Don McKinnon is the inaugural Chair of the Aspen Institute New Zealand. Sir Don is also the Chair of the New Zealand China Council and Chair of Brain Research NZ and the New Zealand War Memorial Trust-Le Quesnoy and is a current member of the Aspen Minister’s Forum, chaired by Secretary Madeleine Albright. Don McKinnon began an agricultural career as a ranch hand in Wyoming, to sheep and beef farms in New Zealand, to Lincoln (Agricultural) University, through farm management, farm management consultancy, real estate and property development. In addition, for ten years he coached, part-time, prison inmates in oral communication skills.
He first sought a Parliamentary seat in 1969 and was elected to the New Zealand Parliament in 1978. He rose to be his parties Chief Whip for seven years then becoming Deputy Leader and joined the winning Government in 1990. He became Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and over the next nine years was also Leader of the House of Representatives and Minister for Pacific Island Affairs. During his time as Minister he established what was to become the Asia Foundation (NZ) and lead a peace initiative on the island of Bougainville which brought a ten year civil war to an end for which he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was elected Commonwealth Secretary-General in 1999 being the senior executive official between the 54 Commonwealth countries. The challenges during the next eight years of his term included major difficulties in Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Fiji, Maldives and Swaziland.