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Open Society Foundations Announce 2020 Leadership in Government Fellows

NEW YORK—The first Indian American ever elected to the Chicago City Council. A former chief of staff for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. A former official with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. An expert on federal consumer regulations. A California lawyer dedicated to defending the rights of low-wage workers. And a Chicago authority on police-community relations.

The Open Society Foundations are pleased to announce the 2020 recipients of the Leadership in Government Fellowship, an initiative supporting seasoned public servants from the senior ranks of federal, state, and local government who have dedicated their careers to advancing economic, social, and racial justice.

In communities across the country, and at all levels of government, the fellows have made their marks in diverse fields. Among the projects they will undertake: an effort to promote existing public banking campaigns and catalyze new ones, documenting and lifting up the human rights advocacy of Black women in the United States, undertaking regulatory advocacy to foster economic advancement and strengthen democratic practice at the Consumer Financial Protection Board, promoting community participation in a sustainable and equitable transformation of Puerto Rico’s energy sector, creating sustainable jobs for caregivers of the elderly, and removing barriers that deter the public from filing police misconduct complaints.

“In these times of eroding public faith, these former public servants remain a bulwark for rebuilding faith that government can produce results for people,” said Tom Perriello, executive director of Open Society-U.S. “We are proud of a fellowship program that continues to produce talent from the public arena who are responsible for some of the most promising innovations in the cause of democracy, equality, and justice.”

The program, now in its fourth year, is intended to help Fellows build on their time in the public sector and to develop ideas and strategies that advance the values of an open society. Fellows are also encouraged to reflect on their public service as they decide on the next steps in their careers and share insights, with advocates and others, about how to make policy change during a time when public confidence in government has reached historic lows.

Grantees and staff from Open Society also have the opportunity to learn from the fellows about how to better navigate government and leverage its resources to advance economic and social justice during a time of rising authoritarianism in the United States.  

“I’m thrilled to welcome the fourth cohort of Leadership in Government Fellows,” says Elizabeth Guernsey, the program officer at Open Society-U.S. who oversees the program. “They bring a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives and areas of interest that makes for an exciting mix. I look forward to working with them as they learn from each other and help teach us all about new ways to move forward toward a more open and just society.”

Awards for the fellowship range from $100,000 to $133,000 to facilitate projects lasting between 12 and 18 months. Fellows will devote up to 32 hours per week to their projects.

2020 Leadership in Government Fellows

Ameya Pawar will work to advise and amplify existing public banking campaigns, and to catalyze new ones around the country.

Diane E. Thompson will work to advance regulatory advocacy and public accountability at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in an effort to foster economic advancement and strengthen democratic practices.

Ingrid M. Vila-Biaggi will explore policies and solutions to ensure that community empowerment and participation influence the policies used to transition Puerto Rico’s energy sector to sustainable and equitable sources.

Joshua Breitbart will develop strategies for local and state governments to help connect all of their residents with internet service.

Julia Figueira-McDonough will work to create sustainable jobs for caregivers for the elderly, to engage diverse stakeholders to design an innovative workforce development program, and to expand the public conversation about caregiving to include elders and their caregivers.

Marissa Jackson Sow will document, amplify, and mobilize Black women human rights activists in the United States.

Walter Katz will work to develop best practices and standards for the intake of police misconduct complaints, and identify emerging customer satisfaction technology and procedures in other sectors to lower systemic barriers deterring members of the public from lodging misconduct complaints.

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