President and CEO
Dr. Wess Stafford, author of Too Small to Ignore: Why Children Are the Next Big Thing and Just a Minute is an internationally recognized advocate for children in poverty. His daily radio feature, "Speak Up With Compassion" is heard on over 800 radio stations in the United States.
Wess' life experiences have uniquely prepared him for his role as Compassion's President & CEO. With earned degrees from Moody Bible Institute, Biola University, and Wheaton College, as well as a Ph.D. from Michigan State University, Wess often says, "Everything I really need to know to lead a multinational organization I learned from the poor, growing up in an African village." As a boy, the son of missionaries to the Ivory Coast, Wess was one of the village children watched over by a wise and loving African "extended family." But his young heart was often broken when African friends died from the cruel ravages of poverty. Wess feels privileged to continue his parents' commitment to the poor and to now minister to those who have always been so close to his heart.
While Wess' childhood sparked a passion for serving the poor and later adventures continued to fan the flames. He attended high school in the southwestern United States before graduating from Wheaton Academy. While in college, Wess spearheaded literacy programs for disadvantaged teens in inner-city Chicago. His education and experiences in broadcasting, writing and non-formal education, and his affinity for languages and working cross-culturally were important threads of his life that prepared him for his life's mission of speaking globally on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.
As a young man, Wess represented a consortium of relief and development agencies in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. During his four years in Haiti, Wess experienced the most devastating message that poverty speaks to a child: "You don't matter." Wess also learned that the most strategic way to break the cycle of poverty is by investing holistically in children, meeting their physical, spiritual, socioeconomic and vocational needs to give them a hope and a future.
Wess joined the staff of Compassion International in 1977 and has worked for the ministry both overseas and at the Global Ministry Center. He has served as president since 1993.
"Compassion and I are a perfect match," Wess says. "Their philosophy of development reflects everything my experience told me was true — the importance of preserving the dignity of the poor, focusing on empowering people by equipping them rather than doing for them, and enhancing cultures by enabling the local church to disciple children. If Compassion had not already existed, I would have had to create it!"
Wess was awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Biola University in 2003, Colorado Christian University in 2005, and Asbury University in 2010. He is a veteran, having served four years in the U.S. Army as a linguist in military intelligence. Wess currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Religious Broadcasters. An avid outdoorsman and committed family man, Wess lives on a small ranch near Colorado Springs, Colorado with his wife, Donna, of 32 years who was a Compassion sponsor even before she met Wess! They have two daughters, Jenny and Katie — the two children in the world for whom Wess is the greatest advocate of all. They also have a dog who worships the ground Wess walks on and a cat who worships herself!