Mayra Buvinic shares what she’s learned in 50 years as an expert on women’s issues and economic empowerment in Latin America.

Mayra is a Senior Fellow Emeritus at the Center for Global Development and Senior Fellow at Data2X, the UN Foundation for gender data. Previously, she was Director for Gender and Development at the World Bank. She is an expert on women’s issues in developing countries, with a particular focus on women’s economic empowerment. She has a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is based in Washington, D.C.

I’ve been fortunate to go to the Bellagio Center twice as a scholar. The first time was in 1985 when I was researching why projects and interventions in developing countries weren’t benefiting poorer women. My second residency was in September 2021. This time, I applied with a proposal to research effective ways to empower women economically. So I was on the other side, figuring out what kind of interventions do work. It was the perfect time to go back to Bellagio because it gave me the chance to delve deeper into my research.

Being from Chile, I have always believed that one has to research and write in different languages – I think that the over-dominance of the English language is very bad. So when I had the opportunity during this latest residency to have the space to write a paper in Spanish, it was a real pleasure to be able to do that. This paper, “Las políticas públicas: por la lucha contra la desigualdad” (“Public policies: for the fight against inequality”), broadly tackled inequality of all kinds – gender, race, ethnicity – in public policies in Latin America, which was a bit more general than the regular writing I do. I feel quite proud that I was able to do that in Bellagio.

We were treated so well by the staff at the Center. It seems like a small thing, but it really made a difference after the isolation of the pandemic. Covid-19 made a significant impact on all our lives. My brother almost died. He is overseas, so it was an extremely stressful time. And even something as simple as interacting with the other scholars at the Center seemed challenging at first because I was no longer used to socializing. Being able to converse in person, not via Zoom, was a wonderful experience in and of itself.

There was an interesting mix of people at Bellagio in 2021. Despite the restrictions – we were a smaller group and no outside people came in – we all got along very well. It simultaneously provided a break from how I was thinking and helped me to adapt my own thinking. Natalie Bookchin, an artist who creates video montages about inequality, took photos of Bellagio’s beautiful old walls. She was expressing how walls divide people, and her process opened up a very different view of Bellagio for me. Although her work didn’t directly contribute to my writing, it struck me. Had I seen it in another context, I might not have noticed it, but I got to know her work because of this residency.

Both residences were distinct. The first opened up opportunities and contacts in parallel fields. The second one was a lot more about tranquility and writing in a peaceful environment. I really hope that The Rockefeller Foundation will continue with this incredible work for as long as possible. I think that the randomness of bringing very different people together is really what makes it work.


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We’d like to thank Mayra for her continued contribution to the network. To find out more about her work, read her contributions to the Center for Global Development.

You can also find out more about her field of expertise at Data2x, or read her Spanish-language paper, “Las políticas públicas: por la lucha contra la desigualdad” (“Public policies: for the fight against inequality”) and her paper on persistent gender gaps in business profits in Indonesia. Both were written during her Bellagio residencies.

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