Former Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for decades has been a member of Global Minnesota, a nationally known nonprofit that promotes international education.

Now Ritchie, 67, has been named its new president. He said that running a group whose mission is "advancing international understanding and engagement" was a natural move, given his background in state government, business and agriculture.

"Their mission statement in just a few words says out loud what I've devoted my life to promoting," Ritchie said.

He will succeed Carol Engebretson Byrne, who is retiring after 21 years of service. She tripled Global Minnesota's revenue, led its rebranding and name change and pushed the organization into the top 10 of the 90 World Affairs Councils of America.

"Rarely does a premier leader of nonprofits and community organizations retire and open an opportunity for you," Ritchie said. "This is an incredible chance for me."

More than 8,000 people viewed the job posting online, and 170 people had conversations with the search firm about the job, said search committee chairman Mike Meyer. Applicants included ambassadors, teachers, business executives and government and State Department leaders.

"Mark lives in the Twin Cities and knows our organization, which is a bonus," Meyer said. "He is a dedicated globalist, has shown exceptional inspirational leadership and is a prolific fundraiser. He's just a good guy all around."

The Minneapolis group has more than 2,000 members, 52 corporate members and a $1.5 million budget. The group will hand Ritchie a recently developed five-year plan, with one major goal of attracting younger members and audiences.

Global Minnesota was founded as the Minnesota International Center, an organization that welcomed foreign students and scholars. One of those early students was Ertugrul Tuzcu, a Turkish immigrant who is now Global Minnesota's board chairman. He estimated the group has connected more than 15,000 international visitors with Minnesotans from all sectors.

"Mark will help raise Minnesota's profile in the world," he said.

Global Minnesota offers programming for people ranging from "a second-grader to a CEO,' " Tuzcu said. It uses current information on global issues, foreign policy and cultural topics and provides space for residents to discuss it.

The group also frequently hosts foreign dignitaries and State Department employees, matching them with their occupational counterparts and planning dinners with local families, he said.

Recent events included a conference with journalists and diplomats on how foreign policy is covered and a convention with 91 Fulbright scholars who traveled to the state to study food security with local nonprofits, corporations and farmers.

Future events are planned on trade issues and global health.

Ritchie most recently served as leader of Minnesota-USA Expo, a public-private partnership that unsuccessfully sought to bring the 2023 World Expo to Minnesota. He collaborated with heads of state, United Nations committees, scholars and corporate leaders, said Marilyn Carlson Nelson, co-owner of Carlson's Inc., who led the bid committee's board of directors.

Ritchie had frequent contact with Global Minnesota when he founded the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, worked for the state's trade office and served as Minnesota secretary of state from 2007 to 2015.

He said he enjoys talking politics and voting issues with his foreign guests, but he added that their faces really light up when discussing agriculture.

"It touches everybody, and it's such an important topic," he said.

Repeat visitors have told Ritchie how warmly they were welcomed by Global Minnesota staffers and remarked on the expertise shown in the questions they were asked. Visitors also were impressed with the many immigrant groups in Minnesota they met during their stay, he said.

"For me, this is a chance to make a difference by bringing people together, broadening perspectives and building understanding — in Minnesota and around the world," Ritchie said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465