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Rockefeller Foundation Announces Inaugural Cohort of Big Bets Climate Fellows

16 leaders based in Brazil, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Puerto Rico selected to advance climate solutions in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)

NEW YORK | June 4, 2024 — The Rockefeller Foundation announced the first cohort of Big Bets Climate Fellows. In its inaugural year, 16 leaders with projects based in Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, and Puerto Rico were selected to advance solutions intended to reverse the climate crisis and accelerate opportunity across Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), with a focus on the Amazon Basin. The Big Bets Climate Fellowship, which was established as part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s billion-dollar climate strategy, will provide fellows with programming, networking, and professional development opportunities as they work to implement and scale their bold climate solutions.

“The 16 leaders in the extraordinary inaugural class of Climate Fellows have the big bet mindset: the belief that large-scale change is possible and the commitment to making that change happen,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. “Through this fellowship, we hope to help these leaders unlock the resources and forge the connections they need to turn their big, bold ideas into real impact at scale. I can’t wait to see how their big bets evolve.”

2024 Big Bets Climate Fellows

Running from June to November 2024, the inaugural fellowship has a specific focus on the LAC region, where The Rockefeller Foundation has invested for more than 100 years. The United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will also return to the region for the fifth time in 30 years when Brazil hosts the international climate meeting next year – and when countries will finalize new national climate plans.

According to the UN, climate change is already affecting the LAC region, especially with extreme weather, including mega-drought, extreme rainfall, heatwaves, rising sea levels, and deforestation. In response, the fellows will work on a range of unique solutions to address the region’s climate challenges, prioritizing underserved communities who face disproportionately heightened risks from climate change.

  • Xiomara Acevedo, Colombia

Develop a regional strategy to educate and mobilize women to better represent their interests in local government discussions to improve climate policies.

  • Marcela Angel, Colombia

Develop a community-based early warning system for landslides that leverages integrated climate risk data collection, modelling, and forecasting.

  • Lina Ascencio, Colombia

Develop a scalable model to ensure that renewable energy transitions in Latin America center indigenous perspectives and benefit those communities.

  • Luisa Fernanda Bacca, Colombia

Develop advocacy tools that promote indigenous leadership in climate governance systems through intercultural agreements between national authorities and indigenous governments.

  • Erika Berenguer, Brazil

Develop and implement technical, scientific, and communications guidelines to fireproof the Amazon to avoid tipping point burn.

  • Mariolga Reyes Cruz, Puerto Rico

Scale an agroecology common land structure to foster regenerative agricultural practices and ensure the preservation of land used by underserved farmers.

  • Avriel Díaz, Panama

Develop a scalable climate-driven budget forecasting system for vector borne diseases to improve government response to climate-sensitive diseases.

  • Reinhold Gallmetzer, Brazil

Scale a data model to prevent deforestation by transforming data into actionable insights for law enforcement and corporate policy.

  • Carlos Magno, Brazil

Develop a cross-national strategy to scale social technologies designed to ensure water and land rights for disenfranchised communities in semi-arid territories across Latin America.

  • Elena Martínez, Dominican Republic

Scale innovative sargassum harvesting and processing systems to boost carbon sequestration and empower underserved coastal communities to join the blue economy.

  • Daniela Orofino, Brazil

Establish a coalition to prevent deforestation by legally converting 57 million hectares of Brazil’s undesignated public lands into indigenous territories, national parks, and conservation units.

  • Valmir Ortega, Brazil

Scale regenerative agriculture practices among small farm-holders to inspire a long-lasting, locally-led transformation in food systems.

  • Rodrigo Pacheco, Ecuador

Create the largest Biodiverse Edible Forest in the world to protect nature and ancestral knowledge, while creating economic opportunity for local communities through increased biodiversity in food.

  • Ricardo Politi, Brazil

Scale regenerative agriculture practices by securing carbon and biodiversity credit buyers in a market that benefits local communities.

  • Fabiano Thompson, Brazil

Build the world’s first Great Amazon Reef biodiversity map to set a foundation for the development of a marine bioeconomy framework.

  • Felipe Villela, Brazil

Increase financing for reforestation, biodiversity, and conservation by shifting the accounting paradigm of natural conservation assets.

The program will bring the fellows together in São Paulo, Brazil; at The Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy; and its New York City headquarters during the Climate Week NYC 2024. These key engagements will offer opportunities for intensive collaboration, skill-building, and networking, to help advance fellows’ bold climate solutions. The fellowship is structured around a custom curriculum designed by IDEO, the design firm known for its work on many fellowship programs including The Earthshot Prize, and based in part on the Foundation’s book by Dr. Shah titled Big Bets: How Large-Scale Change Really Happens (Simon Element, 2023).

“The incredible leaders selected for the Big Bets Climate Fellowship are making big bets to reverse the climate crisis,” said Sarah Geisenheimer, Vice President Convenings & Networks at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The fellows share The Rockefeller Foundation’s commitment to change the status quo. This Fellowship will provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, including by engaging with their cohort and the Foundation’s broader network. We are honored to support the fellows in advancing their local solutions with the potential for global impact.”

For more information about the fellowship, please visit:

About The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation that enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We make big bets to promote the well-being of humanity. Today, we are focused on advancing human opportunity and reversing the climate crisis by transforming systems in food, health, energy, and finance. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at and follow us on X @RockefellerFdn and LI @the-rockefeller-foundation.

Davina Dukuly

The Rockefeller Foundation