A bequest from the Bene family

John G. Bene, O.C.

John G. Bene had a distinguished career in the Canadian forest industry and later, in the public sector both in Canada and internationally. Born in Vienna and raised in Hungary, where his family owned a plywood factory, Bene emigrated to Canada in 1938 and founded a veneer plywood plant that, by 1940, became the largest supplier of aircraft birch plywood in the Commonwealth.

After World War II, he was commissioned by the Allied Military Government to evaluate panel board technology in Germany. In 1964, Bene founded Weldwood of Canada Ltd. Active in civic affairs, Bene was one of the founders of the Children's Foundation and a Director of the Bank of British Columbia.

After 1968, Bene was special advisor in forestry and later Director General of the Special Advisor's Branch of the Canadian International Development Agency; a Governor of the International Development Research Centre, and later, special advisor to its President on forestry and renewable resources; and a founding member and first Chairman of the International Council for Research in Agroforestry. Toward the end of his life, Bene was chief federal negotiator in the Nisga’a Indian land claim in British Columbia.

Bene's outstanding service to the country was recognized in 1983, when he was admitted as officer of the Order of Canada, and again in 1986, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by Simon Fraser University.

John G. Bene had a deep concern for the social, economic, cultural, and environmental consequences of the exploitation of forests. The phrase "Trees and People" captures his philosophy, and emphasizes the dependence of communities on woody vegetation and the range of goods and services it offers. This is particularly true for poorer people: wood is gathered for cooking meals and heating; leaves and fruits are harvested for food and fodder and to enhance or restore fertility to gardens; and trees are essential to protect people, animals, and the crops and soil from torrential rains, strong winds, and the searing sun.

Forest ecosystems are as vulnerable to changing climate conditions as other ecosystems, and the immediate and long term effects on those ecosystems and on people’s livelihoods are considerable and often devastating. There is much to study and learn about the policies, practices, and behaviours that could promote resilience and support the interdependent nature of “trees” and “people”. Bene had a deep confidence in people and recognized the importance of individual leadership in solving problems. This award is intended to encourage and support such leadership.


A bequest from the estate of John G. Bene provided the initial capital for an endowment. Public subscriptions have contributed to the endowment's capital fund.

IDRC offers the John G. Bene Fellowship annually.  For information on the call, please visit the Funding page.

The 2018 John G. Bene Fellowship was awarded to Matthew McBurney, PhD candidate in Political Science and International Development at the University of Guelph. The Fellowship supports his research entitled: Local Environmental Governance in the Shadows of the Hacienda: Socio Bosque in the Páramos of Chimborazo, Ecuador.

The 2019 John G. Bene Fellowship was awarded to Andrea Vásquez-Fernández, PhD candidate in Forestry at the University of British Columbia. The fellowship supports her research entitled: Addressing violent conflicts through understandings of “respect”: A collaborative research with the Asheninka and Yine Peoples from the Peruvian Amazon.

The 2020 John G. Bene Fellowship was awarded to Winy Vásquez Benavides, PhD student in Forestry at the University of British Columbia. The fellowship supports her research entitled: The Right to Food in Contested spaces: How Food Sovereignty Can Help Alleviate Food Insecurity and Meet Conservation Goals Inside of Protected Areas in the Peruvian Amazon.