Labor Day Week: Saúl I. Maldonado on Honoring Debra Joy Pérez

This is part of a two-week series honoring our living evaluation pioneers in conjunction with Labor Day in the USA (September 5).

I’m Saúl I. Maldonado, assistant professor of education at San Diego State University, AEA GEDI alumnus, and co-chair of LA RED TIG .

Why I chose to honor this evaluator:

LA RED honors Debra Joy Pérez, PhD, Chief Measurement, Evaluation and Learning Officer of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for contributing to the philanthropy sector and fostering equitable practices as an organizational leader and evaluation pioneer.


Across multiple foundations, Debra has emphasized the value of learning from investments and how impact is measured. At Moore Foundation, Debra has the responsibility of applying her management competencies in research, evaluation and learning on diverse portfolios and initiatives from international environmental conservation initiatives in the Amazon-Andes to local investments in California’s Bay Area. Debra is dedicated to ensuring foundations’ investments make a difference in the lives of others and considers partnerships with third-party/external evaluators as a critical component of organizational accountability.


Debra self-describes as a gay womyn of color from a large family with a commitment to community. Upon completing the first master’s degree, Debra’s business cards included the George Bernard Shaw quote, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.” A continuous commitment to our evaluation community is evident in Debra’s leadership support of equity-oriented initiatives.

At Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Debra contributed to the creation of a fellowship program that offered graduate students of color personalized training at evaluation firms. At Annie E. Casey Foundation, Debra launched the Expanding the Bench Network, a core strategy for increasing evaluators of color, as well as the Leaders in Equitable Evaluation and Diversity (LEEAD) Program. LEEAD is a comprehensive initiative that includes coursework, mentorship and practicum opportunities at research organizations, think tanks, foundations and private firms for historically underrepresented scholars.

Debra describes equity-oriented evaluators as follows: “It is a matter of mindset, you can be a person of color and still ignore core concepts like empowerment and community-based participatory engagement; equitable evaluation is about explicitly acknowledging the social dynamics of power and privilege in all evaluation processes.” To assist audiences into translating equity-orientations into professional practices, Debra recommends reflection on the following Chris Boeskool quote, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, [equity] feels like oppression.”

Rad Resource:

Acknowledging that disrupting the status quo is difficult, Debra stresses the importance of interpersonal connections as well as the centering of purpose. As evaluators, “we must remember the words of Patañjali, ‘“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations.’ A rad resource that Debra recommends for reflecting upon our interconnectedness and purpose is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Labor Day Week in Evaluation: Honoring Evaluation’s Living Pioneers. The contributions this week are tributes to our living evaluation pioneers who have made important contributions to our field and even positive impacts on our careers as evaluators. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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