Washington, D.C.—The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) announces that its Executive Director, Joy Olson, will be stepping down at the end of this year. Ms. Olson has served as Executive Director since 2003. Under her leadership, WOLA has grown into the leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas.
In the last 13 years, WOLA has increased its staff by 60 percent, its budget has more than doubled, and program areas have expanded to address the most daunting challenges facing the region today. WOLA has pioneered the effort to make the issue of organized crime part of the human rights agenda. In collaboration with colleagues in the region, WOLA was instrumental in the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations-backed judicial watchdog that assists local authorities in the prosecution of criminal networks. Last year, CICIG investigations led to the indictment and resignation of Guatemala’s president. WOLA is also at the forefront of the campaign to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba, and helped lay the groundwork for the historic shift in policy. Bringing together lawmakers, academics, and activists throughout the hemisphere, WOLA is encouraging domestic and international drug law reform. As Colombia’s peace process moves forward, WOLA’s experts are providing timely analysis and recommendations to help this process succeed. WOLA’s experts on Central America and border security focus attention on the underlying issues of violence and lack of opportunity that cause families to flee their homes.
“Joy has had a profound impact and has been a source of inspiration to all who work for social change in the hemisphere,” said Cynthia McClintock, Chair of WOLA’s Board of Directors and Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. “As sad as it is to see her go, WOLA’s Board and staff are profoundly grateful for her years of leadership, service, and commitment. She is leaving an excellent staff, a clear mission, and a firm organizational grounding that will guarantee WOLA a strong future.”
In a letter to WOLA’s supporters, Joy Olson said: “I love this place. WOLA works with some of the best people in the hemisphere. We stand with brave people who are confronting organized crime, trying to solve the problem of violence, and making all of our governments more respectful of human rights. The best part about being the Executive Director of WOLA is that you see a problem or an injustice and you have the ability to do something about it. You have a place from which to act. After 13 years it is time to explore new possibilities for myself, yet I’ll always remember how fortunate I’ve been to hold this position.”
WOLA’s Board of Directors is appointing former Board Chair Steven Bennett to head the search committee for a new executive director.
“Joy has been a transformational figure at WOLA,” said Mr. Bennett, who is also the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Brookings Institution. “WOLA is in a great place—the program and communications teams are doing innovative and effective advocacy, and Joy and her colleagues have built and maintained important relationships in Congress, in the administration, and around the hemisphere. The management is first rate, and the funding is robust, diversified, and steadily growing. We will be looking for someone who can leverage these strengths and build on Joy’s excellence and leadership.”
Under Ms. Olson’s tenure, WOLA has become a vital organization with a huge impact on the U.S. Congress, administration, and media, and in Latin America. WOLA has secure, sustainable funding and a high level of staff retention. The Washington Post has recognized WOLA as one of the best-managed non-profits and Washingtonian Magazine has twice named WOLA one of the “great places to work” in the nation’s capital.
Ms. Olson informed the Board that her departure date is December 31, 2016. More information about the search for Ms. Olson’s successor will be provided soon. The Board and staff will honor Ms. Olson for her years of service in a special event later this year.
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