Community and Philanthropic Advocate
Influential political and community leader who served as Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme.
Public service would be impossible without passion. In order to create a meaningful impact, one must have enough dedication to overcome the difficulties of a life of service. They must be determined to care about their community—and willing to devote their lives to the cause. Here in Indiana, there is perhaps no public servant more passionate than Jim Morris.
A lifelong Hoosier and Terre Haute native, Jim Morris has spent almost his entire career improving the quality of life in Indianapolis. He earned degrees from both Indiana University and Butler University and went on to become the Chief of Staff for Mayor Richard Lugar in 1967.
Morris worked alongside Mayor Lugar during a pivotal time in Hoosier history. He helped shape the sports strategy that would bring new business and opportunities to downtown Indianapolis. He had a hand in the formation of Unigov, and he helped establish the inaugural United Nations Conference on Cities.
But even after he left the Mayor’s Office, Morris’ career was defined by his drive to make Indianapolis a safer, better city. He worked as the CEO of the Indianapolis Water Company for 13 years and spent 16 years as the President of the Lilly Endowment, where his philanthropic efforts helped raise funds for cultural staples such as the Indianapolis Zoo, the Indiana Repertory Theatre and the RCA Dome.
By the time Jim Morris retired in 2002, he had already enjoyed a long and successful career improving lives across Indianapolis. But his passion for service took him across the world to Rome—where he spent five years working in humanitarian relief.
Jim Morris served as the Executive Director of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, touted as the world’s largest humanitarian organization. He helmed efforts to provide aid and food assistance to more than 100 million people, including relief during the Iraq War and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. For his work abroad, The International Center even recognized Jim Morris with the International Citizen of the Year Award in 2005.
“[Working at the World Food Programme] was the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever done,” said Jim Morris. “Every child in the world deserves to be fed, and go to school and be loved. The rest of the world must step in and help—generously.”
After leaving the World Food Programme, Morris returned to Indianapolis, where he still remains a pillar of the community today. He has served on the boards of The International Center, Indiana University, Indiana State University, the Boy Scouts of America, Riley Children’s Foundation, and even briefly as the Treasurer of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Jim Morris is also the namesake of the James T. Morris Global Leadership Series at The International Center. Founded in 2020, this professional development program teaches a cohort of local business and nonprofit leaders how to be more effective global citizens.
“Think about the kind of person you want to be… and the type of world you want to live in,” Morris said to the 2021 Morris Series cohort. “Then, figure out what you might do to make the world a better, healthier, freer place.”
Now, Morris works as the Vice Chairman for Pacers Sports & Entertainment, as well as the United States Permanent Representative to the UNICEF Executive Board. But his legacy as a public servant lives on through the thousands of lives he’s touched. His passion to help others has made a difference both in Indianapolis and around the world—and that dedication is something that all leaders can aspire to.