Mara Kardas-Nelson, 2022 Winner
Mara Kardas-Nelson' s work interrogates inequality in the international development sector and environmental movements. Kardas-Nelson began working in public health while in high school in Olympia, Washington. After college, she moved to South Africa to work in HIV treatment advocacy. Kardas-Nelson later moved to Sierra Leone, supporting the country’s community health system as it was emerging from the 2013-2015 Ebola epidemic.
Kardas-Nelson’s journalism career also began in South Africa, where she reported on environmental degradation, human rights, and public health for the Mail & Guardian. Her work has since appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, NPR, The American Prospect, and elsewhere. Her reporting has taken her around the world — to Lamu, Kenya; Harare, Zimbabwe; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Bay Center, Washington. Her work has been supported by the International Women’s Media
Foundation, Investigative Editors and Reporters, the Logan Nonfiction Program, and Mesa Refuge, and received awards in South Africa and the U.S. She graduated from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in 2020.
Kardas-Nelson’s focus on inequality within global development stems from her experience in it. “I’m interested in the motivations that pull people to this sector, including my own. Based on my years working in and around global non-profits, I’ve seen how complex political and economic histories are often unknown by development practitioners, who are encouraged to create quick-fix policy solutions. I want to investigate why this is, and what that means for governments and communities that are on the receiving end of these interventions.”
In 2021, in collaboration with reporters Sean Campbell and Ngozi Cole, Kardas-Nelson reported and produced an investigation into claims of racism and inequality within Doctors Without Borders for the radio show Reveal and Insider. She is currently writing a book on the history of microfinance and its impact on two groups of women in Sierra Leone for Henry Holt. Kardas-Nelson will dedicate her residency at the Blue Mountain Center to finishing the book. “I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity, to write unimpeded in a supportive, creative environment,” Kardas-Nelson said.