Fighting the Good Fight: Ken Monteiro

BU Law alum shares his passion for nonprofit work.

From the death penalty and human trafficking to poverty and discrimination, many Boston University School of Law alumni are called to work for change, making big impacts in the public sector, government, and nonprofit worlds. The inspiration to serve in these areas arises from many places. For a number of these alumni, the passion for social justice is informed by their experience in law school.

For our most recent Record alumni magazine, BU Law sat down with four alumni to discuss their law school experiences and what led them to public service. We highlight here our conversation with Ken Monteiro (CAS’84, LAW’87), vice president, secretary, and general counsel of the Ford Foundation.

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Ken Monteiro (CAS'84, LAW'86)While an undergraduate student at BU, Ken Monteiro helped a friend who was studying abroad submit his applications to law school. Through that process, he started looking into law school for himself and decided to apply. “I didn’t have a particular idea of what my life would be like as a lawyer, but I soon found that I loved being in law school. The first-year classes were fascinating and I was that student with his hand always in the air,” he recalls.

CTA-alumniNot yet realizing his passion for nonprofit work, he clerked for Debevoise & Plimpton in New York and joined the firm’s real estate department after graduation. “I picked that department because it was a smaller group comprised of very nice people, but I wasn’t especially excited about real estate. Over time, I began to feel a bit lost and wondered if I was meant to be a lawyer.”

However, that all changed when he received a call from the Ford Foundation. “In my first year at the firm, I worked with the foundation on a case and saw how it focuses on poverty alleviation, social justice, and education,” he says. “Those issues were all very attractive to me. When the case finished, I told the in-house lawyer during lunch to let me know if a position ever opens up.”

Remarkably, eight years later Monteiro received a call from that in-house lawyer asking if he might be interested in her job. She was leaving, and this was the first job to open up in the legal department in all that time. “I was so excited to get that call,” he says. Shortly after, he joined the Ford Foundation as resident counsel. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven—and I discovered that I really do like being a lawyer,” he says, explaining that finding the right practice area is very important.

Founded by Edsel Ford in 1936 with an initial gift of $25,000, the Ford Foundation now manages a $12 billion endowment to fulfill its mission of reducing poverty and injustice, strengthening democratic values, promoting international cooperation, and advancing human achievement.

Monteiro started out at the foundation reviewing grants and working on contracts, but over time his role has expanded into areas like employment law, benefits, and compliance. He is now vice president, secretary, and general counsel. As a member of the executive leadership team, he spends a lot of time on strategy and governance issues.

“Another aspect of my job is global. We have offices in 10 countries outside of the US and I work with the heads of our overseas offices to make sure they are compliant with US law and the law of the country they are in,” he says.

Monteiro is also very active on several nonprofit boards. He says that his involvement in the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project began in the early part of his career after he experienced anti-gay harassment in the streets of New York City. “It bothered me that it was still happening in the 1990s and I wanted to use my legal skills to help fight that problem, so I joined the organization’s board and served as chair for four years. I helped grow the budget from $600,000 to $1.2 million, which enabled the hiring of more staff and counselors for crime victims as well as liaison programs with the police.”

Since then, he’s continued serving on boards, such as Philanthropy New York, the Foundation for Detroit’s Future, the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, and the Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development.

Monteiro credits BU Law with giving him the confidence to create his own career path. “I was so interested in law and challenged in law school that it enabled me to ultimately get my dream job and work at this incredibly impactful organization.”

This feature originally appeared in The Record, BU Law’s alumni magazine. Read the full issue here. 

Reported by Meghan Laska

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