Carnegie Mellon University

Sarah Mendelson

Sarah E Mendelson

Head of CMU's Heinz in DC, Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy, Co-Chair of CMU's Sustainability Initiative, (Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Center for Sustainable Development, Brookings Institution)


At CMU, she co-chairs the University’s Sustainability Initiative and is a faculty affiliate of the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. She is also a nonresident Senior Fellow with the Center for Sustainable Development in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution, a co-chair of SDSN US, and a board member of the Free Russia Foundation.  

She served from 2015-2017 as the US Representative to the UN’s ECOSOC and as an alternate delegate from the United States to the UN’s General Assembly. She led on international development, human rights, humanitarian affairs, and combating human trafficking. There she oversaw campaigns to get country-specific resolutions passed in the General Assembly and to get NGOs, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, accredited to the UN.

Prior to her appointment as Ambassador, she served as a Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID from 2010-2014 where she was the Agency lead on democracy, human rights, and governance. A long time policy entrepreneur, she has spent over 25 years working on development and human rights as a scholar and practitioner including in Moscow with the National Democratic Institute, on the faculty of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and over a decade as senior adviser and inaugural director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There she also worked as a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program where she over saw focus groups, public opinion surveys, and social marketing campaigns in Russia on a range of issues.

Her current work centers on the creation of a Community of Practice dedicated to growing the next generation of human rights experts, activists, practitioners, and scholars through teaching and researching the Sustainable Development Goals. 

 The author of over 70 scholarly and public policy publications, Ambassador Mendelson received her BA in history from Yale University and her PhD in political science from Columbia University. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


A long-time policy entrepreneur, Mendelson has spent decades working on development and human rights as a scholar and practitioner. Her current work centers on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including researching the impact of Covid relief efforts on social justice gaps in a number of North American cities. In May 2023, Mendelson convened experts at Rockefeller’s Bellagio Center to co-create a community of practice to research and teach differently on human rights using the SDGs.