Board members

IWGIA's international board is the highest governing body of the organisation.

The boards works in close cooperation with our Executive Director. Three members of the board are elected by our members, one member is appointed by the board and one member is elected from among the secretariat staff, while two members are representatives from international organisations.

Knud Vilby, Chairman of the Board

Appointed to the Board from January 2015 and was elected Chair in January 2017

Knud Vilby is a Danish journalist and development consultant. In the 1970’s Knud was editor in chief at the Danish Daily newspaper Information. Later he served as chairman of the Danish National UNESCO Commission, and as chairman of Dansk Forfatterforening (Danish Writers Association).

He has been a chairperson for Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (today ActionAidDenmark), member of the board of DanChurchAid and of the board of Danida (Denmark’s Development Cooperation). Presently he is a board member in FairFishing, Somaliland (one of three co-founders), chairperson for Jyderup Folk High School.

Knud Vilby has published extensively about Africa, global development, poverty, climate and the environment.

Chris Tooley, Vice-chairman

Member of the board from January 2016 and Vice-Chair since January 2017

Chris Tooley is from New Zealand/Aotearoa and is indigenous Māori (Ngāti Kahungunu). He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is a Gates Scholar. He researches on the topic of self-determination and has published on struggles in New Zealand, Québec and Palestine and was a section-editor for the Cambridge Review of International Affairs and the managing-editor of the International Indigenous AlterNative Journal. He is also a graduate of the international development program at the United Nations University.

Chris was the Chief Advisor for the Minister of Māori Affairs in New Zealand’s Parliament (2009-2014), developing a number of Māori/Indigenous policies and strategies, including negotiating the governments change in position on the UNDRIP, endorsed in 2010. He is currently a consultant across a range of government, public sector and Māori entities and sits on the Academic Board of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, an indigenous-university in New Zealand.

Cathal Doyle

Elected to the Board from January 2019

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.

Katja Kvaale

Elected to the Board from January 2019

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.

Laila Susanne Vars

Appointed as an institutional member of the Board from February 2017

Laila Susanne Vars holds a PhD in international law from the University of Tromsø, the Arctic University of Norway. She is an indigenous Sámi lawyer from the Northern Sámi area (Guovdageaidnu). She’s a former politician, was Vice-President of the Sámediggi/ Sámi Parliament in Norway 2009-2013, member of the Sámi Parliamentarian Council 2009-2017 and has also served as legal adviser at the Sámi Parliament in Norway 2001-2005. Since 2004 Laila has been actively involved in matters related to indigenous and human rights on the national and international level, both as an academic and as an indigenous politician. She was actively involved in the negotiations on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as representative of the Sámi Parliament in Norway. 

Laila held the position as the Director of GÁLDU- The Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2013-2017. Gáldu was merged with Norway’s National Institution on Human Rights (NHRI) January 1, 2017. Laila was Research Director at the NHRI in Norway 2017-2019, and is currently President of the Sámi University of Applied Sciences ( She is also serving as expert member from the Arctic in the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), which is a subsidiary body of the UN Human Rights Council.

Sara Olsvig

Appointed to the Board from May 2019

Sara Olsvig is Head of Programme in Greenland for UNICEF Denmark. Olsvig is a former politician. She has served as member of the Parliament of Denmark and the Parliament of Greenland. 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 has also been Chairperson of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. Olsvig has a master’s degree in Anthropology and has worked as Executive Director for Inuit Circumpolar Council Greenland, to which she today is a delegate. Sara lives in Nuuk with her partner Johan Rosbach and their three children.

Ida Theilade

Appointed to the Board from September 2019

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.

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.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
CVR: 81294410

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