July 12, 2021

(Guest Post) Doris Campos-Infantino Comments on the Proposed IOA Bylaws

The following commentary was submitted by Doris Cecilia Campos-Infantino, Ombuds at the World Bank Group and former Ombuds at the National Institutes of Health and the Inter-American Development Bank. She served two terms on the IOA Board of Directors and her leadership positions included three terms as Vice President. She has been a speaker at multiple IOA conferences and meetings of the Ombudsman and Mediators of the United Nations & Related International Organizations, and an instructor for IOA's "Ombudsman 101" course.

Dear Colleagues,

I appreciate the two posts and the comment. I’m adding to the posts by Howard and Nick – two strong allies in the cause toward DEIB and the advancement of our profession in my voice as a Mexican, woman, immigrant with unruly hair and an unconventional style (#diversityisreal).

I do not support the proposed Bylaw changes and urge us to carefully consider them collectively before voting. I do not think they go very far in increasing genuine inclusivity in the IOA or help advance our still nascent profession. I fear that we may be doing what many organizations are doing – acting with urgency to make a change that is visible and demonstrates action but is not the kind of meaningful change that is most needed. I do not believe there is clarity on what the problems are or what our collective priorities are because they have not been explored in an inclusive manner. I believe the first change proposed toward greater inclusivity is off the mark because loosening criteria for Board membership is not the most impactful way to change our internal culture.

Before we consider a change in our governance structure, we should be clear about the problems we are trying to solve and the process to define those and to set priorities for action should be an inclusive one. The Board of Directors (BoD) and Task Force on DEIB (Task Force) are central to the proposed Bylaw changes. The IOA community at large has not been engaged in dialogue to inform this effort. An inclusive process would involve community dialogue collectively identify and prioritize the problems to act on or at a minimum, the BoD and/or Task force should solicit a broad range of input before putting a proposal up for a vote. An inclusive process simultaneously would serve to exchange experiences, perceived challenges to DEIB, any tensions between DEIB strategies and advancing the profession, and generate understanding of and buy-in for needed change.

The most common and insidious type of racist behavior are microaggressions. Exclusion happens in micro moments, as does inclusion - in every conversation, who’s there, who speaks, who is asked for input, who is heard, who gets information, who is invited to dinner, etc., etc. The IOA is largely a volunteer-led organization where most activity and influence on the profession and membership happens in IOA committees. Two characteristic examples of widely discussed frustrations about exclusivity are the selection of instructors for the highly sought-after training teams for Foundations courses. Another are the oft forgotten practitioners of international organizations practicing outside the U.S. in different legal contexts and institutional structures. If the focus of a change in governance is sought, the most impactful would be to reform the committee structures and decision-making processes.

We should not position the advancement of DEIB in IOA and the development of the profession against each other. I believe we can work on both simultaneously, and one can help advance the other as opposed to neutralizing efforts. To advance DEIB in IOA, we could focus on what will have an impact on most and to act immediately. There is so much low hanging fruit! Things I think we can do now that would propel DEIB is mentoring matching with POC, reverse mentoring, establishing affinity group(s) of POC and other excluded groups, set up an internship program for targeted populations, teach allyship, train ombuds on how to work with race-related cases, including bias, discrimination.

To further the ombuds profession, we should focus on the items that have been on “the list” for a long time and are among our strategic priorities as well. Our focus should be on professional development analogous to that of similar professions (e.g., most mediation certification programs require co-mediations with and supervised mediations by a certified mediator; see the work by David Miller and Fred Wright on establishing a formal model of supervision and support for ombuds), training on the practice (e.g., on how to do interventions, advanced ombudsing, systemic change), accreditation of offices, establishing Ombuds offices, passing legislation to establish ombuds privilege, state certification programs, evaluation of ombuds, and ombuds office effectiveness. We are way behind the mediation community. The Uniform Mediation Act that standardizes the mediation process and establishes a privilege of confidentiality for mediators was created in 2002 and has been adopted by 13 states, most recently Georgia, this year. The IOA Research and Assessment Committee was charged by the Board of Directors to create a research agenda for the ombuds field. Published in the JIOA 2018 issue, authors Shereen G. Bingham, Tyler S. Smith, Shannon L. Burton, and Danita Elkerson set out 8 major research goals, all of which would propel our profession forward if we work on them.

I hope we stop, take a breath, and talk. Let’s find opportunity to further the profession and create opportunity for those who have been excluded in our community and coming into the profession – a win-win approach. Please do not vote until we have had the opportunity to hear from each other.


  1. I so appreciate all these eloquent, thoughtful and insightful comments. Thank you Doris, Mary, Nick, Howard, for taking the time to write them, and I hope the IOA is listening