TITLE: Program Officer, Latin America & Global Migration
FUNDING AREAS: Agricultural development, economic development (Latin America)
IP TAKE: This Spanish-speaking Midwesterner with a law degree leads Latin American investments at the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, where she oversees about $15 million in international grants per year. Most of Martin's giving comes in the form of a few very large grants to very large organizations promoting sustainable agricultural and water practices, but she also makes a handful of smaller investments in Latin American development projects every year.
PROFILE: With annual giving at about $35 million annually, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation targets its charitable efforts toward improving opportunity and living standards for marginalized populations around the world. Buffett. is, by profession, a Nebraska farmer. And he's also the son of wealthy-investor-turned-global-philanthropist Warren Buffett. So Howard G. understands the field of agriculture, and he also appreciates its importance in developing economies around the world. Through his foundation, Howard G. Buffett focuses on improving international food security, water security (particularly in agricultural settings), and conflict and hunger. Buffett also regularly makes grants that don't fall into its three stated program priority areas, provided they contribute to the well-being of underserved people in the developing world.
Which brings us to geography. Buffett has previously made grants in Asia, but these days the foundation prioritizes global work in Africa and Latin America.
Martin, like the organization that employs her, hails from the Midwest. Her undergraduate and law degrees (which she finished in 2011) are both from Northern Illinois University. And, like the Buffett family generally, Martin showed an impressive talent and work ethic from a young age. Before hitting 30, Martin advocated for migrant workers in Chicago, spent a law school summer supporting victims' rights at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, performed litigation and policy work at the Mexican America Legal Defense and Education Fund, served on the board of an Illinois immigrants' rights non-profit, edited her university's law review, and clerked at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. Oh, and Martin speaks fluent Spanish.
Martin's grants are usually large, though they are not numerous. Buffett might fewer than even five organizations with Latin American operations in a given year. Most of Martin's investments go to large development organizations with international operations. Recently, Buffet gave more than $8 million to Catholic Relief Services for agricultural work in Latin America, and another $6 million to the UN World Food Program for operations in Martin's target regions.
And while it helps to be one of the best known and most well-respected international NGOs if you're trying to attract Mott funding, you don't have to be. Buffett has also made a couple of recent grants in support of lesser known projects: $60,000 to New York's Media Development Loan Fund in support of free press initiatives in Colombia, and $2 million to the Pies Descalzos education complex in the chronically impoverished city of Cartegena, Columbia. You'll note that neither of the last two Buffett Latin American grants have much to do with agriculture. Still, issues of food supply and farming attract the bulk of Buffett's expenditures in Latin America.
Unlike many other big foundations in the ag game (like, say, Gates), Buffett isn't keen on investments in GMOs and pesticides. Buffett prefers agricultural projects that emphasize sustainable practices and help farmers break their dependence on expensive and non-reproducible transgenetic seeds. A big Buffett grantee, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), recently explained its ag philosophy in the National Catholic Reporter. "Chemical solutions" are not part of its approach in strengthening agriculture in the developing world. Rather, CRS helps smallscale farmers in countries vulnerable to climate change to grow their understanding of agronomy, soil, water, and plant management and improve their yields in ecologically sustainable ways.
So how do you get Buffett support, you ask? It's complicated. The foundation doesn't do unsolicited proposals. But if you have an idea you think Buffett would be interested in helping you with, don't be shy about approaching program staff, including Martin.