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Ford Foundation Appoints Javier Valdés as U.S. Director of Civic Engagement and Government

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New York, NY (May 4, 2021) -- The Ford Foundation announced today the appointment of Javier Valdés as U.S. director of its Civic Engagement and Government (CEG) program. Valdés will assume the New York-based role in August 2021, taking over from current CEG director Sanjiv Rao whose term ends this year, and will lead the strategy for the foundation’s work to strengthen representation, participation, and leadership in U.S. democracy.

With over 20 years in the social change sector, Valdés was most recently the Co-Executive Director at Make the Road New York (MRNY), New York’s largest immigration advocacy organization. During his 10-year tenure, he has led the organization’s overall mission, vision and strategy to advance equity, opportunity and justice for low-income communities of color throughout New York State.

Over the past decade, Valdés has played an integral role in securing new policies that limit the local presence of federal immigration enforcement, improve the quality of affordable housing, expand translation and interpretation services at government offices, and reduce biased policing. He was also involved in the creating the largest municipal identification card in the US and dramatically expanding guaranteed paid sick days for low-wage workers in New York City.

“Our Civic Engagement and Government team works to uplift and empower the organizations that push America to become the democracy it has always aspired to be, one that’s rooted in justice and equality,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “Javier’s many years of leadership and advocacy has perfectly positioned him to take the baton and build upon the work that our beloved colleague Sanjiv Rao has spearheaded for nearly a decade. We are thrilled to welcome him to the team.”

“Javier’s deep expertise and strategic vision will make him a transformational leader for our Civic Engagement and Government work, especially now, when it is more important than ever to dismantle this country’s legacy of voter suppression and build a true multi-racial democracy,” said Maria Torres-Springer, vice president of U.S. Programs at the Ford Foundation. “His dedication to empowering those impacted by disenfranchisement will remain crucial as we continue ramping up support for the grassroots leaders that are taking inclusive representation, participation, and leadership to the next level. We are deeply grateful to Sanjiv Rao for an exemplary record of accomplishment while at Ford and know he will continue the fight for social justice in his next endeavors.”

“I’m honored and humbled to join this talented and committed team, particularly at such a pivotal moment for historically excluded communities to more powerfully harness their influence through democracy,” said Javier Valdés. “The Ford Foundation has played a crucial role in supporting the frontline organizations and visionary leaders working to advance this work around the country, and I’m proud to be able to work in unison with these leaders as I step into this new role.”

Valdés succeeds Sanjiv Rao, who has worked with the Ford Foundation since 2012. During his tenure, Rao helped design the framework that guides the Foundation’s grantmaking approaches across program strategies. He was also one of the architects of the Foundation’s Next Generation Leadership initiative, which has significantly expanded the Foundation’s commitment to youth organizing and civic engagement.

Throughout his career, Rao has focused on policy work and community engagement to influence systematic change for young people, education, and community-serving public institutions. Before joining the Foundation, Rao served as executive director of the New York State Network for Youth Success, where he led policy efforts to integrate civil society organizations more effectively with the public systems that touch the lives of young people, particularly those from communities of concentrated poverty. His doctoral work at New York University included serving on the research team studying the Ford-funded Leadership for a Changing World program.

“I am so thrilled that Javier is joining the brilliant and dedicated CEG team to continue the Foundation’s work supporting communities throughout the country to shape their futures through the democratic process. I know he will carry this work forward with the principles of dignity, inclusion, and fairness that is at the heart of everything he does,” said Sanjiv Rao.

Valdés began his career serving in the Peace Corps, where he worked with the Municipal Government in Cahabón, Guatemala. He later worked with the Federation of Municipalities of the Central America Isthmus (FEMICA) in Guatemala to create a virtual teaching tool for local mayors and staff. Additionally, he consulted for the United Nations Capital Development Fund on economic development and service delivery projects for Yemen and Nicaragua. He also served as a program officer for the Synergos Institute where he helped coordinate a partnership of 19 border foundations to draw investments and resources to the region.

Before joining Make the Road, Valdés served in several roles at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), including managing New York State’s Campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, acting as a leader in the effort to pass the Safe Housing Act and Executive Order 120, and securing funding for the Immigrant Housing Collaborative and the Immigrants & Parks Collaborative.

Valdés earned a Master of Urban Planning from New York University and bachelor’s degrees in International Studies and Environmental Design from Texas A&M University. He’s also been awarded fellowships from the CORO Leadership Program and Rockwood Leadership Institute.

With a deep commitment to immigrant advocacy, Valdés worked on the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force on Immigration. He also currently serves as Secretary of the New York Working Families Party, and recently held positions of Board Chair of the Center for Popular Democracy, Board Vice-Chair for the Center for Popular Democracy in Action, and Board Member at the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project.

An accomplished and deeply respected advocate, Valdés was awarded the White House Champions of Change Cesar Chavez award by President Barack Obama and the Yoko Ono-John Lennon Peace Prize.


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