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Dr. Claire A. Nelson to receive prestigious Ortiz Mena Award at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C. 

Dr. Claire Nelson , Founder and President of the Institute of Caribbean Studies, who hails from Jamaica, is set to receive the prestigious Antonio Ortiz Mena Award at the Inter-American Development Bank on Tuesday, October 12, 2010.  

The Antonio Ortiz Mena Award is named after the second President of the IDB who served from 1971 to 1988, and is awarded annually to staff (no more than three) who distinguish themselves through outstanding contribution to the work of the institution.    

Nelson enjoys a hard-earned reputation across the Black community in Latin America as the ‘voice of the voiceless’.  Since 1992, Nelson has been the frontrunner in placing the issue of racial discrimination in Latin America, and the relationship between race and poverty on the agenda of the Washington development institutions.  She is credited with being the architect of the first study of people of African descent in Latin America done by the IDB in 1994, and with convening the first Conference on Poverty Alleviation for Blacks in Latin America in 1996.  She can also be credited with almost single-handedly keeping the Agenda on African descendants alive throughout a series of crises and critical moments at the institution.  

Dr. Nelson was also the frontrunner in placing the issue of Diversity in Development on the Washington Agenda, authoring the first paper on the issue as far back as 1993.  She was Founding Co-Chair of the Diversity Group at the IDB, established in 1999.  As a result of her pioneering leadership, Dr. Nelson was invited by the Salzburg Seminar to be a Student and then a Faculty Member at various Seminars on the issues of race, culture and leadership between 1997 and 2003.    Nelson was also a leading actor in ensuring the participation of the international financial institutions (IFIs) in the UN World Conference on Racism (UNWCAR).  She was a member of the forty-member Bellagio Consultation chaired by Gay MacDougall (who is now the UN Expert on Minorities), which drafted a vision for the Durban Plan of Action.  In this process,  MacDougall charged her with defining a role for the IFIs and the private sector.  Over the years, the Black Community across the Americas, have come to rely on her frank assessment and courageous outspokenness about the relationship between race, poverty, exclusion and development.  She was honoured by Afro-Peruvians for her work in supporting their struggle for self-determination despite never having set foot in Peru.   

In her near thirty year career at the IDB, Nelson has distinguished herself as a thought leader.  She can also be credited with many other firsts, such as designing the first Private Sector Conference in Guyana; organizing the first Caribbean cultural event at the IDB through the Staff Association; organizing the first Caribbean Consultants Conference, and  Nelson’s selection for the Ortiz Mena Award, marks  the first time a woman of African Descent has received the Award in its history.  Nelson was the first Caribbean woman to join the Junior Professional Program of the IDB in 1981.  Nelson is a sought after speaker on topics relating to Black economic development and Caribbean development.  Her speaking engagements include: Harvard MBA Students Association Conference; Spelman College; University of California at Hayward to name a few.  

An industrial engineer by training, and a futurist by avocation, Nelson, who is the first Jamaican woman to have a Doctoral Degree in an Engineering discipline, can also be credited with the development of the integral development framework as a paradigm for the enabling the construction of sustainable social and economic systems that lead to inclusive and equitable societies.   In recent years, Nelson has lead the call for the establishment of measures to record progress in the advancement of equity, such as a multinational indice for the measurement of race, discrimination and inequality, and the establishment of a State of Opportunity Report Card that would empower NGOs to be advocates for their own destiny.   In this regard, Nelson’s call for “Advancing Equity”  through economics that empower, or measures that matter, has attracted the attention of experts, such as Professor Sandy Darity, a leading figure in the economics of racism.  She will join Darity in November at the Southern Economic Association to make her plea to members of the august body to support the struggle for equality through the practice of economics as if people matter.   

Dr. Nelson, who currently serves a Vice President of the IDB Staff Association, is currently Co-Chair of the recently established Working Group of Experts of African Descent, which has been organized by NGO leaders to ensure the visibility and progress on the work on “Advancing Equity” during the commemoration of  the UN Year of African Descendant in 2011.  Dr. Nelson is Founder and President of the leading Washington DC ‘think-do tank’,  the Institute of Caribbean Studies and is credited with being the visionary behind the successful campaign to declare  JUNE as National Caribbean American Heritage Month.  


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