Our history

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Mercy Corps' Founders

Since 1979, Mercy Corps has dedicated itself to helping people facing the toughest challenges survive and move toward a stronger, more resilient future.

1979: The organization is founded as Save the Refugees Fund, a task force organized by Dan O'Neill in response to Cambodian refugees fleeing famine, war and genocide. The fledgling organization raises $1 million to provide lifesaving aid to hundreds of thousands of people in Cambodia.

1980: Dan O'Neill meets Ellsworth ("Ells") Culver. The two men immediately strike up a friendship and find they share a commitment to providing more innovative, sustainable aid and development to fragile communities.

1982: Culver and O'Neill incorporate as Mercy Corps International in Seattle, Washington, and begin focusing on long-term solutions to hunger and poverty. The agency's first development project is launched in Honduras.

1984: Mercy Corps shortens its name and establishes it headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

1985: Mercy Corps begins work in Sudan, with projects to improve food security and accelerate development.

1986: Mercy Corps launches programs in Afghanistan, assisting 2.5 million people with agriculture and development projects.

1988: Mercy Corps distributes $7 million in supplies, including seeds to people in Ethiopia and medicine to people in Afghanistan.

1989: Mercy Corps begins loan programs that will grow to eventually lend more than $1.5 billion to help people build small businesses and support their families.

1990: Mercy Corps provides medical supplies and relief to refugees in Jordan.

1991: Mercy Corps works with Scottish European Aid to provide medicine, supplies and services to Bosnians during the Balkans wars.

1993: Mercy Corps uses a $3 million grant to assist 175,000 people in war-torn Kosovo.

1994: Neal Keny-Guyer joins Mercy Corps as chief executive officer, placing human rights, civil society and social entrepreneurship at the forefront of Mercy Corps' humanitarian mission.

1995: Mercy Corps distributes $20 million in supplies to people in need in Bosnia and Kosovo.

1996: Mercy Corps merges with Scottish European Aid to launch its European operations and opens its European headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland.

1997: Mercy Corps provides clothing and bedding to thousands of people in Azerbaijan who lost their homes during war with Armenia.

1998: Mercy Corps provides $3 million in assistance after Hurricane Mitch strikes Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mercy Corps also establishes Mercy Corps Northwest, its first initiative in the U.S., to help low-income populations in Oregon and Washington with small-business development and self-employment.

1999: Mercy Corps delivers food and supplies to 250,000 people in Kosovo and helps 100,000 refugees in Macedonia.

2000: Mercy Corps provides shelter and medical supplies to families displaced by war in Eritrea.

2001: Mercy Corps provides $1.4 million to aid survivors of a massive earthquake in India, and installs water pipelines and rehabilitates schools in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

2003: In Iraq, Mercy Corps begins to help vulnerable families displaced by war. More than 1 million people flee to Jordan and Syria, where Mercy Corps helps thousands of refugees with humanitarian aid, education and job training.

2004: Mercy Corps is one of the first responders to the Indian Ocean tsunami, supporting 1 million people with emergency relief, cash for work, loans and longer-term recovery initiatives.

2005: In Niger, the Mercy Corps trains healthcare workers and helps feed thousands of children at risk of malnutrition.

2006: Mercy Corps provides 155,000 people in Darfur, Sudan with health services, household supplies and education for their children.

2007: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mercy Corps delivers water for drinking and hygiene to 50,000 people a day.

2008: Mercy Corps wins the Fast Company Social Capitalist Awards for its innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to tackling some of the world's biggest challenges.

2009: Mercy Corps responds to the global food crisis, helping 2.2 million people in 14 countries combat hunger and resilience to future food shortages.

2010: Mercy Corps is on the ground just two days after the massive earthquake in Haiti and provides more than 1 million people with emergency food, clean water, household necessities, shelter materials, temporary jobs and emotional support for children.

2011: Mercy Corps responds to the Horn of Africa's worst drought in 60 years to help families survive the crisis and prepare for future disasters. After Japan's terrible earthquake and tsunami, we deliver lifesaving supplies to thousands of people living in shelters and help people reopen small businesses to speed recovery.

2012: Mercy Corps helps refugees fleeing the burgeoning civil war in Syria by providing clean water and building safe places for children to play.

2013: Mercy Corps' response to the Syria crisis grows quickly to meet the needs of millions of refugees who continue fleeing the war.

2014: During a year of unprecedented humanitarian crises, Mercy Corps reaches 42.5 million people with urgent assistance and support to improve their lives.

2015: Farmers in more than 20 countries receive a combined 18 million pounds of seeds from Mercy Corps. When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, we delivered emergency supplies and cash to families affected by the devastation.

2016: Mercy Corps delivers emergency cash assistance to 730,000 people in crisis, infusing $18 million into fragile local economies around the world.

2017: When famine threatens 20 million lives in Africa and Yemen, Mercy Corps responds with emergency food, water and support to help people survive. Mercy Corps was also named America's "Brand of the Year" and "Most Loved Brand" in the International Aid Nonprofit category of the Harris Poll’s 2017 EquiTrend® brand survey, and was presented with the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.

2018: Today, Mercy Corps is on the ground in more than 40 countries helping people recover from disaster, build better lives and transform their communities for good.