Lauded as one the most influential American Latinos under 40 and as among the top Latinas in Government and Politics, Maria Teresa (Petersen) Kumar is the founding Executive Director of Voto Latino, a leading national civic engagement organization targeting acculturated American Latino youth. In the 2008 presidential election, Voto Latino leveraged social media and celebrity participation in five battleground states, all of which saw Latino voter participation increase 5% or more above the national average.  Its innovative initiatives – including launching the first national mobile voter registration campaign –have won wide recognition and praise and today, Voto Latino is expanding its civic engagement to include issue based advocacy such as green jobs, education, and healthcare.

Currently a MSNBC political analyst, Maria Teresa appears regularly as a commentator on several MSNBC programs including HardBall with Chris Matthews and Morning Joe.  She has also been a frequent guest on CNN’s AC 360 and American Morning, FOX, NPR, and Telemundo.  Maria Teresa started her career as a Legislative Aide for former Democratic Caucus Chairman Vic Fazio, managing international trade issues and appropriations.

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ABOUT Maria Teresa Kumar   (+/-)

Galvanizing the Young Latino Population to Build a Stronger America

 Maria Teresa Kumar owned a successful corporate and political consulting business when she realized that her clients -- Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit organizations -- were both failing to connect with the fastest-growing demographic in the United States: young Latinos.  Believing that Latinos can improve their quality of life as well as contribute to building a healthy, strong America by understanding the electoral process, Maria Teresa co-founded Voto Latino with actress Rosario Dawson in 2004 to increase this population’s involvement in civic life. Voto Latino, says Maria Teresa, was the first organization to recognize that many US-born Latinos identify themselves as American: “They want to be part of the system, only no one has asked them.” Maria Teresa expanded Voto Latino from a public service announcement campaign to a full-fledged organization that leverages new media, technology, and celebrity spokespeople to mobilize Latino voters, encourage civic participation, and change negative cultural stereotypes.

Decorated Leader, Distinguished Scholar

Maria Teresa is a recipient of numerous leadership awards including from The White House Project, Imagen Foundation and the New York Legislature. Last year, Washington Life magazine placed Maria Teresa on the cover of their issue highlighting the most influential Washingtonians under 40. She is a Council of Foreign Relations term member, an Ambassador Swanee Hunt Prime Mover Fellow, a Women’s Media Center Fellow and a Woodrow Wilson Public Policy International Affairs Fellow. Maria Teresa received a masters degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a bachelors degree in international relations from the University California at Davis.

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SPEAKER TOPIC DESCRIPTIONS    (+/-)

Harnessing the Power of the Latino Vote

No one is more familiar with the power of the Latino vote than Maria Teresa Kumar.  Unlike some groups that focus outreach efforts on Spanish-dependent immigrants, her organization, Voto Latino, focuses on younger Latinos who are U.S-born and English-dependent, employing popular culture and social media in its outreach.  As electoral politics have become increasingly splintered and divisive, reaching, attracting and engaging new constituencies – particularly the fastest-growing population segment – is vital to victory for parties, organizations, candidates and their agendas.  Kumar, the founder of Voto Latino, discusses the role and influence of young Latino voters and how to effectively connect with this formidable force on today’s political landscape.

Latinos and Media: Myth vs. Reality

While it’s recognized by many that Latinos are underrepresented in America’s newsrooms, what is often not discussed is that the fastest growing segment of Latinos – English-Speakers – are particularly under-served. For decades, news organizations have dealt with business models that focus on advertising dollars that too often equate Latino with Spanish language; while that may be true for some, it is not universal.

In this eye-opening discussion, Kumar explores the diversity of the Latino population and dispels the notion that all Latinos are only watching Univision and Telemundo.  She examines media consumption usage and patterns of contemporary American Latinos and how the media, advertisers and other organizations can successfully engage this growing mainstream audience.

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  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Politics and Social Justice
  • Innovative Technology Usage for Audience Engagement
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