NEW YORK, 23 June 2011 — The Ford Foundation today announced the appointment of Myriam Méndez-Montalvo as representative for its office serving the Andean Region and Southern Cone, based in Santiago, and Nilcéa Freire as representative for the foundation’s office in Brazil (view in Português), based in Rio de Janeiro.
“We are proud to have two such distinguished international leaders join the foundation’s leadership,“ said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation. Méndez-Montalvo begins her new position in Santiago this week. Freire will assume leadership of the Brazil office in July. Both appointees were selected after intensive international searches.
“Nilcéa and Myriam have dedicated their lives to advancing democracy and human rights, and fighting for economic opportunity for the marginalized and underrepresented,” said Maya L. Harris, vice president for Democracy, Rights and Justice at the foundation. “We are enormously proud that they are bringing their skills, passion and knowledge to the Ford Foundation. Our partners in the region will be delighted to work with these remarkable leaders.”
Harris, who oversees the foundation’s work across Latin America, which also includes an office in Mexico City, personally thanked the outgoing representatives, Martín Abregú in Santiago, who has become director of Human Rights and Governance for the foundation, and Ana Toni in Brazil, who is now chair of the board of directors of Greenpeace International, for their remarkable service. She said both have made enormous contributions to the region’s future.
The foundation’s work in South America addresses inequality, racial discrimination, and social and political exclusion through support to local organizations that promote democratic and accountable government, human rights, economic fairness, sustainable development, education and free expression.
Myriam Méndez-Montalvo brings nearly two decades of experience working to promote democracy and state building in countries in transition. Most recently she served as policy adviser on accountability and security at the United Nations Development Programme. At UNDP, she provided strategic direction for governance programs around the world.
Prior to joining UNDP, Myriam led country programs across Latin America for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, working on issues ranging from increasing political participation by women and indigenous peoples in Peru and Guatemala to electoral reform in Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay. Myriam began her career as a lawyer in Colombia and also worked with the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva and the International Criminal Court in The Hague. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University and an L.L.M. from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota.
Nilcéa Freire served as Brazil’s minister of the Special Secretariat for Women’s Policies in President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration from 2004 to 2010. In that role, Freire worked to establish national laws to combat domestic violence against women and developed the first national plan for gender-specific policies that emphasized autonomy and equality in the workplace, inclusive education, and women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
Freire was Brazil’s official delegate to the Inter-American Commission of Women, ultimately serving as president of the commission. She also presided over the National Council for the Rights of Women. Prior to her government service, Freire was rector of the State University of Rio de Janeiro—the first woman to serve in this capacity at a public university in Rio. There she led the implementation of the newly established affirmative action system to facilitate access to higher education for Afro-Brazilian and public high school students. Freire has also practiced as a physician. She holds college and medical degrees from the State University of Rio de Janeiro and a master’s degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
As the foundation’s representative for the Rio office, Freire will oversee all grant making in Brazil, which emphasizes the rights of the underrepresented, including Afro-Brazilians and indigenous peoples. In Santiago, Méndez-Montalvo will lead an office that supports human rights, economic fairness and strengthening government institutions throughout the Andean Region and Southern Cone.