Senior Program Officer, International

McKnight FoundationMinneapolis, MN

About the McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation is a fourth-generation family foundation that was established by William L. McKnight and his wife, Maude L. McKnight, in 1953. As an early leader of 3M, Mr. McKnight earned a reputation for spurring innovation and recognizing the creative potential in others—practices that live on at the Foundation and are reflected in its core values.

Driven by its mission to advance a more just, creative and abundant future where people and planet thrive, the McKnight Foundation works across many disciplines, sectors, and geographic boundaries. Its diverse programs are united in a quest to improve our shared fate. The Foundation envisions a world that recognizes the dignity of every human being, a world where we celebrate the creativity of the arts and sciences and come together to protect our one and only Earth.

A philanthropic leader based in Minneapolis and granting more than $90 million annually across the Minnesota, the Midwest  and internationally, McKnight prioritizes working in partnership with communities and approaching complex challenges with curiosity and a willingness to take bold steps to achieve significant impact. The Foundation brings a diverse set of tools and resources to meet its mission including grantmaking, investments, collaboration, policy reform, research and strategic communications.

Learn more about The McKnight Foundation.

About the Collaborative Crop Research Program

For over 35 years, The McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) has worked to ensure a world where all have access to nutritious food that is sustainably produced by local people. This is accomplished through collaborative agroecological systems research and knowledge-sharing that strengthen the capacities of smallholder farmers, research institutes, and development organizations. McKnight takes a holistic, ecosystem approach to agriculture, supporting research and partnerships that lead to increased crop productivity, improved livelihoods, better nutrition, increased equity, and regenerative environmental outcomes in ten countries on two continents. The CCRP grew out of the Foundation’s Plant Biology Program, which was founded in 1983, and reflects the Foundation’s long-time commitment to place-based grantmaking and learning from those working on the ground.

Large-scale impact is realized when new ideas, technologies, or processes are adapted to new contexts, when insights from research catalyze change in policy and practice, and when innovation inspires further success. As farmers use new practices derived from research, the environment will also adapt and present new challenges that require further scientific advancement. The CCRP has fostered an approach that is adaptive to local contexts, evolves and iterates in response to new learning, and recognizes the long time horizons required to achieve meaningful outcomes for smallholder farmers; many of the program’s grant projects have led to technical and social innovations.

Since its founding, the CCRP has committed more than $134 Million in grantmaking to further collaborative crop research between smallholder farmers, leading local researchers, and development practitioners. Currently, grants support regionally based research projects that are grouped into three communities of practice (CoPs) in the Andes, West Africa and East & Southern Africa with leadership provided by regional consultants in collaboration with the Foundation team. The team also manages a portfolio of multi-region cross-cutting grants that fund research methods support, cutting edge innovations, and collective action/global thought leadership.  

The Opportunity

The Senior Program Officer position is a newly created role and offers a rare leadership opportunity in the arena of agroecological, farmer-centered research. Serving as the CCRP team’s biophysical science lead, the Senior Program Officer will work at the cutting edge of transdisciplinary agroecological solutions and cultivate a global portfolio of research projects and related investments focused on creating equitable and sustainable options for smallholder farmers and food systems.

A member of the McKnight Foundation’s international program team based in Minneapolis, the Senior Program Officer reports to the International Program Director. Working in close collaboration with the international team, grantees, regional consultants, and partners around the world, the CCRP team develops strategic responses to a range of pressing global challenges including rising population growth and global food security; mitigating agriculture’s impact on climate change and adapting to the impact of climate change on agriculture; and, the tension between regenerative and unsustainable crop production.

Key Priorities and Responsibilities

Strategic Implementation

  • Manage a portfolio of existing, multi-year grants that support ecological biophysical transdisciplinary research and nurture new investment opportunities in partnership with regional teams.
  • Working in close collaboration with the program director and international program officer, advise on program strategy development.
  • Engage in the review of concept notes, grant requests, final recommendations, and grant reports, and inform the process with biophysical and ecological transdisciplinary scientific expertise and experience.
  • Guide learning and strategy in areas of subject matter expertise and contribute to program innovation and evolution.


  • Actively collaborate with global consultant team, existing grantees, and new prospects to learn from current work, explore emerging opportunities, course-correct when needed, and build new concepts.
  • Develop and maintain working relationships with academic and research institutions, nonprofits/NGOs, foundations, farmer organizations, advocacy organizations, government organizations and think tanks working on agroecological research and food systems and related issues.
  • Actively engage in grantee convenings to support and advance regional communities of practice individually and collectively.
  • Represent the Foundation in relevant forums to amplify the program’s impact and share learnings through public speaking and publishing.

Communications & Operations

  • Facilitate CCRP knowledge management to support use of data and information to document impact and advance learning.
  • Manage strategic and tactical program communications, in coordination with McKnight communications team and consultants, to ensure a steady cadence of program activity, learning and accomplishments reach varied audiences (internal and external, domestic and global) through regular e-communications, relationship-building, conferences and summits, reports, presentations, publications, and website.
  • Represent CCRP team in cross-program work groups within McKnight.

Ideal Candidate

McKnight seeks individuals who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to agroecological, farmer-centered research. You share the belief that empowering local communities across the globe to grow nutritious food, locally and sustainably, is the most effective way to reverse the failures of our current global food system. You are committed to applying your biophysical and transdisciplinary science expertise to supporting a collaborative model of agroecological systems research to strengthen the capacity of farmer groups, researchers, development organizations and scientists to shift agricultural research towards holistic outcomes, equity and regenerative solutions. The ideal candidate brings the understanding that to achieve meaningful impact, the work spans research, practice, and systems change.

The successful candidate is an innovative thinker and change agent who sees the possibilities for transformation in the field of agroecological research. You are a learner at heart doing your best work in partnership with others, opting for ideas and solutions that emerge from authentic collaboration.  Highly desired are individuals who have the agility and humility to play multiple roles simultaneously: thought partner, expert/coach, leader/learner, visionary/implementer. It is essential that candidates demonstrate the intellectual energy and creativity required to view issues and challenges from multiple perspectives.

The Senior Program Officer possesses the cultural competency to diplomatically navigate diverse international contexts and multi-national stakeholder groups. You are able to readily discern what is unique about each context and connect dots where there are common themes and learnings to be shared. This is challenging and complex work, so an adaptive style that allows you to thrive in ambiguity and maintain a bias toward action that keeps the program on the cutting edge is essential.

A biophysical scientist who can toggle between the intellectual rigors of the hard science, smallholder farmer realities in the Global South and the administrative demands of a program officer juggling a portfolio of grants, relationships, and related team responsibilities will thrive in this role. It is also critical that candidates truly understand the dynamics of holding privilege and power in a funder role and demonstrate the aptitude to co-create trusting relationships across the difference.

McKnight Foundation is a learning organization, and successful candidates are naturally curious, lifelong learners who readily delve into new topics and issue areas. You will embrace the opportunities to explore ways to align the international work with learnings generated by McKnight’s domestic programs (for example, Midwest Climate & Energy) and are personally committed to participating in the Foundation’s effort to integrate justice and equity into all facets of its work.


A PhD (or equivalent combination of experience/education) in a biophysical discipline or focus within agroecology and a minimum of 5 to 7 years of applied research and publications. A track record working with agroecological principles and approaches in an international (non-USA) setting. Those who have developed their experience in a global context or outside of the USA are encouraged to apply if they have permission to work in the USA.

Previous experience in philanthropy or knowledge of the practice is an asset but not required. English language fluency is required, and preference will be given to those who also maintain fluency in French, Spanish, Portuguese, or other second language relevant to the regions where the program is active.

The salary range for the International Senior Program Officer is $138,600 -$146,700. The position is based in Minneapolis, MN (there are no exceptions). While the team is working remotely during COVID, employees will return to the office when it is deemed safe.

To Be Considered

The McKnight Foundation is an equal opportunity employer and proudly values diversity. We encourage candidates of all backgrounds to apply.

Please submit your resume and cover letter expressing your interest in the position and fit for the role via the Become a Candidate button at the top of the page. Letters may be addressed to Sarah Meyer. Please note that resumes rather than CVs are strongly encouraged.

Applicants applying by April 9th at 5:00 pm central time will be given priority consideration, with the position open until filled.

The search for a Senior Program Officer, International is being assisted by a team from GoodCitizen: 

Sarah Meyer
Vice President
Direct: 206.792.4221

Mollie Smith
Search Associate
Direct: 206.462.6190