Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

Maria Pignataro Nielsen

Board Member

Maria Pignataro Nielsen is the Chief People Officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She is a recognized thought leader in the global non-profit arena and has a long history of working for social justice organizations. For 16 years, she served as the founding Director of Global Human Resources for Human Rights Watch (HRW), the international human rights and advocacy organization. During her tenure, HRW worked in nearly every country around the world on a broad array of human rights issues such as women’s rights, health, arms transfers, corporate social responsibility, child labor, LGBT issues, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, migrant workers, landmines, and counterterrorism.  Following HRW, Maria served as the Chief Human Resources Officer at The Atlantic Philanthropies, where she designed and implemented strategic workforce plans related to the global foundation’s spend-down.  Following her departure from Atlantic, she held a fellowship at InsideNGO, where she provided senior-level advice in support of its 350-international humanitarian relief and development organizations.

She then served as the Director of Human Capital for 100 Resilient Cities, a project of the Rockefeller Organization dedicated to building urban resilience around the world; as interim CHRO for Results for Development; and Director of Change Management and Organizational Development for the Open Society Foundations-US. Maria has traveled to or collaborated with colleagues in nearly 40 countries. She is a graduate of Barnard College and holds certifications in non-profit management from Harvard; organizational development from Cornell; and executive coaching from Columbia.