Portrait shot of Cata wearing red glasses and a striped brown and black top

Welcome Catalina Devandas, Our New Executive Director!

Welcome Catalina Devandas, Our New Executive Director!

The Disability Rights Fund warmly welcomes Catalina Devandas as our new executive director. Her hire signals a bold new chapter for our strategic vision to strengthen human rights, disability justice, and gender transformation. 

A photo of Catalina smiling and wearing bright red glasses.

After a rigorous and expansive global search, the Disability Rights Fund (DRF) and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund are thrilled to welcome Catalina Devandas as our new executive director. Catalina brings with her vast and rich experience in advancing human rights and disability inclusion with a career spanning two decades. She officially starts her new role on August 1, 2022.  

We could not be more excited about this hire. Here’s why: Catalina’s cross-sectoral experience includes strengthening grassroots organizations and movements led by organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) to influencing bilateral donors and multilateral actors to advance rights and inclusive development agendas globally. She has advocated unapologetically for an intersectional approach to address complex issues, like climate change, gender-based violence, Indigenous rights, and migration. Catalina has provided guidance on inclusive policies globally, successfully promoting a United Nations-wide approach for disability inclusion, advancing international reforms, and the recognition of new environmental rights. Catalina also believes in seizing opportunities for transformative change! 

“We are delighted to welcome Catalina, who brings exceptional leadership skills and experience in the disability rights sector. In hiring such a visionary leader, DRF begins the next phase of its development, with Catalina leading a bold strategic planning process that will enable us to grow our funds and remain a leader in participatory grantmaking,” shared Lorraine Wapling and Andrew Ferren, co-chairs of the DRF board of directors. 

Interim Executive Director Jon Firger echoed the sentiments of the co-chairs. “I couldn’t be more delighted to hand over the leadership to Catalina who has the strategic vision and skills to expand our collaboration with donors to drive significant resources to OPDs and sharpen our advocacy to serve our grantees leading vibrant movements for inclusion worldwide.” 

A feminist lawyer by training, Catalina has advocated for disability rights in multilateral fora, from various capacities with a 360 view: as a civil society member, UN staffer, donor representative, human rights expert, and State representative. She served as the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for six years and recently as the Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the UN Office in Geneva. In June, we were thrilled by Catalina’s appointment to the board of trustees at the Ford Foundation, a funder relationship we deeply value.  

“I am honored to return to DRF in this new capacity, building on the invaluable legacy of the Founding Director, Diana Samarasan. I am committed to continuing our work to support small but powerful organizations to make the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities a reality for all. Participatory approaches to grantmaking are fundamental drivers of change, and much more remains to be done to ensure that no one will be left behind,” shared Catalina.