Twenty-five years after Mr. Carter founded it, the center has become a global force for growing democracy, wiping out disease and promoting peace, with a staff of 160 people working in 65 nations.
"My first concept was to have something like a mini-Camp David here so I could bring people in from around the world who had an ongoing or potential conflict and I could mediate like I did with Begin and Sadat," Mr. Carter told the Associated Press, referring to the presidential retreat where the historic peace accord between Israel and Egypt was brokered in 1978.
But as the Atlanta-based nonprofit began working in some of the world's poorest areas, Mr. Carter said, the focus began to shift, at least in part, from more traditional human rights work to basic human needs.
"We began to find that if a family is starving to death and has no place to live and has no chance for any kind of rudimentary health care and is in a war zone, those deprivations become their main concern about human rights," said Mr. Carter, who at age 82 maintains a full schedule of international travel promoting the center's missions with wife Rosalynn.
The center has scheduled events throughout the year to commemorate its 25th anniversary.
Since its inception, the center has observed more than 67 elections in 26 countries where fledgling democracies were threatened.
Peace negotiators from the center have led talks between warring or rival factions in trouble spots around the globe.
The Carter Center also has spearheaded efforts to stamp out river blindness in Latin America and is working to wipe out the disease in Africa.
Mr. Carter said he's particularly proud of a program teaching techniques that have helped more than 8 million small-scale farmers in 15 African nations to double or triple their production.
"I happen to have been a farmer and still am," said Mr. Carter, whose family grew and sold peanuts in rural Plains. "We don't deal with cash crops like cotton or tobacco - we just deal with things to eat."
Mr. Carter said he envisions the center continuing its work long after he and Mrs. Carter are unable to lead it. The couple stepped down as heads of the board of trustees in 2005.