Nicaraguan Social Entrepreneur Honored with Prestigious Gus Hart Fellowship

April 21, 2015

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has named Felix Maradiaga, a social entrepreneur from Nicaragua, as its 2015 Gus Hart Visiting Fellow. He will visit Chicago June 15-19 to meet with Chicago’s civic, business and thought leaders. Maradiaga also will deliver the Council’s 14th annual Gus Hart Lecture, “Rebuilding Central America,” on the evening of Thursday, June 18.
As a managing director of an investment firm and cofounder of several nonprofit organizations, Maradiaga works to build public-private partnerships that strengthen peace, democracy, civil society, sustainable economic development and the rule of law in Central America.
“My own story is one of people investing in me when I was most vulnerable, and I am a fierce advocate for galvanizing people — economically, socially, politically — to fully engage with and build hope and opportunity within their own communities,” said Maradiaga.
At age 13, Maradiaga fled war-stricken Nicaragua and came to the United States as a refugee, living with foster parents in southern Florida for two years. Upon his return to Nicaragua in the early 1990s he quickly became one of Nicaragua’s most prominent student activists for nonviolence and democracy.
He joined the civil service and led a variety of initiatives to rebuild Nicaragua after the conflict, including the successful disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of 2,300 guerrilla members. In 2004 Maradiaga became Nicaragua’s youngest Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense, where he promoted the social and economic well-being of ex-combatants. As part of that effort, he helped hundreds become local entrepreneurs through numerous agribusiness initiatives.
Since 2007 he has focused on building global support for the role of social entrepreneurship in peace, reconciliation and redevelopment efforts. Today Maradiaga is a managing director at Pioneer Capital Partners, a private investment company that manages investments and provides advisory services in Central America and the Caribbean. His current work focuses on bringing renewable energy to underserved communities.
“I believe in the transformational power of the private sector to support post-conflict reconstruction,” said Maradiaga. “I have spent my time both in and out of government working to bring the public and private sector together to build new avenues for economic development and civic engagement.  These partnerships are laying the foundation for a free and prosperous Central America, moving the region beyond its current and past challenges.”
Escalating regional gang violence — most notably in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — drove the migration of some 70,000 Central American women and children to the U.S. last year. While Nicaragua’s crime rates are much lower than those in neighboring countries, its poverty level hovers at nearly 43 percent, down from 48 percent in 2005, according to the World Bank.
“The breadth of Felix’s experience — advancing from child refugee to student leader, peace activist, defense secretary and social entrepreneur — gives him a deep understanding and unique vantage point on the myriad of issues facing a post-conflict country,” said Ambassador Ivo H. Daalder, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  “We are thrilled to host him at the Council as this year’s Hart fellow to help us foster and continue the critical dialogue on the challenges and opportunities facing Central America and the Caribbean.”
The Gus Hart Visiting Fellowship, named after Augustin S. Hart, former chairman of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, is endowed by the Hart family to honor Gus Hart’s lifelong interest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Each year the Council awards the fellowship to an emerging Latin American leader who is contributing to the advancement of society. Past recipients have included Yoani Sánchez of Cuba, Salomón Chertorivski Woldenberg of Mexico, Sérgio Fausto and Denis Mizne of Brazil, Sergio Jaramillo Caro of Colombia, and Henrique Capriles Radonski of Venezuela. 
Additional Resources:
Nicaragua: Getting involved for democracy, Felix Maradiaga video interview with Deutsche Welle (DW-TV), January 29, 2013.
Felix Maradiaga on Twitter: @Maradiaga
Felix Maradiaga on LinkedIn:
Select Articles in Spanish:
El Momento de América Latina, Wendy Álvarez Hidalgo, La Prensa, February 16, 2012
Foro Educativo Nicaraguense (Conference on Education), Felix Maradiaga, Eduquemos, 2012
La Liberta de Prensa en Nicaragua (Op Ed), Felix Maradiaga, Semanario Confidencial, February 21, 2011.