Ellsworth Culver was an American humanitarian and aid worker and co-founder of Mercy Corps International.
Wesley Ellsworth Culver had a strong commitment to humanitarian service and promoting peace and social justice in the United States and around the world. Culver spent his early childhood in China. He had also lived and taught in pre-Castro Cuba, and worked in over 90 countries.
Educated at Asbury College in Kentucky, Culver began his international career in 1949 as a teacher at the American School in Isle of Pines, Cuba. In 1950, Culver co-founded OC International, a Christian service organization in Asia. From 1958 to 1961, he joined World Vision as Executive Vice President and launched programs in Asia and Latin America.
In 1965, Culver turned his attention stateside to establish corporate community involvement programs in San Francisco, which developed employee task forces to work on emerging inner-city social issues. Over the next ten years, Culver developed programs that expanded to over 75 corporations across the U.S. As a result, he was asked to lead the Alliance for Volunteerism, a coalition of major U.S. voluntary organizations, to develop initiatives to strengthen community action at the local level.
Culver returned to international work in 1978 as the Executive Vice President of Food for the Hungry. His work with refugees included a rescue ship on the South China Sea; refugee camps in Southeast Asia; and food distribution programs in Kenya, Haiti, Pakistan, Peru and Bangladesh. During this time, he established the Hunger Corps, which provided young adults with opportunities for volunteer service to aid famine victims.
Culver joined Mercy Corps in 1982 as the agency's third full-time staff member. Culver directed the expansion of Mercy Corps' international relief and development programs into Africa, the Middle East, and Central America. In Honduras, Culver helped to establish Proyecto Aldea Global (Project Global Village), an indigenous organization that provides training on agricultural methodologies, literacy, health services, and infrastructure development. Culver was instrumental in the development of Mercy Corps Europe and developing new areas of activity for Mercy Corps in Asia and around the world.
Culver served on the boards of the Arca Foundation, a progressive charitable foundation, and Global Action, an agency involved in researching and interpreting international events. He was also chairman of the ProTem Foundation, which provides employment skills training and promotes programs that address family issues related to work, and was a founding board member of the Oregon Inter-Religious Committee for Peace in the Middle East.
Culver spoke at university convocations, civic clubs, churches, panels, workshops and seminars on topics such as citizen involvement in the global community and reflections on current global events and conflicts.
He died in 2005 after experiencing complications with melanoma surgery.
In 2006, North Korea posthumously awarded its Friendship Medal to Culver in recognition of his efforts to alleviate poverty and hunger in the country. He was the first American to earn such a medal from North Korea. Culver visited North Korea more than 20 times.