100 STORIES OF IMPACT

An Impact that Spans the Americas

Emiliana Vegas

Photo: The World Bank

From Appian Way all the way to a remote village in the Amazon rainforest, Emiliana Vegas has guided and supported education systems throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Now serving as director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institute, Vegas has helped champion the importance of early-childhood education, teacher effectiveness, and systemic change to help ensure all children can reach their full potential


Devoted to improving opportunities and fostering creative innovation for young people across Latin America, Emiliana Vegas has always kept "home" close to her heart.


After HGSE, Vegas, Ed.M.'96, Ed.D.'01, worked at the World Bank and later become the chief of the education division at the Inter-American Development Bank. In both roles, she focused on the intersection of the economics of development, banking, and education; assisted in the design of policies to improve education; and worked to ensure resources were deployed effectively.

“I was convinced the only way to improve people’s chances and a country’s development chances was a good education for everyone,” Vegas told the Harvard EdCast. “[In order to do so], educators needed to understand the world of incentives and how the flow of resources affects what people do and how they do it.”

By focusing on environments that are remote and where resources are scarce, Vegas found innovative ways to deploy existing resources and develop policies that promote equity. In some cases, that meant conducting an in-depth evaluation of early childhood programs across Latin America and the Caribbean to find successful, comprehensive policy interventions that could be scaled and used in other contexts to guide the reduction of inequality across the region. In others, it meant securing $151 million to build 12 new schools in a remote area of the Amazon rainforest, renovate 20, and provide 500 other remote schools with the satellite technology to connect with broadcasting centers for student instruction.

“Too many children, still, are denied the right to a quality education for reasons not of their choosing,” said Professor Fernando Reimers in Ed. Magazine. “Functioning democracies require citizens who have all been educated to work with others in improving their communities and with her focus on advancing the educational opportunities of the most disadvantaged, Emiliana is playing a critical role in advancing the work in progress, which is democracy, justice, and the rule of law in Latin America.”

In recent years, Vegas has worked to bring new education practices to Latin America to help students become the kind of innovative, creative, and collaborative thinkers who can lead their countries in the 21st century.

“My heart has always been in Latin America,” she said. “It’s where I’m from.” – Emily Boudreau

Learn More and Connect

Read more about Emiliana Vegas' work in Latin America in Harvard Ed. magazine.

Listen to Emiliana Vegas on the Harvard EdCast.

Watch the Askwith Forums event, Leading the Global Education Movement.

Learn about the HGSE Professional Education program Think Tank on Global Education, aimed at helping educators foster global competence in their classrooms, schools, and communities.