The Inter-American Development Bank has hired Brigida Benitez, HispanicBusiness Magazine's 2005 Woman of the Year, to head its Office of Institutional Integrity.
The organization delivers up to $15.5 billion a year in loans to developing nations in Latin America. With such a wealth of dollars available, the group in recent years has been susceptible to fraudulent requests, forcing the Washington D.C.-based organization late last year to launch a major overhaul to bolster its measures to fight corruption.
As part of its comprehensive effort, the IDB selected Ms. Benitez to help reform the organization.
"I'm very excited about this position," Ms. Benitez told HispanicBusiness Magazine. "It's a very good fit in many respects."
A nationally recognized litigator, Ms. Benitez is perhaps best known for her work as a key member of the WilmerHale legal team that in 2003 persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the right of the University of Michigan -- and, by extension, all universities -- to consider race in admission decisions.
All told, she brings to the IDB nearly 17 years' experience in conducting internal inquiries involving fraud, embezzlement, accounting irregularities and employee misconduct in major corporations in the United States, Latin America and elsewhere throughout the world.
The IDB aims to partner with countries to combat poverty and promote social equity. Recent high-profile projects include a $50 million loan to Venezuela to improve the quality of the drinking water and a $6.5 million loan to build a biomass power plant in Chile.
Of all her experiences, Ms. Benitez said the University of Michigan case has been among the most rewarding of her career.
"We put together an expert case that proved the benefits of diversity in higher education for all students, not just minority students," she told HispanicBusiness Magazine. "That was something that had not been done before."
Ms. Benitez said she will draw on that experience at her current post.
"That case was a very high-profile example of the type of litigation I have done in my career for 16 years," she said.
Ms. Benitez said she has worked on complex cases where the answers were not readily available.
"It's really figuring out how you use your creativity to solve problems," she said.
Ms. Benitez initially wanted to be a reporter, and majored in journalism at the University of Florida.
"I was drawn to it because I like writing," said Ms. Benitez, who was the editor of her high school newspaper. "Then in college, I started minoring in criminal justice. I became really interested in the law."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree at the University of Florida, she graduated cum laude from Boston College Law School with a Juris Doctor degree.
Ms. Benitez grew up in Miami, and is the daughter of Cuban immigrants. Her mother stayed at home and her father was an airline mechanic.
"They did not have the opportunity to go to college," she said. "They encouraged me, and instilled in me a strong work ethic. I owe them a great deal."
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