Trailblazer Models Public Leadership: Aida Rodriguez

It’s not every day you meet someone like Aida Rodriguez. She’s not your typical professor, your typical philanthropiod, your typical mentor, nor is she typical in any other way you might want to ascribe to her. She is groundbreaking, impactful, and intentional. From her early days growing up in New York City, Aida realized that the world had big opportunities for her, and that, because she was a U.S.-born Latina, she’d have to fight to use those opportunities while they’d fall onto the laps of those with economically privileged backgrounds. Rodriguez accepted her first position at the Rockefeller Foundation in 1983, as a part-time Research Associate, after completing her Ph.D. courses. She coupled the RF responsibilities with a second part-time job as an evaluation consultant for the NYC Board of Education, while completing her Ph.D. exams and dissertation. After a 15-year history at The Rockefeller Foundation, she left as the Deputy Director of the Foundation’s urban public policy and social justice programs, to accept a position as a full-time professor and chair of the graduate management programs at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at the New School. Aida’s career has been long and poignant and she has earned every ounce of it using her smarts, passion and resilience, while advocating for Latinos every step of the way. “I give because I feel like we have to fight, and I give to try to win that fight,” said Rodriguez, who has long collaborated with Hispanics in Philanthropy and is a former member of its board of directors. The child of a Cuban father and Puerto Rican mother, Rodriguez grew up in low-income communities in New York City and worked her way to a full scholarship at Princeton University, where she studied alongside the future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. They belonged to a very small, exclusive group that was known for being very bright: the first Latino students at Princeton University. Rodriguez graduated Princeton with honors in 1976 and went on to receive her Ph.D. in Sociology at UMass Amherst.
None of this was easy. I don’t know how I did it! I think I was motivated by the need to make change. In my early work at Rockefeller, I realized someone has zillions of dollars, and someone is giving it away—it might as well be me.
Although she didn’t formally begin a career in giving until after college, Rodriguez has been infused with the generosity gene since she was a child. “My father was extremely giving in terms of wisdom, time and energy,” she says.“He taught me the importance of not judging people but always being aware of who they are—accepting people for who they are until they show you otherwise, which was very inspirational to me.” As a self-described program evaluator, professor, change agent, and caretaker, Aida has built a community of givers around her. She also has the strong support of her family, including her Puerto Rican husband of 40 years, two grown children and an extended family in New York, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. In 2003, she helped inspire some of HIP’s most foundational work, for which she became co-recipient of the Council on Foundations Robert Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking. “HIP’s work and my Latino giving is all one big story—I was there from the beginning. It weaves together. HIP has been my family and my professional support network. I could not have survived philanthropy without it.” Now a fuerte role model to her students, friends, and colleagues, Rodriguez continues to give her time and energy to our cause.