Debora B. Freitas López, MS, a global leader in social and behavior change communication with experience across Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, has been chosen as the new executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs.
The Brazilian-born Freitas López, who has 20-plus years of experience in international development and social and behavior change communication, will start at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on March 6. She will become just the fourth executive director in the Center’s more than 35-year history.
“We are thrilled to welcome Debora to the Bloomberg School,” said Dean Ellen MacKenzie, PhD, SCM. “Her experience and passion make her ideally suited to lead CCP in its continued work to harness the power of communication and community partnerships to advance healthy behaviors around the world. As executive director, Debora will chart a strong course for the future and help the terrific team at CCP make an even greater impact.”
Freitas López comes to CCP from University Research Co., LLC (URC), in Chevy Chase, Md., where she oversees its Global, Latin America and Caribbean, and West Africa regional portfolio. In her role, she leads the development and implementation of the regional portfolio’s long- and short-term strategic technical and growth vision.
At CCP, she will manage more than $100 million in annual programming and more than 700 employees in Baltimore and around the world. CCP is the Bloomberg School’s largest center.
Freitas López has made a name for herself globally, as a representative for one of the founding organizations and now as chair of the Global Alliance for Social and Behaviour Change, of which CCP is a member. She also currently serves on FP2030’s Family Planning High Impact Practices Technical Expert Group and just ended her second term on the Steering Committee for the SBC Working Group of RBM Partnership to End Malaria.
Last year, she was chosen to be part of the 2022 North American Cohort for WomenLift Health’s Leadership Journey, an initiative designed to support women through the challenges and opportunities of advancing to senior leadership positions in global health. Her leadership project focused on diversifying leadership through a behavior-led systems thinking approach.
Freitas López received her B.S./B.A. in chemistry/physics from the University of Virginia in 1998, and an M.S. in Health Evaluation Services/Epidemiology from Virginia in 2000. While in school, she did community outreach with migrant workers in Central Virginia, serving as a promotora, a lay person who receives specialized training to provide basic health education in the community.
Another early job had her evaluate community health programs in the Northern Virginia area. When she identified gaps in services, she was encouraged to develop programs to meet those needs. She credits her experience during these early years as the nexus to her shift into health promotion and health education. She later worked on national level health communications programs and eventually shifted to working on social and behavior change programs in health and other sectors.
Freitas López’s career has centered on working to institutionalize evidence-based solutions with the aim of making communities, households, and families more resilient. Her portfolio includes successfully leading the development, implementation, and management of multi-level, multi-million-dollar initiatives in numerous countries, alongside public and private sector partners.
Among her many roles, Freitas López has served as the strategy workstream lead for URC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and co-led URC’s Global Health Security Working Group.
“Debora is committed to our shared values of inclusion, diversity, anti-racism and equity, blended uniquely between an anti-racism and anti-colonialism approach, that will further propel CCP’s leadership in this area, both domestically in the United States and globally in countries where we work,” says Rajiv N. Rimal, PhD, MA, chair of the school’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society, where CCP sits.
Over her career, Freitas López has directly managed teams in the United States and abroad in implementing effective social and behavior change focused and integrated programs in maternal, newborn, and child health; family planning/reproductive health; infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS; among others. She has also supported ministries in pandemic response and preparedness, including during H1N1 and COVID-19 outbreaks.
“I have not taken the typical path in public health to get to where I am,” she says. “I started working in a lab, and eventually I ended up working on the ‘other side’ of public health. Consequently, the path I have taken has given me an appreciation for quality research and data, as well as for the creativity and innovation that goes into solving problems and creating successful behavior change programs.
“My background and experiences have instilled a real love for culture and appreciation for our differences and feel that it is critical to embrace these elements. I value people, research and data, and embrace out-of-the-box solutions. I am excited about joining the renowned CCP team and look forward to getting started in building upon its more than three decades of successful programming.”
Freitas López lives in Great Falls, Va., with her two school-aged children and her husband, a disabled U.S. veteran.