Board members

IWGIA's international Board is the highest governing body of the organisation and works in close cooperation with our Executive Director. The Board consists of seven members and one staff observer. Two members of the Board are elected by and among our members, three members are appointed by the Board, two members are recruited by the Board from organisations with a particular expertise in indigenous/human rights, and one staff observer is elected by the secretariat staff.


Ida Theilade, Chair of the Board

Ida Theilade has a PhD in tropical botany from the University of Copenhagen and has worked with participatory management and conservation of tropical forests for the past 25 years. The research explores the role local and indigenous knowledge and institutions can play in natural resource governance. This includes natural forests and human-modified environments such as protected forests, agro-ecosystems and community forests, at any ecological scale i.e. from genes to ecosystems. Current research centers on local and indigenous knowledge and its uses in community monitoring of forests, as for example in REDD+, and co-benefits for biodiversity and social well-being.

Project portfolio includes basic and applied research and advisory services on livelihoods, management and conservation. Capacity building in developing countries and dissemination of research results to a wider audience is an integral part of Ida Theilade’s work as a Professor in ethnobotany and Forest Governance at the University of Copenhagen. She has been a member of the IWGIA Board since September 2019 and became Chair of the Board in January 2020.


Rune Fjellheim, Vice-Chair

Rune Fjellheim is an indigenous Sámi economist who has been serving as the Director General of the Sámi Parliament of Norway since 2008 and has been involved in the parliament since 1991. Prior to that position, he served as the Executive Secretary of the Arctic Council Indigenous People’s Secretariat.

He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Arctic Research Centre at the Autonomous University of Barcelona  and is Co-chair of the Ája Indigenous Peoples' Rights Foundation. He became a member of the IWGIA Board in January 2020.


Cathal Doyle

Cathal Doyle holds a Ph.D. in international law from Middlesex University London which he completed in 2012. He is specialized in the rights of indigenous peoples under international and national law, and their interface with business and human rights and sustainable development, and he has written and edited several books in this area.

Dr. Doyle has acted as a consultant for the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and assisted NGOs, including IWGIA, and indigenous peoples in documenting complaints to national, regional and international mechanisms, including to the OECD and UN bodies. He is also a founding member of the European Network on Indigenous Peoples and is on the Forest Peoples Programme’s (FPP) Board.

Since 2013, he has been lecturing on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Business and Human Rights, International Human Rights Law and Sustainable Development and Human Rights. He is currently responsible for leading Middlesex University London’s Law Masters programme. Dr. Doyle also worked as a management consultant with Accenture for 10 years. He has been a member of the IWGIA Board since January 2019.


Katja Kvaale

Katja Kvaale is an anthropologist specialised in ‘indigenousness’ and the complex issue of cultural continuity, mentioned in the UN working definition. She conducted field studies among the Ashéninka in the Peruvian Amazon in 1989 and partook in sessions at the Palais des Nations in Geneva as a student activist member of IWGIA during the final drafting of the Declaration.

Her thesis – dedicated to the theoretical unwrapping of postmodern anthropology’s inability to deal properly with ’indigenous peoples’ as phenomenon – was awarded the Gold Medal of the University of Copenhagen in 1998. As a Ph.D. student she witnessed the start of the Permanent Forum in New York. Between 2000-2009 she conducted doctoral field studies in the Philippine Cordillera mountains concerning cultural continuity as lived practice – in the Igorot case as a comprehensive modernisation of ancestral rituals.

Since 2015, Katja is a writer at the well-esteemed Danish weekly Weekendavisen on aspects of culture, politics and identity. She has been a member of the IWGIA Board since January 2019.


Maria Bierbaum Oehlenschläger

Maria Bierbaum Oehlenschläger has worked in the field of media and communication since graduating in 2009 as a master in Comparative Literature and African Studies from the University of Copenhagen and the Humboldt University of Berlin. Postcolonial literature studies as well as race, class and gender studies were her primary research topics.

As a communication officer, Maria Bierbaum Oehlenschläger has mainly been engaged in international development, Indigenous Peoples’ rights and human rights. She has worked for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, first serving as an intern at the Danish Mission to the UN in Geneva and later working at the former Centre of Culture and Development based in Copenhagen. In periods she has worked at the Danish media outlet Altinget as opinion editor and most recently as head of proof reading. In 2016 Maria had the pleasure of working at the IWGIA secretariat as a communication and press officer. Now she is at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Maria joined the IWGIA board in 2021.


Sara Olsvig

Sara Olsvig is a Ph.D. Fellow at Ilisimatusarfik, the University of Greenland and the current chairwoman of Greenland’s Human Rights Council. Olsvig is an assigned member of the Constitutional Commission of Greenland. She served as member of the Parliament of Denmark and the Parliament of Greenland in the years 2011 to 2018. She has been leader of the political party Inuit Ataqatigiit. Olsvig was Vice Premier and Minister of Social Affairs, Families, Gender Equality and Justice in the Government of Greenland from 2016 to 2018. Olsvig was the Chairperson of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. 

Olsvig holds a master’s degree in Anthropology and has previously worked as Executive Director for Inuit Circumpolar Council Greenland, to which she today is a delegate. Sara is Inuk and lives in Nuuk, Greenland with her partner and their children. She has been a member of the IWGIA Board since May 2019.


Elsa Stamatopoulou

Elsa Stamatopoulou joined Columbia University in 2011 after 31 years of service at the United Nations with some 22 years dedicated to human rights, in addition to eight years exclusively devoted to indigenous peoples’ rights. Indigenous issues were part of her formal portfolio since 1983 and she became the first Chief of the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2003.

She is now the first Director of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia. Her academic background is in law, international law, criminal justice and political science (Athens Law School, Vienna University, Northeastern University and Graduate Institute of International Studies at the University of Geneva). She has received various awards, including the Ingrid Washinawatok El Issa O’Peqtaw Metaehmoh-Flying Eagle Woman Peace, Justice and Sovereignty Award and the Innovation in Academia Award for Arts & Culture, 2016, by the University of Kent (UK). In 2016, she was featured as one of the UN’s 80 Leading Women from 1945-2016. She became a member of the IWGIA Board in January 2020.


Signe Leth, Staff Observer

Signe Leth is Senior Advisor for IWGIA on women and land rights. She holds an M.A. in anthropology and History of Art from Aarhus University. Signe has been living in North East Cambodia for four years (2006-2010) working with indigenous peoples issues (research on domestic violence among the Kreung, Village development planning, and land rights issues in particular). Before joining IWGIA in February 2016, Signe worked as Asia coordinator in the Danish Centre for Culture and Development.




IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

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