With an astounding professional background that has led her skipping from one government position to another, Costa Rican economist Rebeca Grynspan recently landed at the United Nations as director of its Development Programme (UNDP) for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The former Vice-President of Costa Rica (1994-98) will take over her new role March 1, and lead a staff of 800 throughout the region’s 24 offices.
Grynspan, appointed to the New Yorkbased position by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan last month, will replace Cuban Elena Martínez, who retired after directing the regional office since 1999, according to a statement from UNDP.
“I am a great admirer of Rebeca’s work in poverty reduction, democratic governance and gender equality, and I have high confidence in her ability to continue UNDP’s legacy in helping to shape public policy in Latin America and the Caribbean,” UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis said in the statement.
Grynspan, who has a Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Costa Rica (UCR), where she also completed studies in Sociology, a Master’s degree in economics from the University of Sussex in England and studied economics and sociology at the HebrewUniversity in Jerusalem, began her professional career as a UCR professor and researcher in economic science.
She was Vice-Minister of Finance from 1986-88 and did consulting work from 1998 to 2001, when she became director of the sub-regional headquarters of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL).
During a phone interview from the CEPAL headquarters in Mexico City, Grynspan recently shared her views with The Tico Times.
Believes in Mission
The economist, who will be responsible for UNDP staff and offices throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and their operations on a regional level, said she accepted the post because she believes in UNDP’s mission.
“I like what it does… what it has done in Latin America. For example, the U.N. Millennium Objectives, democratic governance, these are extremely relevant topics.
They (UNDP officials) have a real commitment to helping countries develop,” she said.
Her new position involves three job titles: assistant to the secretary general, assistant to the UNDP administrator, and UNDP regional bureau director.
As UNDP regional director, Grynspan, who admitted to experiencing a “healthy preoccupation” in anticipation of the responsibility her new job demands, will use Costa Rica as a model of development for the rest of the region.
“Costa Rica is an exemplary country in the region, it has much to offer. Despite the problems it faces right now, if you view it from a historical, structural perspective, considering Costa Rica’s GDP, it should have a much lower standard of living. But it’s able to veer its resources toward its citizens. Our challenge is to keep this up,” she said. A fundamental element that should be replicated in the rest of the region is to connect economic and social development, Grynspan said.
“They are two faces of the same coin. First comes economic development, then comes social development,” she said. Asked what she does in her spare time, she told The Tico Times she rarely has free time.
“When I have free time I like to spend it with my family. I also love going to movies and the theater,” she said, explaining her family includes her husband, former Legislative Assembly president Saúl Weisleder (1994-98), Adriana, her 23-year-old daughter who lives in Chicago and Ariel, her 20-year-old son who lives in Mexico.
As a woman who has occupied so many high-profile positions, Grynspan said she feels a collective pride with other successful women.
“I am aware that I have been able to occupy these positions thanks to what other women have done in the past. I feel like thanking the women who opened these spaces; this is the result of a collective struggle,” she said.