News about Former Foundation Staff: 9/2018
Don Chen is the new president of the Surdna Foundation, the New York-based institution that “seeks to foster sustainable communities…guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies and thriving cultures”.
He was selected to be its third president because, noted the foundation, his “career has always been highlighted by his focus on environmental and community health in the context of urban environments”.
That career includes working for the last ten years at the Ford Foundation as a program officer in the Metropolitan Opportunity, Equitable Development and Cities and States programs and, most recently, as director of Community and Resource Development.
Before Ford he was the founder, CEO and executive director for nine years of Smart Growth America, a housing and urban development coalition that worked to create “healthier and more sustainable communities across the nation”.
Chen has a master’s degree from Yale University in environmental studies and urban environmental policy.
He serves on several boards, including the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, West Harlem Environmental Action and the Environmental Leadership Program.
“Don has the track record, experience and deep commitment to social justice values that we were looking for,” said Surdna’s board chair, Peter Benedict. “His passion, purpose and authenticity were abundantly clear and magnetic.”
Gordon Berlin, president of MDRC, has been named to the board of trustees of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which makes grants to “nonprofits that provide direct services to low-income and vulnerable individuals and families, primarily in the United States and Israel”.
MDRC was formed in 1974 by the Ford Foundation and a coalition of federal agencies as the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, designed as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization dedicated to learning what works to improve programs and policies that affect the poor”.
Initially focused on evaluating state welfare-to-work programs, it now studies public school reforms, employment programs for ex-prisoners and people with disabilities and programs to help low-income people succeed in college.
“From welfare policy to high school reform,” notes the organization, “MDRC’s work has helped to shape legislation, program design and operational practices across the country.”
Berlin went to work at MDRC in 1990 and became its president in 2004. He had worked at Ford for six years as a program officer and then deputy director of its Urban Poverty program, and was executive deputy administrator for management, budget and policy at New York City’s Human Resources Administration.
Kavita Ramdas has been appointed director of the Women’s Rights Program at the Open Society Foundations.
Ramdas joined Ford in 2012 as its representative in New Delhi, where she worked on issues of equity, inclusion, economic fairness, freedom of expression, human rights, sexuality and reproductive health and rights, transparency and accountable government, and sustainable development.
She left the Foundation earlier this year after serving as a senior adviser to its president, Darren Walker, helping “integrate our commitment to justice in all our policies and practices”.
In making the announcement of her appointment, Patrick Gaspard, president of Open Society, said, “The work of our Women’s Rights Program is more important than ever, especially in the face of an unprecedented wave of antiwoman attacks by nationalist and populist governments.”
Said Ramdas, “Open and democratic societies are simply unachievable when half the population is structurally excluded from full and equal participation in most nations across the world.
“I see the current global crisis of increased intolerance, illiberalism and authoritarianism as deeply linked to patriarchy and misogyny, and I believe that fighting for a more democratic future will inherently require us to fight for a more feminist future.”
Ramdas has a bachelor’s degree in politics and international relations from Mount Holyoke College and a master’s degree in public affairs with a focus on international development from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Akwasi Aidoo, who worked at the Ford Foundation for 13 years and throughout his career has promoted the cause of human rights, has been named to the Board of Governors of Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
The center, in collaboration with funding partners at home and abroad, “helps build Southern research capacities to achieve cleaner environments, improved nutrition, higher incomes and greater health and gender equity in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East”.
Aidoo, who was born in Ghana, worked at Ford from 1993 to 2006 in the Dakar and Lagos offices, and the Peace and Social Justice program. He earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in sociology from the University of Cape Coast in his home country, and a doctorate in medical sociology from the University of Connecticut.
He has been the executive director of the grant-making organization TrustAfrica, and in 2015 received the Africa Philanthropy Award, presented in Tanzania. He is now a senior fellow at the United States-based Humanity United, and a member of the board of Human Rights Watch and the Fund for Global Human Rights.