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Our Leadership Programming

President Obama sits forward in a chair and speaks  with his hands gestured forward. He wears a dark suit and a blue button down shirt. Seated on either side of him are two young women with deep skin tones holding notebooks and wearing  colorful tops. Behind them, blue panels that read "Obama Foundation Democracy Forum" with the Obama Leaders: Africa logo.

In 2022, we made significant strides toward expanding our global network of leaders. 

In spite of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in 2022 and recent years, young leaders are still on the frontlines creating positive change. The promise of this generation is fundamental to strengthening democracy and safeguarding the values that help us all live up to our ideals, which is why our global programming continues to focus on providing emerging changemakers with the tools, values-based training, and connections they need to accelerate progress. 

From every corner of the globe, our program participants are working together to address some of the biggest challenges of our time—from renewing our democratic institutions, protecting LGBTQ+ rights, fighting climate change, and so much more. 

A young woman with a light skin tone and long medium blonde hair stands and speaks into a microphone. Surrounding her are seated young people with various skin tones.

Elizabeth Williams, Inaugural Voyager

“Before receiving the 2022 Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholarship for Public Service, I’d never been on a plane or left Michigan. I’m currently doing my Summer Voyage in Copenhagen, Denmark—interning at BLOXHUB, the Nordic hub for sustainable urbanization, studying how built and natural environments impact people and vice versa. 

“I hope to redesign American cities in ways that are equitable, financially, environmentally, and socially sustainable. I’m studying Environmental Studies and Sustainability with a minor in Economics at Northern Michigan University. 

The Voyager Scholarship gave me and 99 of my peers financial aid to alleviate the burden of college debt, meaningful travel experiences to expand our horizons, a network of mentors and leaders to support us, a $10,000 stipend, and free Airbnb housing to pursue a six-week summer work-travel experience.”

Expanding our Programming

President Obama and Co-Founder and CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky teamed up to welcome the first class of Voyagers who received the Voyager Scholarship for Public Service. The scholarship provides 100 college students with financial aid to alleviate the burden of college debt, meaningful travel experiences to expand their horizons, and a network of mentors and leaders to support them.

Five young men with deep skin tones hike a mountain.

A Closer Look: Stories of Connection 

Our leadership programs allow changemakers from around the world to connect and collaborate so they can make an even bigger difference in their communities. 

Take Lineo Matlakala and Demeatreas Whatley, who participated in the Obama Foundation Scholars program at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. 

The Scholars program gives rising leaders the opportunity to take their work in their community to the next level through an immersive leadership and academic curriculum. Lineo and Demeatreas are from different continents, but their work focuses on breaking cycles of violence in their hometowns. 

Since graduating from the program, their collaboration has helped them make a greater impact in their communities. Demeatreas launched a program, Men on the Rise, to provide community-centered, evidence-based mentoring for at-risk youth in three Chicago neighborhoods. Soon after, Lineo's organization, the Barali Foundation, launched its own version of the program: Men on the Rise Lesotho, which provides social support structures for young men and boys. Lineo and Demeatreas continue to stay in touch as they refine and expand their initiatives in Chicago and Lesotho, respectively.

Hope in Action

Members of the Leaders program, which connects cohorts of regional changemakers to accelerate positive and lasting change in their communities and throughout their region, are already doing incredible work to bring our hope to action values to life. These changemakers hail from over 100 countries and territories and work on a wide range of issues, but they have all found connection, support, and inspiration from their fellow Leaders. 

A young woman with a medium-deep skin tone sits and smiles while speaking into a microphone. She wears a yellow top and a gray blazer, glasses and a flower in her hair. In the background, a blue, green and yellow gradient backdrop.

__Landisang Kotaro, Asia-Pacific__ Global Program participants got the chance to connect across cohorts and programs at our Democracy Forum event. The Forum was a transformative experience for many Global Programs participants, as they networked with their peers and heard from inspirational speakers like 2022 Obama Leader Landisang (Landi) Kotaro. Landi, who was a part of the Asia-Pacific cohort, is the chief of staff at the Office of the President of the Republic of Palau—the youngest person and first woman to serve in this role. During the Forum, she shared her passion about steering Palau through the challenges of being a new democracy and her commitment to being a part of continued change.

A young woman with a light skin tone and short black hair smiles behind her with her hand on her chin.

__Payzee Mahmod, Europe__ One of the 2022 Leaders in the Europe cohort, Payzee Mahmod is also creating meaningful change for her community. Payzee works with a charity that provides advice and support to Middle Eastern, North African, and Afghan women and girls living in the UK who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing all forms of “honor” based abuse like forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and domestic abuse. Payzee was named the 2021 UK Parliament Volunteer of the Year for her advocacy work, and she received special recognition at the UN Women UK Awards 2020.

A young woman with a medium-deep skin tone sits listening with her hand to her chin. Her hair is pulled back in a slick bun and she wears a bright neon green and blue top.

__Confidence Staveley, Africa__ Confidence Staveley has already reached millions of Nigerians to inform them about cybersecurity hygiene. As the founder and executive director of CyberSafe Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to improving inclusive and safe digital access in Africa, she believes that Africans should not only have access to technology but should also be equipped with cyber risk and mitigation strategies. Confidence recently facilitated CyberSafe’s collaboration with the UK Government to implement a cybersecurity intervention in response to the heightened cyber attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Programming Impact 

Using a values-based leadership curriculum, in 2022 we successfully completed three international Leaders Program cohorts in Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. In a recent survey,* 90 percent of program participants felt that as a result of their cohort experience, they have a clear sense of a path forward to create change and build bridges in their communities. 

Upon completion of the program, Leaders and Scholars reported a notable shift in the way they view themselves and their leadership styles.

*As of 2021, our team works with a third-party vendor who serves as an embedded external design, monitoring, evaluation, and learning (DMEL) partner and oversees data collection, analysis and reporting for our leadership programs.

Where Hope Goes from Here: Our Alumni Community 

We know that none of the work you’ve read about so far would be possible without the thousands of volunteers, campaign staffers, and public servants who transformed an unlikely campaign rooted in hope into one cemented in history, making President Obama’s journey to the White House possible. 

We’re proud to amplify their stories as they continue to make a difference in their communities and are finding opportunities to connect this community to the current program participants as they pass the baton onto the next generation. 

As we continue to welcome emerging leaders into our programs, we’ve been adding our program alumni into the vibrant and diverse community that has accomplished so much.

Upon completing their leadership programs, participants now become a part of the Obama Leadership Network, connecting them to one another so that they can learn from each other, share challenges and best practices, and ultimately expand their impact. 

A photo of President Obama and a circle group of middle aged men and women. They are in a small office space, that has see in glass on the left. On the floor is a yellow/beige carpet with brown designs. Each person sits in a light black chair except President Obama who is standing and saying something. On their right are a set of spread out Obama Foundation Posters. Two men and women sit with light skin are sitting in the left of the photo in formal attire. On the right is one man and woman with medium to deep skin tones in formal attire. There faces are not visible to the camera.

A Closer Look: They Said This Day Would Never Come

On January 3, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses—a historic victory that shocked the political establishment and ultimately set him on the road to the White House. To mark the formative moment, President Obama sat down with six former organizers to reflect on the experience and how they’ve continued to make change in the 15 years since.

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