Longtime Mercy Corps Leader to Step Down

Neal Keny-Guyer's resignation comes days after a bombshell investigation by the Oregonian.

By Julia Silverman October 11, 2019

Longtime Mercy Corps leader Neal Keny-Guyer resigned Thursday, after 25 years at the helm of Portland's highest profile nonprofit, issuing an anguished farewell letter to his worldwide staff and donors.

The move comes just days after the Oregonian reported that board members at the international humanitarian aid organization had known for years that co-founder Ellsworth Culver had been accused of sexually abusing his daughter Tania Humphrey, but took no action against him. In addition to an 11-page report, the newspaper produced a 40 minute documentary detailing Humphrey's searing and traumatic story.

In the wake of the scandal, Mercy Corps' senior legal counsel, Barnes Ellis, also resigned, as did longtime Board of Directors member Robert Newell. And the organization will commission an independent review of its handling of the sexual abuse report, current board co-chair Gisel Kordestani said in a statement.

"If I am going to morally own this — and I believe this in my soul — then I need to take the ultimate action," Keny-Guyer wrote in his resignation letter. "Sure, there are failures of governance, of process, and of management. But if I had paid more attention, if I had focused more, if I were a fully attentive leader, the outcome could have been different."

Employees at Mercy Corps say its Portland headquarters has been thrown into turmoil by the revelations, and that many there pushed for Keny-Guyer to resign.

Keny-Guyer, 65, has been at Mercy Corps for 25 years. During that period, the agency grew to employ 5,500 people worldwide, who work in more than 40 countries across the globe, on disaster relief, poverty mitigation and economic development, among other areas.  

In addition to its work around the world, Mercy Corps’ footprint in Portland has grown exponentially during Keny-Guyer’s tenure. The nonprofit opened a $20 million eco-forward headquarters in Portland’s Old Town neighborhood with space for everything from summer camps to rotating exhibits. Through its local micro-loans program, it has supported local businesses around the Pacific Northwest and has worked with inmates at local prisons.

If confirmed, Keny-Guyer’s resignation would mark the second major department from the nonprofit this year, and a sea change in leadership in the Portland area’s most prominent international nonprofit. Co-founder Dan O’Neill formally retired in June.

Keny-Guyer has said he did not know about the details of the sexual abuse allegations against Mercy Corps’ late co-founder Ellsworth Culver when he joined Mercy Corps as CEO in 1994, but has acknowledged that he did know that Humphrey re-approached the board in 2018.

In his farewell statement, he said he intended to, "take part of November and December to reflect on and write about what we have just been through. I want to help shine a light on — beyond Mercy Corps — how society so fails survivors and victims of abuse."

Keny-Guyer is married to Oregon State Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, a Portland Democrat.

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