Tell me a little about the origins of PADF and the work it does.
PADF started back in 1962 as part of the Alliance for Progress in the Americas, the result of the joint vision of president John F. Kennedy and the Organization of American States, that neighbors can work together to solve development issues and support the most vulnerable. Using the expression ‘a rising tide’, the idea was that if we could promote peace and development it would be good for everyone.
And that vision is more relevant today, if anything: even if we’ve experienced wonderful economic development over the past 55 years, there is still tremendous inequality, political turmoil, such as in Venezuela; and there are new forces at work that we had not seen vividly in the past, such as climate change and how to adapt to it, how to build resilient communities around the hemisphere and the world.
I think the PADF is uniquely positioned, focused as we are on this region, Latin America and the Caribbean to have the broad view of what needs to be done; and, we’re partnered with all the right stakeholders: governments, the private sector, local, NGOs, and communities, all the stakeholders that must come together to address these complex issues in a sustainable way.
Is there or are there currently any PADF projects that personally hit a nerve with you, in a good way. Something that made you feel that PADF was making a difference in the hemisphere.
Definitely. There are actually several. I wouldn’t have joined the Foundation if I hadn’t been taken by it. I see this work as something that is going to engage my mind, soul and heart, and there are several projects right now that do that.
One is literally in our back yard. I’m referring to the disaster in Puerto Rico. We have a grant from PepsiCo to do recovery and reconstruction, and part of the work that I’ve gotten personally involved with is trying to figure out what is going on, on the island, and to figure out how we can be most helpful. Not just on immediate response, where a lot of people have jumped in, but on the reforms needed partners for reconstruction, so that the island can be remade better than it was before. This is an aspirational vision of mine.
And, of course, while Puerto Rico has three and a half million people, and is one of the largest islands hit, let’s not forget about the people of Antigua and Barbuda, or the people of Dominica, or the people in Mexico affected by the earthquakes. In this “summer of disasters” it falls on us in every way to be there for people.
Another project that strikes me personally is in Northern Brazil, where PADF is supporting some of the indigenous population fleeing Venezuela. The situation in Venezuela is becoming increasingly dire, and we’re providing in a small way: a school, and a clinic built in repurposed shipping containers, helping these people who so much need it, trying to remove the strain they’re placing on the local community where they are right now. Now they can receive basic primary healthcare and schooling -some of them have never been to school before, children or adults- as these people live a very heart-rending humanitarian crisis.
These refugees represent a much smaller group than those fleeing into Colombia but, maybe because they are indigenous, they have not registered on the mental map, if you wish, of crisis management. This is why we work to help them.
I could go on; we’re working on democracy and self-governance throughout South America, we also work with youth and local law enforcement in programs for crime prevention, to help keep youth in schools and out of gangs, by creating opportunities for them. These issues are crucial across the hemisphere, including the United States.
How would you describe the Foundation’s culture?
Flexible, nimble, a staff that’s incredible. I am so impressed with the people here. They go above and beyond their work descriptions, they are hard-working, committed and passionate about their work.
Part of what I love already working here is the big Latino family feeling. We’re a family. Even though I’ve only been at PADF a short time, I feel adopted, people talk to me about all sorts of things. They have all sorts of traditions, like Thanksgiving lunch, and Christmas gift-giving, and dressing up for Halloween. I can’t wait to put on a costume!
Read the entire interview here.