the origins of the radical Pol Pot regime and is widely acknowledged as the first person anywhere to report, in 1974, on the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge. Twenty years later, while serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, his plan of agricultural enhancements and rural roads led to the final eradication of the Khmer Rouge.

In February 2019, the Aegis Trust announced that Ambassador Quinn will be only the second person ever to receive its Steven Krulis Champion of Humanity Distinguished Service Award for his leadership in identifying and then eradicating the genocidal Khmer Rouge organization.

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 gain entry to a former Soviet prison in Russia.

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. Among them are:

  • The Secretary of State’s Award for Heroism and Valor for the four lifesaving rescues in which he participated during the war in Vietnam, as well as his efforts to protect American citizens exposed to danger 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 work on behalf of refugees from Indochina; and
  • The Presidential Distinguished Service Award for his leadership in accounting for POW/MIAs
  • Being the only three time recipient of the American Foreign Service Association Award for Intellectual Courage and Dissent in Challenging Policy

In his role as president of the World Food Prize, Amb. Quinn has received the following honors, many of which are the highest level national award 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; and
  • 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;

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.  

Ambassador Quinn, a graduate of Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, has a 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.

View photos of Amb. Quinn receiving the Army Air Medal.


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