Lewis Perinbam

Lewis Perinbam

Anyone who worked in the international development field in Canada during the 1970s and 1980s would be familiar with the name Lewis Perinbam. However, with the dismantling of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), where Lewis spent most of his career, his legacy is becoming lost. Most of the documents describing Lewis’ achievements are found in archives and academic publications that are not accessible to all, which is why the goal of this project is to inform current and future generations of Lewis’ impact. Lewis was instrumental in fostering partnerships between Canada and the Global South, in making education more accessible to all and in creating opportunities for young people to become more involved in making our world a better place.

Born in 1925 in Johor Bahru (present-day Malaysia), Lewis Perinbam was sent to Scotland at the age of nine by his family in order to be educated. While in the UK, he started to work with the World University Service (WUS), a non-governmental organization established in the aftermath of the First World War to aid foreign students in need. In 1953, he was offered the opportunity to come to Canada and help develop the Canadian branch of WUS. In 1959, Lewis’ work at World University Services Canada (WUSC) earned him a job as Secretary General of the Canadian National Commission for UNESCO, where he continued to promote international cooperation amongst young people. Throughout his career in the public service, Lewis helped to establish the Canadian University Service Overseas (presently known as Cuso International) and served as the head of CIDA’s non-governmental organization program. Lewis was a mentor, an innovator and, as many of his acquaintances called him, “a connector.” We hope you enjoy this opportunity to get to know the legacy of Lewis Perinbam.

This project was generously sponsored by Mitacs and WUSC. We want to thank all of the participants who contributed to this project and helped bring it to life.

Lewis PerinbaM Chronology


Born on May 11, 1925 in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Photo taken in Johor Bahru – Lewis' hometown. Date unknown. Lewis (back row, fourth from the left) with his family. Source: Lena Horswill.


Moved to Glasgow, Scotland at the age of nine to study at the International Students Centre.


Offered the opportunity to develop the Canadian branch of World University Service and subsequently immigrated to Canada.

Young Lewis. Date unknown. Source: Unknown photographer/LAC e999919838-u.


Appointed as Secretary General of the Canadian National Commission for The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


Served as Cuso International's first Executive Director.


Joined the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as the head of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Division.

Photo of Lewis that Richard Harmston (former co-worker at CIDA) had hanging in his cubicle, which he captioned with "Our Leader!". Lewis added the "P" to the caption. Source: Richard Harmston.


Became Vice-President of the Special Programs Branch of CIDA.


World University Service Canada establishes the annual Lewis Perinbam Award celebrating the achievement of those who have made a significant contribution to the field of international development.


Retired from CIDA in October 1991 and started serving as a Special Adviser to Commonwealth of Learning's (COL) first two presidents and was Chair of the Board of Governors from 2003 until 2007.

Lewis' former co-workers at the NGO Division at CIDA arranged a reunion on the 35th anniversary of the NGO Division in 2006 and had Lewis plant a tree dedicated to him. Source: Richard Harmston.


Appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Photo taken at Rideau Hall when Lewis received the Order of Canada in 1997. In the picture, from left to right, are: Sarojini (Soji) and Alfred Perinbam (Lewis' brother and his wife), Lewis and his wife, Nancy Garrett. Source: Lena Horswill.


Chaired the 2000 Canadian Government Task Force on the Participation of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service, producing a comprehensive plan in order to bring more diversity to the public service.


Appointed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien for a three-year term to the Board of Governors of the Canadian Centre for Management Development. - Received the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal.


Passed away at the age of 82 in Vancouver, British Columbia on December 12, 2007.

The Lewis Perinbam Award

Created in 1986, the Lewis Perinbam Award for International Development recognizes significant volunteer efforts that improve people’s lives in developing countries; that engage and inspire Canadians and others to undertake volunteer action; and that identify new ways of thinking or addressing difficult development challenges.

Award winners receive $5,000 to further support their volunteer efforts. Its true value lies in bringing international development home to Canadians, by highlighting the dedication and accomplishments of individuals across the country toward creating a better world. Learn more about past winners.

The Lewis Perinbam Award is governed by the award trustees, individuals who knew Lewis Perinbam personally and who are familiar with the history and spirit of the award. In 2007, WUSC assumed responsibility for administering the award in collaboration with the trustees. In 2019, WUSC, Cooperation Canada, and the trustees of the Lewis Perinbam Award launched the Innovation and Impact Awards in honour of Lewis Perinbam to further ensure its ongoing legacy.

You can make a donation to support the Lewis Perinbam Award (select “Innovation and Impact Awards” from the “Area to Support” menu) and recognize the contributions of outstanding volunteers in international development.

Nancy tells me about Lewis Perinbam


WUSC • EUMC · Nancy tells me about Lewis Perinbam - Podcast # 72


Interview with

Huguette Labelle

Former President of CIDA who knew Lewis through their shared work in the development sector. The interview was conducted on February 12, 2021.

Interview with

Jean Marc Mangin

President and CEO of Philanthropic Foundations Canada whom Lewis served as a mentor to. Interview conducted on June 2, 2021.

Interview with

Charles Bassett

Retired civil servant who worked together with Lewis at CIDA. The interview was conducted on March 5, 2021.

Interview with

Lena Horswill

Retired NGO professional, niece of Lewis. Interview conducted on March 17, 2021.

Interview with

Lindsay Dagg

Friend of Lewis’. Interview conducted on January 26, 2021.

Interview with

Margaret Catley Carlson

Former President of CIDA who served as Lewis’ boss. The interview was conducted on February 9, 2021.

Interview with

Paul Davidson

President and CEO of Universities Canada whom Lewis served as a mentor to. The interview was conducted on February 18, 2021.

Interview with

Richard Harmston

Retired civil servant who worked together with Lewis at CIDA. Interview conducted January 29, 2021.

Interview with

Sheila Batchelor

Retired civil servant who worked together with Lewis at CIDA. Interview conducted on March 19, 2021.


The Lewis Perinbam Memory Book

A last gift to you from Lewis

Remembering Lewis Perinbam

Grim story of two doctors

Letter to Lewis from his father — Dr Perinbam

Letter to Lewis from his aunt and uncle — Mr and Mrs Aaron

Commonwealth of Learning Article