John R. Mott is the best known figure in the Ecumenical movement. He was a leader of several organizations that preceded the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The story of Mott starts usually with his attendance the Mount Hermon Student Conference in 1886. Two years later, when he graduated, he accepted the post of College Secretary of the Intercollegiate YMCA (1888–1915). In 1895, when the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) was founded, Mott became its first General Secretary (1895–1920). In 1901, he became an Associate General Secretary (1901–1915) of the North American International Committee of the YMCA and in 1915 its General Secretary (1915–1928). Along with his work in the YMCA, Mott was a president of the Student Volunteer Movement (1886–1920) and general secretary (1895–1920) and chairman of the WSCF (1920–1928).
From 1891 on, Mott increasingly became a central figure in the World Alliance of YMCAs. In 1900 he became a member of the World's Committee, representing the American movement. From the London Plenary of 1907 on, Mott was in practice the leader of the World's Alliance. He became the president of the World's Alliance in 1926 and held the post until 1947. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for his work in uniting world youth. He died in 1955.
Although Mott was primarily an evangelist, he was also a gifted statesman who could solve controversies between various groups in the YMCA and in the Ecumenical movement. He was also an administrator who had a gift for raising funds and using them effectively. Although he devoted his energy to the YMCA, he was not fighting for the YMCA but for its mission. Thus, he organized several other organizations, like the WSCF, International Missionary Council (IMC) and WCC.
This “personal union” aspect between ecumenical organizations was one significant feature in Mott's activity. Willem A. Visser ‘t Hooft’s (the first GS of the WCC) mother expressed the essential when she said that Mott “was like a spider and that no one who had been caught in his web could get out of it again (Visser ‘t Hooft, 1973: 18).” Mott was able to find young men with potential to whom he then gave training and put to work. The Ecumenical movement of the first half of the twentieth century was largely based on this web of Mott’s.