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Latino Trailblazer

Maria Teresa Kumar

  • Gender: Female
  • University: University of California - Davis
  • Undergraduate Degree: International Economics
  • Hometown: Sonoma
  • State: California
  • Organization: Voto Latino,MSNBC Contributor
  • Position Title: President & CEO

Ms. Kumar was born in her mother’s home country of Colombia, in the city of Bogotá, and raised in a bicultural household in Sonoma, California. She credits her mother, who toiled as a field worker and cleaning houses, with inspiring her work ethic. 

When her father fell ill, her mother became the family’s primary breadwinner, struggling to make ends meet. She turned to social services for help, only to learn how inaccessible those benefits were to immigrants. The experience was an eye-opener for a young daughter, igniting her passion for political activism

She attended the University of California, Davis, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in International Economics. After working as a senior legislative aide in the US House of Representatives, she received a master’s degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. 

After two years in the corporate arena, she joined actress Rosario Dawson in founding Voto Latino, a nonpartisan, civic media organization headquartered in Washington, DC. The organization deploys marketing campaigns that leverage new media and technology to encourage Latinos to participate in the political process. Under her leadership, Voto Latino has played a critical role in national elections, directly registering over 225,000 new voters and influencing millions more through viral, celebrity-driven campaigns.

When speaking about Voto Latino’s impact on the future, Ms. Kumar is optimistic. In an interview with Capital File magazine, she said, “I like to say that the United States’ first Latino president is going to be somehow connected to Voto Latino.”

Voto Latino has also partnered with HSF to share information with Hispanic students and their families about how to prepare, plan, and pay for college, through scholarships and related support services. 

Ms. Kumar is on the boards of Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood, and the Latino Leaders Network. She is also the host of MSNBC’s web show Changing America and a frequent contributor on MSNBC, NPR, and PBS.

Among her numerous awards, Elle magazine named her one of the Ten Most Powerful Women in Washington, DC. She was also named one of the 100 Creative Minds in Business by Fast Company, one of the 100 Most Influential Latinos in America by Hispanic Business, and one of the 20 Most Influential Latinos Under 40 by PODER Magazine. She was also nominated for an Emmy for her work on the “Beyond Borderlines” MSNBC program, and was also part of the Young Global Leaders Forum in 2014.

In an interview with Latina magazine, she said, “My abuelita was another source of inspiration…. [W]hen I started with Voto Latino and told her about the ‘no’s’ I was getting, she said to me, ‘No is for everyone else, not for you! Just one kindred spirit will give you hope and a pathway.’ And that,” she added, “really is the motto of Voto Latino.”