Born and raised in the Baixada Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro, Vanessa worked for over 13 years at SEBRAE/RJ - Brazil's largest organization supporting small business development and entrepreneurship. At SEBRAE, she was a project manager working mainly with social entrepreneurship projects and micro-businesses in poor communities in Rio. She also worked as a trade and investment officer at the Consulate General of Brazil in Los Angeles.

Most recently, Melo worked with the Program on Poverty and Governance (PovGov) at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University, where she served as a project manager and research associate. She manages the projects on police reform and criminal violence in Rio de Janeiro, including an unprecedented study in Latin America evaluating the impact of body-worn cameras on police use of force and behavior in one of Rio’s largest favelas.

Melo holds a Bachelor’s degree in Portuguese Language and Literature from the Universidade Iguaçu, a Post-baccalaureate degree in Strategic Management of Human Resources from Universidade Estácio de Sá, and a Post-baccalaureate degree in Social Responsibility from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) - both funded by SEBRAE/RJ. Vanessa is a fellow from the Lemann Foundation, a non-profit organization whose goal is to train and connect Brazilian leaders to impact policies and advance social change. She is interested in exploring opportunities for social and economic development in poor communities in Latin America through local governance and social entrepreneurship.