Arturo Aguilar to Lead New Rockefeller Brothers Fund Grantmaking Program in Central America

  • Arturo Aguilar. Photo courtesy of the Seattle International Foundation.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) announced today that Arturo Aguilar will design and direct its new grantmaking program for Central America.

After years of research and planning, in 2019 the RBF selected the region encompassing El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as the focus for a new “pivotal place” program. RBF pivotal place programs address sub-national areas, nation-states, or cross-border regions that have special importance with regard to the Fund's thematic interests in democratic practice, peacebuilding, and sustainable development, and whose future will have disproportionate significance for the future of a surrounding region, an ecosystem, or the world. The Fund currently operates two pivotal place programs, for China and the Western Balkans. The expansion to Central America is made possible by a generous bequest from David Rockefeller, the youngest of the foundation’s namesake brothers, who passed away in 2017.

Aguilar is a lifelong human rights defender whose work to end corruption and impunity spans government, philanthropy, civil society, and international NGOs. He served as executive director of the Seattle International Foundation (SIF), a grantmaking institution dedicated to advancing good governance and equity in Central America, from 2018–2020. Under Aguilar’s leadership, SIF expanded its democratic governance work to encompass migration and migrant rights, independent media, and engagement with U.S. policymakers. Aguilar also helped SIF revamp its Central America and Mexico Youth Fund, a unique regional effort to support the rights of women and girls through grassroots organizations.

A native of Guatemala, Aguilar began his career in the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala during the country’s brutal civil war. There, Aguilar was part of a team that documented war crimes and supported investigations that laid the groundwork for the first genocide trial ever held in a domestic court. He went on to serve with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala specializing in indigenous rights and as secretary for strategic affairs in the office of Guatemala’s first female Attorney General.

From 2014–2018, Aguilar worked as a political officer with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), established by the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs to investigate criminal networks operating with impunity to undermine Guatemala’s democratic systems. CICIG and Aguilar’s team are widely recognized for prosecuting high-profile cases in Guatemala and coordinating operational and political justice matters with Honduras and El Salvador that inspired anticorruption activism throughout the region.

“We are looking forward to establishing a pivotal place program in Central America and to identifying the best ways for the Fund to support the people and institutions of the region. We hope perspectives and insights from the region will help deepen our own understanding, inform global debates, and encourage more philanthropic attention,” said Betsy Campbell, Executive Vice President for Programs and Communications. “We are so fortunate to work with Arturo Aguilar, whose vast experience in pursuit of peace and justice and sustained engagement with civil society in Central America will guide the program to respond to the region’s distinct and urgent needs.”

Over the next several months, Aguilar will work with civil society organizations and other stakeholders to shape the RBF Central America pivotal place program to address the most pressing issues facing El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and generate learning that can influence solutions to challenges in the region and around the world. The program is expected to begin grantmaking in earnest in mid-2021. Program guidelines will be available on the Fund’s website.