ⓘ Ilona Szabo de Carvalho


ⓘ Ilona Szabo de Carvalho

Ilona Szabo de Carvalho is a Brazilian political scientist and civic entrepreneur, co-founder and executive director of the Igarape Institute. Since its founding in 2011, the Institute has developed pioneering research, new technologies and policy on the intersections of security, climate and development. With headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Igarape is today ranked 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.


1. National and Global networks

Ilona is a globally recognized thought leader on issues of civic action, drug policy and violence prevention and reduction and has extensive experience leading national and global networks.

Between 2011 and 2016 she was the executive coordinator of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, 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.

Since 2015, she has been a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum and a Responsible Leader at the BMW Foundation. 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, 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.

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.

In the mid-2000s while working for the NGO Viva Rio, Ilona coordinated one of the world’s largest disarmament campaigns and helped shape a national referendum to ban the sale of handguns to Brazilian citizens.


2. Education

Ilona Szabo 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 the 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, 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.


3. Media

Ilona is a columnist at Folha de S. Paulo. Between 2016 and 2018 Ilona Szabo was a commentator on the Estudio i program, broadcast on GloboNews. She spoke at TED in 2014, and at Davos and other World Economic Forum events in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Ilona is routinely involved in overseeing communications and outreach on behalf of the Igarape Institute. She is the author of two books: Drogas: As Historias que Não te Contaram "Drugs: The untold stories" and Segurança Publica para Virar o Jogo "Public security to change the game", published by Zahar in 2017 and 2018. She was the co-script writer and researcher for the award-winning documentary Breaking the Taboo.


4. Boards

Ilona Szabo 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. She was a mentor of the Columbia Womens leadership network in Brazil, served as an international jurist for the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge in Latin America and for the MacArthur’s Foundation $100 million dollar initiative – 100&Change.


5. Awards and recognition


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

Igarape’s Institute Awards under her directorship

  • 100 best NGOs in Brazil, Doar Institute, 2019
  • Best Social Policy Think Tank, Prospect, 2019
  • Schmidt Family Foundation Award, 2014
  • 100 best NGOs in Brazil, Doar Institute, 2018
  • Best Human Rights NGO in Brazil, Doar Institute, 2018
  • Nominated for the" Faz Diferença” award by O Globo newspaper 2020
  • Social Impact Challenge, Google Brazil, 2014


6. Brazilian National Council for Criminal and Penitentiary Policy

In early 2019, Ilona was nominated by Brazilian Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio 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, Ilona was removed from the council by the minister on the order of President Jair Bolsonaro.

In April 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ilona was mentioned for the third time by the President during an official annoucement regarding Moros decision to resign. At the time, Bolsonaro made reference to Ilonas nomination to the Brazilian National Council for Criminal and Penitentiary Policy on national broadcast television with a misogynistic streak and misleading information. "To witness something so meaningless being used in such a key moment is to understand that the speech was made to the Presidents constituency, the ones who need real ou imaginary enemies. I am an imaginary piece in a chess game. And there is the gender issue, that is constantly present in the Presidents stance", said Ilona in an interview for the Brazilian magazine Epoca.


7. Family

Ilona has a daughter and is married to Robert Muggah, a Canadian political scientist, urban specialist and co-founder of the Igarape Institute. She practices Yoga and loves to be close to nature, to travel, sing and dance.


8. Selection of OpEds, talks and interviews

  • Szabo, I. with Muggah, R. 2017 Brazil’s Deadly Prison System, New York Times, 4 January
  • Conversa com Bial – Globo TV in Portuguese
  • Szabo, I. with Muggah, R. 2012 Easing Marijuana Laws Could Have Broad Effect, New York Times, 30 May
  • Leadership Notes: Sam Potolicchio interviews Ilona Szabo
  • Columns at Folha de São Paulo in Portuguese 2018-2020
  • Estudio i – GloboNews in Portuguese
  • Szabo, I. 2019 Fighting Climate Change Means Fighting Organized Crime, Project Syndicate, 12 March
  • Keynote speaker, World Economic Forum events in Davos, Medellin, São Paulo and Dalian 2016-2019
  • Szabo, I. with Muggah, R. 2017 Latin America’s Murder Epidemic, Foreign Affairs, 22 March
  • Profile at TPM/TRIP magazine in Portuguese 2018
  • Szabo, I. with Muggah, R. 2014 Fear and Backsliding in Rio, New York Times, 15 April
  • Szabo, I. with Muggah, R. 2016 The End of Homicide, Foreign Affairs, 7 September.
  • Roberto D’Avila – GloboNews in Portuguese
  • Profile at Gol magazine in Portuguese 2019
  • Invited speaker, TED Global, Rio de Janeiro 2014

9. Publications

  • Rio Seguro - Policy Paper, Igarape Institute editor, 2018
  • Taking Control: Pathways for Drug Policies that Work - Report, Global Commission on Drug Policy 2014
  • Measurement Matters: Designing New Metrics for a Drug Policy That Works - Strategic Paper, Igarape Institute 2015; with Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre
  • Making Cities Safer: Citizen Security Innovations from Latin America - Strategic Paper, Igarape Institute
  • Segurança Publica e Solução - Policy Paper, Igarape Institute 2018, editor
  • What is Behind Brazil’s Homicide Decline? - Technical Note, Igarape Institute 2019; with Robert Muggah
  • Politica de Drogas no Brasil: A Mudança Ja Começou - Strategic Paper, Igarape Institute 2014; with Ana Paula Pellegrino

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