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Maria-luisa escobar


Maria-Luisa is a detailed observer of her surroundings, a strategic thinker, and a rebel. It all started with her first international development assignment reviewing food baskets for 30 countries in Latin America, and learning about the diversity of cultures, customs, and nutritional needs. From then on she raised the flag of “country context always matters.” 

Maria-Luisa applied this notion to the design and implementation of social programs, first at the Inter-American Development Bank and later at the World Bank. She managed multi-million-dollar projects to improve health systems, leading diverse professional teams in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. She also became a senior public official in the government of her native Colombia during the design of an ambitious health reform process in the 1990’s.  All of these experiences expanded her understanding of what seems to work and what does not. 

With her wealth of experience in diverse contexts, Maria-Luisa became skeptical of the effectiveness of traditional development efforts, and her quest for innovation became even stronger. Changing the international development paradigm from within is hard work, if not impossible- which she says took her “only 30 years to figure out!”  She has since left that world behind and is working as an independent consultant and advisor.  Her main interests continue to be health and social policy, human rights, and complex change.

Maria-Luisa earned her M.A. and Doctoral degrees in Economics from Rice University. She has also received training on effective communication, leadership, and management. Her academic contributions include lectures, books, chapters and journal articles, and she was a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.  She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband and their two daughters.