Ilona Szabó de Carvalho

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Person.png Ilona Szabó de Carvalho  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Ilona Szabó.jpg
BornMay 31, 1978
Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Alma materColumbia University School of International Affairs and Public Administration, Uppsala University, Oslo University, Harvard Kennedy School, Said Business School (Oxford), Swedish National Defense College
SpouseRobert Muggah
Member ofWEF/Young Global Leaders/2015
Brazilian activist showered with attention and funding from "global leaders".

Ilona Szabó de Carvalho is a Brazilian political scientist and civic entrepreneur, co-founder and executive director of the Igarapé Institute. With heavy foreign funding and media coverage she is working to "shape and help implement a new vision and public policy agenda in Brazil".[1]

Since its founding in 2011, the Igarapé Institute has developed pioneering research,[2] new technologies[3] and policy on the intersections of security, climate and development.[4] In 2014, the institute received a grant from Google Executive Chairman an deep politician Eric Schmidt.[5] It also receives support from the British and Canadian embassies,USAID, Luminate, Open Society Foundations and other similar cut-outs.[6]

She was selected a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2015 and a "Responsible Leader" by the BMW Foundation[7].

In April 2021, she asked for foreign intervention from "global leaders" to implement their preferred COVID policies (lockdowns, forced mask usage, mass experimental vaccinations etc.):

The Bolsonaro government’s handling of the pandemic represents a clear threat not just to Brazilians, but the world. Global leaders, including the new administration of Joe Biden in the U.S., should do everything in their power to urge Brazil to adopt more responsible policies and language that treat COVID-19 as the threat that it is – before even more lives everywhere are lost.[8]


Ilona Szabó is currently a Senior Public Policy Fellow at Columbia University School of International Affairs and Public Administration (SIPA). She earned a Master’s Degree in International Studies at the Peace and Conflict Studies Department from the University of Uppsala in Sweden, a specialist degree in International Development, from Oslo University and a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations. She has joined several executive courses, such as in Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century at the Kennedy School at Harvard,[9] Transformational Leadership at the Said Business School at Oxford University and a Management Course on Disarmament, Demobilization & Reintegration (DDR) at the Swedish National Defense College, Stockholm. In 1995 she spent a year at a Cultural Exchange Program in Latvia with the American Field Service (AFS).[10]

Ilona is married to Robert Muggah, a Canadian political scientist, urban specialist and co-founder of the Igarapé Institute.[11]

National and global networks

Between 2011 and 2016 she was the executive coordinator of the Global Commission on Drug Policy,[12] a network of former presidents, entrepreneurs and public intellectuals. She previously coordinated the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. During her tenure she was responsible for helping shape global strategy with former presidents, supreme court justices, business and world leaders, including Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria, Richard Branson and the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.[11][12]

She was selected a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2015 and a "Responsible Leader" by the BMW Foundation[13]. She is the co-founder of the AGORA movement that aims to shape and help implement a new vision and public policy agenda in Brazil,[1][12] and she has launched a number of expert networks. In 2018 she was awarded the order of merit of Public Security, from the Brazilian Ministry of Public Security and the Office of the President of Brazil.[14]

Between 2008 and 2011, she was the civil society liaise for the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, working with diplomats and grass-roots organizations around the world.[15]

In the mid-2000s while working for the NGO Viva Rio, Szabó coordinated one of the world’s largest disarmament campaigns[16] and helped shape a national referendum to ban the sale of handguns to Brazilian citizens.[17][18][19][20][10]


She is a columnist at Folha de S. Paulo. Between 2016 and 2018 Ilona Szabó was a commentator on the Estúdio i program, broadcast on GloboNews.[21] She spoke at TED in 2014,[22] and at Davos[23] and other World Economic Forum events in 2016, 2017 and 2019.[24][25][26] Szabó is routinely involved in overseeing communications and outreach on behalf of the Igarapé Institute. She is the author of two books: As Histórias que Não te Contaram ("Drugs: The untold stories") and Segurança Pública para Virar o Jogo ("Public security to change the game"), published in 2017 and 2018. She was the co-script writer and researcher for the documentary Breaking the Taboo.[27][10]

With headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Igarapé is today ranked[28] as one of the leading think tanks in the world and works with governments, the private sector and civil society to co-design data-driven partnerships and solutions to complex challenges.[29] In 2020, was the only Brazilian included on Prospect Magazine's list "The world’s top 50 thinkers 2020", amongst other "scientists, philosophers and writers reshaping our times".[30] Her position among the top 50 was later revealed to be fifth place.[31]


Ilona Szabó serves on the board of the Drug Policy Alliance and of the Brazilian Center for International Relations (CEBRI), on the advisory board of the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum and presides the Public Security Council of the Rio de Janeiro State Industry Federation (FIRJAN).[32] She was a mentor of the Columbia Women's leadership network in Brazil,[33] served as an international jurist for the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge[34] in Latin America and for the MacArthur’s Foundation $100 million dollar initiative – 100&Change.[10]

Awards and recognition


  • Finalist for the “Claudia Magazine Award”, category public policy, 2019[35]
  • Order of merit of Public Security, Brazilian Ministry of Public Security and the Office of the President of Brazil, 2018
  • Civic Entrepreneur, Political Action Network for Sustainability, 2016
  • Medalha Mulher Cidadã Heloneida Studart, Nova Friburgo City Council, 2016[36]
  • Young Global Leader, World Economic Forum, 2015[37]
  • Responsible Leader, BMW Foundation, 2015[38]

Igarapé’s Institute Awards under her directorship

  • Nominated for the “Faz Diferença” award by O Globo newspaper (2020)[39]
  • Best Social Policy Think Tank, Prospect, 2019[40]
  • 100 best NGOs in Brazil, Doar Institute, 2019[41]
  • Best Human Rights NGO in Brazil, Doar Institute, 2018[42]
  • 100 best NGOs in Brazil, Doar Institute, 2018[43]
  • Schmidt Family Foundation Award, 2014
  • Social Impact Challenge, Google Brazil, 2014[44]

Brazilian National Council for Criminal and Penitentiary Policy

In early 2019, Szabó was nominated by Brazilian Minister of Justice and Public Security Sérgio Moro to a voluntary advisory position at the Brazilian National Council for Criminal and Penitentiary Policy, a consulting board which conducts assessments of the penitentiary system, proposes criminal policy guidelines and do inspections of penal establishments, among other duties. Due to massive attacks by extremists supporters of the Brazilian far-right government on social media, Szabó was removed from the council by the minister on the order of President Jair Bolsonaro.[45][46]

In April 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Szabó was mentioned (for the third time) by the President during an official announcement regarding Moro's decision to resign. At the time, Bolsonaro made reference to Szabó's nomination to the Brazilian National Council for Criminal and Penitentiary Policy on national broadcast television with a misogynistic streak[47]. "To witness something so meaningless being used in such a  key moment is to understand that the speech was made to the President's constituency, the ones who need real or imaginary enemies. I am an imaginary piece in a chess game. And there is the gender issue, that is constantly present in the President's stance", said Szabó in an interview for the Brazilian magazine Época.[48][47][49]


Events Participated in

WEF/Annual Meeting/201620 January 201623 January 2016World Economic Forum
Attended by a lot of people, both leaders and followers
WEF/Annual Meeting/201922 January 201925 January 2019World Economic Forum
WEF/Annual Meeting/202222 May 202226 May 2022World Economic Forum
1908 guests in Davos


  1. a b
  7. BMW
  10. a b c d
  11. a b
  12. a b c
  13. BMW
  47. a b

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