Influential Leaders

Michael Nyenhuis

President and CEO, UNICEF USA
Recognition Year(s): 2023
Area of Impact: Community or Social Impact
School: Goizueta Business School, Emory University
Location: United States

Michael J. Nyenhuis has over 25 years of global humanitarian and development experience, fundraising acumen, and proven results, talents he brings to his role as president and CEO of UNICEF USA. He is currently leading the effort to provide a safe haven for children in war-torn Ukraine and in countries around the world.

As president and CEO of UNICEF USA, Nyenhuis raises awareness for the critical issues affecting children around the world. He also plays a crucial role in lobbying the U.S. Congress and advocating for the creation of legislation to support the rights of children both at home and abroad. “We have a great team that we mobilize in Washington, D.C., as well as across the country to make our country and the world a safer, better place for children,” Nyenhuis says.

While the war in Ukraine remains a major focal point for UNICEF’s efforts, it is just one of nearly 500 new and ongoing humanitarian crises that the organization is tackling in more than 150 countries. Right now, tens of millions of children and their families globally are victims of war, poverty, famine, human trafficking, poor sanitation, and lack of quality healthcare. All are in dire need of help from leaders like Nyenhuis.

Prior to working for UNICEF, Nyenhuis served as president and CEO of MAP International, an aid organization that provides medicine and health supplies to those in need. One of his proudest achievements at this organization was forging a partnership with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center to eradicate the Guinea worm from the West African country of Côte d'Ivoire. “We already had staff on the ground in the country, and we served as the hands and feet of the effort there,” Nyenhuis says. “It was a major moment in my life when we saw the last case of Guinea worm in Côte d'Ivoire.”

Nyenhuis spent the first 10 years of his career as a journalist with a passion for covering public health issues. Following this, he landed a job heading MAP International’s communications efforts and eventually moved up the ranks to become the organization’s president and CEO. “Sometimes I think when you really find your calling, the doors just keep opening,” he shares. One of those open doors led to Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

Jeffrey Rosensweig, an associate professor of finance at Goizueta Business School, joined MAP International’s advisory board and was instrumental in helping the organization extend its networks into the Atlanta, Georgia, area. “Jeff’s a brilliant economist and truly a global thinker,” Nyenhuis says. “He proved to be a great counselor to me and MAP.” Over time, Rosensweig convinced Nyenhuis that pursuing a formal business education would help him better lead the organization. After all, MAP International wasn’t just a nonprofit, Rosensweig reminded him; it operated like a global business with offices in 10 countries and held contracts with national governments and major corporations.

Nyenhuis enrolled in Goizueta’s Executive MBA program. “It really opened my eyes working with a cohort of students who had experience in the traditional corporate world,” he says. “I learned a lot, especially about developing a strategic vision and looking at MAP International as a financial organism that needs to sustain itself. I found it also really helpful to brush up on core business principles and grow to understand the mindset of different types of business partners.”

For many outsiders looking in, the world’s problems seem overwhelming. “A lot of people tell me the world’s problems are too big to fix,” he says. “They say they don’t know why we even try. We try because there are people, there are children, who have nowhere else to turn.”

UNICEF has made a huge difference globally in helping children and their families who are victims of war, poverty, famine, human trafficking, and much more. Nyenhuis remains optimistic about humanity’s ability to tackle such weighty challenges. “The reality is that the world is a much better, much healthier place for children and others than it was 30 or 40 years ago,” he says. “And that’s because of the work of organizations like UNICEF and MAP International and Americares and others. The stats bear it out—there are more kids than ever in school, childhood vaccinations are higher, childhood deaths are lower.”

Nyenhuis points out that, since 1980, the percentage of children born each year who died from preventable causes has dropped from 10 percent to under 3 percent, thanks to advances in healthcare and humanitarian efforts made by nongovernmental organizations. “Our work is not a hopeless cause or delaying of the inevitable,” Nyenhuis says. “There is a path to a better life for kids across the globe. We are making a real difference, though sometimes it comes gradually. We have learned that no matter what obstacle we face, we can beat it. We just have to stick with it.”