foundation governance

Désirée M. McGraw

Jeanne Sauvé Foundation
Sauvé Scholars Foundation


As President of the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation in Montreal, Désirée is responsible for the overall mission and management of the Foundation as well as its flagship Sauvé Scholars Program, which exists to equip, enable and empower a new generation of public leaders and social entrepreneurs who will launch and lead new initiatives, NGOs, businesses and governments. Now in its tenth year, the Sauvé Program has hosted 126 emerging leaders from 50 countries.

In her prior capacity as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister and Director of Policy to Canada’s Minister of International Cooperation (2003-2006), Désirée coordinated all key ministerial files in the areas of sustainable development, stakeholder relations and multilateral organizations (such as the OECD, the UN and the World Bank). She was directly involved in coordinating Canada’s response to humanitarian crises such as HIV/AIDS in Africa (earning Canada international acclaim), the Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004) and the Pakistan Earthquake (2005). Désirée was the principal political advisor and key contributor to the Government of Canada’s 2005 International Policy Statement on Development Cooperation.

With twenty plus years of experience as an advisor, advocate, researcher, reporter and spokesperson in the field of sustainable development, Désirée has been described by the national media as “one of Canada’s ten most influential people on environmental issues”. In 2007, Désirée was among a select group of Canadians to complete a training with former U.S. Vice-President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore on the science and solutions of climate change; and in 2008 Désirée co-founded Mr. Gore’s “Climate Reality Project” leadership program in Canada, which has now reached one in ten Canadians.

As chair of a 2006 federal Liberal Taskforce on Environment and Sustainable Development, her ground-breaking report and recommendations are credited with providing a national blueprint for reconciling Canada’s social and economic objectives with its environmental concerns and commitments. Following the 2006 federal election in which the Liberals were defeated, she co-founded of Liberal Renaissance – a group of young professionals committed to the reform and renewal of the Liberal Party of Canada. She currently serves as President of the federal Liberal Riding Association of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce – Lachine in which she has been actively involved for more than a decade.

Désirée has also been active in a range of community causes and organizations, including the Montreal West Environmental Action Committee, the Westmount Family Coop, the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex, Head & Hands in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the Montreal English-Speaking Catholic Council, and the Montreal Millennium Summit.

In 2010 Désirée was named by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global (YGL) – a network of emerging leaders from around the world. One of five Canadians – and the only one in Québec – Désirée was selected in recognition of her “professional accomplishments, commitment to society and contribution to shaping the future of the world.” Other Canadian recipients include Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Liberal MP Scott Brison, Free the Children Founder Marc Kielberger, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and corporate executive Belinda Stronach. She helps to coordinate the YGL’s global Public Leadership team. As such, she has completed executive training at Harvard University’s Business School and Kennedy School of Government and McGill University’s Desautels School of Management as part of their “mini-MBA.”

Désirée has lectured on Sustainable Development and Globalization at McGill University since 2002, just prior to which she coordinated outreach for the University’s new School of Environment. Her popular seminar, entitled Climate Diplomacy, taught students the complexities of global climate change negotiations. In addition, Désirée worked as an associate with the International Institute for Sustainable Development and with Stratos Inc., an Ottawa-based consulting firm specializing in “strategies to sustainability.”

The recipient of numerous national and international scholarships for academic excellence and public service awards, Désirée pursued her graduate studies in International Relations as a Commonwealth Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Désirée is an original member of the Banff Forum for emerging leaders in public service and is a Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen’s University. She has been involved in politics and election campaigns in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, where she worked in public affairs at the Canada’s High Commission to London.

Désirée has served on the Board of Directors and/or Selection Committees of several organizations, including OXFAM-Québec, Canadian Lawyers Abroad, the Journal of International Sustainable Development Law, the Gordon Foundation Global Youth Fellowships, the Lester B. Pearson Peace Medal, the London Goodenough Association of Canada.

Désirée first became involved in international organizations at age 18 when she was appointed by the Governor General of Canada (the Right Honorable Jeanne Sauvé) to serve as a youth advisor to the Canadian Delegation to the UN’s Third Special Session on Disarmament. Since that time, she has served on a number of other Canadian delegations to UN conferences, including the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol (Montreal, 2005), the Biodiversity Convention (Nairobi, 2000, and on Environment and Development (Rio, 1992) or “Earth Summit” where she served as one of two Global Youth Ambassadors appointed by UN Under-Secretary-General Maurice Strong.

At age 16, Désirée embarked on a national speaking tour promoting global peace and security issues during the Cold War era. The eight-month cross-country tour reached a quarter of all Canadian secondary schools and was followed by special invitations to the UN, the US and the former USSR. The tour received national media attention and was the subject of an award-winning documentary by the National Film Board of Canada entitled “Mile Zero: the SAGE Tour” (1987). Désirée also co-hosted a video series with David Suzuki entitled “Alive in the Nuclear Age” (1989). Other media experience includes working as an international reporter, conducting political analysis and commentary for the CBC, Radio-Canada International, CTV and the BBC World Service. A seasoned public speaker, Désirée frequently delivers speeches at convocations and conferences around Canada.

Désirée is a graduate of l’École secondaire classique Villa Maria, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, School of Community and Public Affairs (graduating in Economics with Distinction and as class valedictorian in Arts & Science), the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award Program, and the Forum for Young Canadians. Désirée has been a competitive runner racing distances ranging from 5km to marathons (having completed five, including New York and London). She lives in her native Montréal with her husband Christopher and their young sons.



“Leaders must dream of changing the world.

They must have an inspired vision of the changes they want to make and be prepared to consecrate all
their energy to that purpose. A capacity to communicate their objectives is indispensable to sustain
the enthusiasm of their collaborators and their perseverance in action.”
— The Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé, Opening Speech to the National Conference for Young Leaders, June 2-8, 1991