Ilona Szabó

Ilona Szabó de Carvalho

Co-founder and executive director of the Igarapé Institute

Ilona Szabo de Carvalho is the co-founder and executive director of the Igarapé Institute. She is a globally recognized thought leader on issues of drug policy and violence prevention and reduction. She is also a civic entrepreneur andthe co-founder and executive director of the Igarapé Institute. Since its founding in 2011, the Institute has generated pioneering research, new technologies and policy on security, justice and development. It is today ranked as one of the leading think tanks in the Global South and works with governments, the private sector and civil society to co-design data-driven solutions to complex challenges.


Ilona has extensive experience leading 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, Richard Branson and the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.


She earned a Master’s Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies 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. Furthermore, she is a public policy fellow at Columbia University in NY. 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.  


Since 2015, she has been a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum and a Responsible Leader at the BMW Foundation. In 2020, she was nominated  as one of the world’s top 50 thinkers for the Covid-19 age by Prospect Magazine. She is the co-founder of the AGORA movement and she has launched a number of expert networks, including Think Free (Pense Livre) and Public Transformation. Ilona was also selected to join a group of civic entrepreneurs called the Brazilian Political Action for Sustainability Network (RAPS). On 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.


She is a columnist at Folha de S. Paulo, was a commentator on the Estúdio i program, broadcast on GloboNews. She was invited to TED in 2014 ad 2016 and Davos in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Ilona is routinely involved in overseeing communications and outreach on behalf of the Igarapé Institute. She is the author of two books Drogas: as histórias que não te contaram (Drugs: the untold stories) and Segurança Pública para Virar o Jogo (Public Security to Change the Game), published by Zahar in 2017 and 2018. She was the co­script writer and researcher for the award-winning documentary Breaking the Taboo.


Ilona serves on the board of the Drug Policy Alliance, on the advisory board of the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum, The Brazilian Center for International Relations (CEBRI), on the editorial board of the Americas Quaterly magazine and presides the Public Security Board of the Rio de Janeiro State Industry Federation (FIRJAN). She served on the Brazilian National Council on Public Security and Social Defense and was a mentor of the Columbia Women’s leadership network in Brazil. She served as an international jurist for the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge in Latin America and MacArthur´s Foundation $100 million dollar initiative – 100&Change.


In the mid­-2000s while working for Viva Rio, she coordinated one of the world’s largest disarmament campaigns and helped shape a national referendum to ban the sale of handguns to Brazilian citizens. Between 2008 and 2011, Ilona was the civil society liaise for the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, working with diplomats and grass-roots organizations around the world. Previously she worked for 5 years in investments banks in Rio de Janeiro. She practices Yoga and loves to be close to nature, to travel, sing and dance.