Robert N. Kaplan joined the Inter-American Foundation on November 1, 2010 as president and Chief Executive Officer.
From 1994 to 2010, Kaplan served at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), most recently as the Chief Advisor to the Executive Vice-President. Before assuming that position, Kaplan served as Chief of the Environment and Natural Resources Management Division (1998-2007) for Mexico, Central America, Dominican Republic and Haiti, where he was responsible for IDB programs related to agriculture and rural development, potable water and sanitation, environment, risk management, and municipal development.
Prior to joining the IDB, Kaplan worked at the World Bank on education and environment projects. He was the first head of the Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian Rain Forest, a $250-million grant program. Kaplan is a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. He received his undergraduate education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from Princeton University. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, and conversant in Guaraní. He is an avid cyclist.
In fiscal year 2016, the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) awarded $14.4 million to 96 grassroots and nongovernmental organizations in 17 countries. They in turn committed or mobilized another $22.8 million for their initiatives. Our portfolio of 282 active projects represents a $72.6 million investment by the IAF and $98.7 million from our grantee partners. These numbers tell an important story about how the IAF works. Our purpose, enshrined in our founding legislation in 1969, includes a call to support the “ever wider participation of the people in the development process.” So we put community organizations at the center of our work, and we look for the most effective ways to help them carry out their development projects. The fact that the IAF is most often a minority investor in these projects underlines the fact of local ownership.
The IAF has had the privilege to collaborate with thousands of grassroots groups in Latin America and the Caribbean over more than 45 years. We are constantly on the lookout for ways to complement, extend and expand their successes. How can community organizations tap into and leverage the enormous store of positive social energy generated by this extensive network? This quest has become a central theme of the IAF’s work as we increase our efforts to bring grassroots organizations together to learn from each other and join forces. We have seen many times how peer-to-peer engagement multiplies the impact of local investments and strengthens the social fabric of their neighborhoods, villages, towns and cities. As the IAF’s president, I (Bob) participated over the last year in three gatherings of our grantee partners in Bolivia, Brazil and Nicaragua. In all three places the power and excitement was palpable as people shared their experiences and ideas with peers working in diverse contexts. In 2016 we took our quest one step farther by asking our partners to help us design an online learning and engagement platform that will make it easy to stay connected after everyone has returned home. This portal will also allow others to join the conversations and share their knowledge and experience without regard to geographic boundaries. This will be a multi-year effort, and we are enthusiastic about its potential to bring practical know-how and additional resources within reach of local organizations.
We saw a vivid expression of the value of this grassroots network last March when three board members traveled to Ecuador and were welcomed by our local partners into their communities. We met extraordinary men, women and young people from around the country with so much talent, commitment and passion to make a difference. They shared their vision and showed us what they were doing to make their dreams reality. Sadly, just a few weeks after our visit a destructive earthquake shook Ecuador. This tragedy reminded us all of the fragility of our collective efforts and the need to stand with our friends as they rebuild their homes, businesses and local gathering places.
Crime and violence are a top concern in many countries of the region, and the IAF’s extensive local networks contain a wealth of practical experience in building peace and prosperity from the ground up. Nowhere is this more important than Central America, where the badly frayed social fabric has had such dramatic consequences. Strong communities are essential to provide a durable foundation for prosperity, good governance, and security. The IAF has increased activity in this troubled region as part of the United States’ strategy to support Central America’s Alliance for Prosperity, and we are committed to expanding our efforts in the years ahead.
Finally, we are pleased to welcome two new board members appointed this year by President Obama. Vice-chair Juan Carlos Iturregui and Luis Viada bring many years of professional and personal experience in the region, and we look forward to their participation in the foundation’s work. Rotating off the board in 2016 were John Salazar, who served ably as board chair from 2009 to 2014, and Ambassador Thomas Dodd, who had been vicechair since 2009. On behalf of the full board and staff of the foundation, we thank both men for their wise leadership and the many ways they helped advance the IAF’s mission over nearly a decade.
Robert N. Kaplan