The White House, along with the U.S. State Department and U.S. AID, on July 27 honored Jamaican-born Dr. Claire Nelson, founder and president of the Washington-based Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) as a Champion of Change.
Champions of Change are leaders who have exemplified extraordinary successes and efforts toward the development of – and diplomacy with – their countries or communities of origin.
“The nine Champions of Change we honor today highlight the power of proximity,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.
“These members of the Latin American Diaspora remind us that geography matters, that being a good neighbor is both good manners and a good investment,” she added.
“The Champions that we recognize today have helped their countries and communities of origin; and, in doing so, have bettered our region as a whole,” she continued.
“These exceptional individuals, with their work in sports and community development, in education and financial inclusion, inspire others by their example,” Jacobson said. “In a region with such profound human links between our societies, ideas and inspiration spread quickly to the benefit of people all over the Americas and the Caribbean.”
Dr. Nelson was recognized for her work with the Caribbean American Diaspora and, among other things, advancing exchanges and partnerships with both the US public and private sector.
ICS has planned forums and conferences, mentored Caribbean American leaders and organizations around the country and served as a National Profile Partner for Census 2010.
Nelson has also been instrumental in encouraging Caribbean American civic engagement and promoting the engagement of the Caribbean Diaspora in the development agenda of the Caribbean region.
An international development expert with over 30 years of experience, Nelson has used her passion and acumen to open doors for the disadvantaged and excluded across the Americas.
She is also an accomplished playwright and Caribbean folkloric performer.
Nelson holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in industrial engineering from the SUNY at Buffalo and Purdue University, respectively, and a doctorate in engineering management from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s “Winning the Future” initiative.
Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.
Nelson was honored alongside eight other individuals: Luis Aguirre-Torres, founder and CEO of GreenMomentum and Cleantech Challenge México, two organizations created with the purpose of promoting, developing and implementing clean technology, as well as green Jobs, in Latin America; Andres “Elmer” Arias, a Salvadoran-American citizen who leads the Futbol Positivo (Positive Soccer) project in Fairfax County, Virginia; Greivis Vasquez; a native of Caracas, Venezuela, who is a professional basketball player for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets; and David R. Ayón, who helped found and develop the Mexican American Leadership Initiative (MALI), a program of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation that enlists bi-national support to strengthen civil society in Mexico.
The others were: A. Patricia Janiot, president of Fundación Colombianitos, an organization dedicated to helping Colombian kids who are living in poverty; Alvaro Maldonado, a professional concert dancer and an entrepreneur, and survivor of El Salvador’s civil war; Ana Moraga –founder of MuJER- Mujeres por la Justicia, Educación y el Reconocimiento (Women for Justice, Education, and Awareness) in Guatemala; and Raul Hinojosa Ojeda, an associate professor in the Division of Social Sciences and the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.