Atlanta’s face to the world looks a bit different in 2024 as a stalwart leader leaves the department that manages the city’s growing global profile.
Vanessa Ibarra, who has served as director of the Mayor’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs for five years, is stepping down to take care of her son, a decision she said was difficult but necessary.
“As I looked through the annual reports and saw all the successes, I also realized that along the way I fell short in my main job, that of being a mom to my son Max. I missed out on many memories and school activities because of my passion and love for the City,” she wrote on LinkedIn. “After much reflection, I decided that I need to step down from my role as executive director to the City of Atlanta in order to be there for Max. While it was a challenging decision to make, it is the right one for me and my family.”
Ms. Ibarra worked in the office for more than eight years across three administrations. She earned the top leadership role upon the departure of predecessor Claire Angelle, as then-Mayor Kasim Reed transitioned out of office in 2018. Mr. Reed had established the original three-person department back in 2013, and Ms. Ibarra joined as protocol manager in 2015, just its second full year in operation.
After a period of mostly on-screen engagement during the pandemic under Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the department’s mandate was expanded under Mayor Andre Dickens, who combined Welcoming Atlanta, the city’s initiative for outreach to foreign-born residents, with the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs.
Ms. Ibarra’s department went from three people to nearly 10 overnight as she became executive director of the new Mayor’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs.
The already hectic schedule of hosting inbound dignitaries (a steady stream of ambassadors and other leaders that totals in the hundreds during her tenure), managing sister-city ties, liaising with the Atlanta diplomatic corps and boosting the city’s foreign-investment recruitment efforts was packed even further with events designed to provide resources and access to the city’s foreign-born community.
Ms. Ibarra wrote in a message on LinkedIn, where she has been prolific in her posting, about how the city had refined its approach over the years.
“I am proud that our office has, in many ways, become the standard—the blueprint—for what subnational diplomacy and community engagement should look like. This achievement has been possible thanks to my incredible team, the consular corps, community-based organizations, and partners across various industries and sectors. I am beyond thankful.”
Diplomats chimed in to validate that the city had indeed upped its game under her leadership.
Michel Gerebtzoff, Belgium’s consul general in Atlanta, wrote that for the first time in his career, as he mines his experience in a city for diplomatic best practices, the way Atlanta handles its international relationships will be on that list.
“I strongly believe that Atlanta’s significant efforts in that field, conscious choice to cultivate its international orientation and imaginative way of doing so is a model and brings a lot of value to the city. And without diminishing the merits of the wonderful team you’ve helped built, you shine at the center of all of this,” he said.
Ms. Ibarra has been recognized for her consistent, collaborative and energetic presence in the international community and for tying the city’s cross-cultural work with its international economic initiatives.
That’s both in empowering local companies to do business abroad via exports and in helping foreign companies feel welcome when they land here. Ms. Ibarra’s office frequently collaborates with economic development organizations and recently hired a staff member, Nicholas Mulkey, to support the office’s economic diplomacy initiatives.
Ms. Ibarra also spearheaded initiatives like the UPS-backed Women’s Export University and the Atlanta International Startup Exchange with two different sister cities, while also joining the mayor on overseas missions. She chaired the International Consular Ball in 2022, the most recent year it was held in partnership with the Georgia Council for International Visitors.
During her tenure, the multilingual Venezuela native who came to Atlanta for a master’s degree at Georgia State University was named one of the school’s 40-under-40 alumni and was also knighted by the French government. (A fluent Spanish and French speaker, Ms. Ibarra previously worked for French government entities and contributed to the initiative to get Atlanta named as a La French Tech hub.) She was also named one of the 50 most influential Latinos in Georgia for the last two years.
For now, however, she will be “mom-in-chief” as former Deputy Director Paulina Guzman steps in as interim executive director. Ms. Guzman represents continuity for the office, also having worked there since 2018 when she started as global engagement director.
Read Ms. Ibarra’s departure letter below and contact Ms. Guzman at PAGuzman@atlantaga.gov.
Visit the Mayor’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs online at:
atlinternationalaffairs.com and www.welcomingatlanta.com.
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