In this month’s “Meet the IAF” profile, we feature Natalia Mandrus. As part of the IAF’s Office of the General Counsel, she advises the Board of Directors, Management Team, and staff about legal matters. She also handles requests for information from the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
How long have you been working at the IAF?
I’ve been working at the IAF since April 2014. I moved from D.C. back to Florida, where I’m from, in August 2015, and I stayed on until they found my replacement. I came back on board around November 2017, and I’ve been here ever since. I love the mission, I love the people, and I love the work. I love what the agency does and who I’m working with. Not just the Office of General Counsel, where I work, but everyone: Programs, External and Government Affairs, Operations, everyone. The work is so interesting. The Office of General Counsel touches on so many different issues, and that variety keeps us motivated. The IAF is a government agency that not a lot of people have heard about, but we do so much. So it’s like a hidden gem, and it’s nice to be a part of it.
What do you do at the IAF?
As Associate General Counsel, I assist the General Counsel in providing accurate and timely legal and policy advice to the Board of Directors, Management Team, and staff. Our office deals with a broad range of issues that arise in the course of the Foundation’s work, including conducting legal research and analysis, and preparing documents, memoranda, and presentations. I review funding proposals that organizations submit to the IAF, communicate with IAF staff as appropriate, and resolve questions and legal issues while we consider whether or not to fund a grant, and then recommend to our General Counsel that we clear the grant. I assist the General Counsel in making sure that all of the agency’s employees are behaving ethically, respond to requests for documents and records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and also make sure the agency is fulfilling all its requirements under other administrative laws and Executive Orders.
What professional training and prior experiences most prepared you to work for the IAF?
Obviously, law school—all those classes like my background in administrative law contracts are always really helpful. Between graduating and joining the IAF, I worked with a lot of FOIA offices in other government agencies. And I’d say that’s been really helpful. So that’s the professional background that’s been most helpful.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
[Laughs] Not a lawyer! I definitely always wanted to do something that had an international outlook, something that would broaden my horizons. Miami is such a diverse city that I’ve always been interested in knowing about different backgrounds, different cultures. When I was a kid, I really didn’t travel much, so I was always looking forward to where I could go as an adult. So maybe it was both my dynamic home town and wanting to see more of the world, and just having an inquisitive personality in general.
What’s your favorite part of your work with the IAF?
I love reading and reviewing grant packages and just knowing exactly what we are doing and who we are helping, and knowing that our work is contributing to the greater good. It’s always so interesting to read what we’re helping fund: what projects we’re supporting, what people in the field are doing, and how it’s helping them.
What is your connection with the region?
My parents are Cuban, were born in Cuba, and they came over to the U.S. when they were very young. So that’s my connection with the Latin American region. And just being in Miami, I’m surrounded by so many people from not only Latin America, but the Caribbean as well: Haiti, Jamaica, and many other places.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you on the job?
I traveled to Guatemala with the IAF, when I was fairly new to the agency. I started in April, and I went to the field in December. So that was really interesting. Guatemala is a country that was never on my radar, to be honest, and visiting was really eye opening. It was beautiful. I didn’t think it was going to be as beautiful as it was, with so many volcanoes. The landscape was so lush. And the culture was eye-opening because it’s so Indigenous. Some of those seven-hour car trips through the mountains were rough, though! We were visiting three applicant organizations, which is something the IAF always does before funding a grant. It was nice to see how we assess the applications we receive and the factors we use in deciding who would be a good fit for our funding.
What tools and skills do you use most in your daily work?
I love collaborating using shared online documents. We can all be working on the same document and getting each others’ comments. It’s just so much easier than saving an offline document and then sharing it with three people and risking that other people will be editing different versions of it. I love all shared tools.
The most important skill for my work is just being a good, active listener. It’s taking in all sides of a situation, not only from the management team, but people at all levels, and considering all arguments. Having an open mind and listening, and not trying to read people’s minds, but foretelling the future in a way by considering possible outcomes of different proposals. In the Office of the General Counsel, we have to anticipate potential precedents and issues that could arise from what we’re doing today.
Thank you for everything you do for the IAF, Natalia!