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CHICAGO, IL – Today, the Obama Foundation announced its third cohort of Obama Scholars, 11 rising leaders from around the world who will study at Columbia University for the 2020-2021 academic year, which will begin virtually. These Scholars, as exhibited through their commitment to advancing the public good and solving society’s most pressing global issues, are on a trajectory to accelerate positive change in their community, their region, and the world. The emerging leaders focus on a number of challenges and issue areas, including: training the next generation of journalists in India, increasing civic engagement in Hungary through citizen participation, and increasing access to education for youth in Jordan.

“This pandemic has changed all of our lives and has revealed some of the deep-rooted inequities that the 2018 and 2019 Scholars have committed their lives to solving. Over the past several months, the Scholars have found innovative ways to pivot their work to meet the needs of people in their communities,” said Obama Foundation CEO David Simas. “The world needs more leaders like this, now more than ever, and we look forward to supporting our third cohort of Scholars on their leadership journeys.”

Given the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing safety precautions around international travel, the program will commence virtually for the fall semester—orientation is currently underway and online classes will begin after Labor Day. Over the course of the academic year, the new Columbia cohort will participate in a rigorous curriculum, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation, that integrates academic, skills-based, and experiential learning. The Scholars will gain real-world skills, tools and experiences, and develop an action plan that will enable them to scale their work and reinvest in their communities in their home regions.

The Scholars will also have the opportunity to contribute to Columbia World Projects, an initiative that mobilizes the university’s researchers and scholars to work with governments, organizations, businesses, and communities to create tangible solutions to real-world issues.

“Witnessing, over the past two years, the powerful impact of this program on the remarkable individuals participating as Obama Scholars, and the communities they are dedicated to changing, has left Columbia even more deeply invested in this special endeavor and all that it can accomplish,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger. “This year we welcome 11 new scholars at a moment that starkly underscores the importance of civic leadership. We are looking forward to supporting them in further developing the skills needed to meet the many urgent challenges proliferating around the globe."

The Obama Foundation’s Scholars program, which launched in 2018, is designed to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective and impactful upon their return home. As part of the Foundation’s ongoing efforts to pass the baton to the next generation of global leaders, the Scholars program partners with Columbia University to combine academic learnings with one-of-a-kind experiences led by the Foundation.

Here is the 2020-21 cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University:

Bernise Ang – Chief Alchemist, Zeroth Labs [Singapore]

Tackling social and economic inequities by supporting developing countries and cities as they translate underlying system dynamics into impactful public policy.

Hamza Arsbi – CEO, Mind Lab [Jordan]

Increasing access to quality education and preparing youth in underserved communities across Jordan with skills for today’s challenges through content development and experiential learning.

Nicodemus Ajak Bior – Information Commissioner [South Sudan]

Enhancing South Sudan’s governance by ensuring the public’s Right of Access to transparent information and by strengthening the country’s rule of law.

Timothy Franklyn – Founder, National School of Journalism and Public Discourse, Bengaluru [India]

Nurturing, inspiring, and training the next generation to become courageous and professional journalists who are committed to justice, truth, pluralism, and liberal democracy in India.

Shazeeb M Khairul Islam – Founder & Managing Director of YY Ventures [Bangladesh]

Accelerating social innovation by supporting socially and environmentally conscious young entrepreneurs who are committed to reducing poverty, unemployment, and carbon emissions.

Yaqian Liang – Former Policy Advisor, Oxfam [Hong Kong, PRC]

Advocating for responsible and conflict-sensitive investment in developing countries by convening evidence-based dialogues between stakeholders and empowering local communities to participate in decision-making processes.

Davis Makori – Advocate for the protection of civilians from armed conflict [Kenya]

Engaging global coalitions to create collective action campaigns to protect civilians from armed conflict across East Africa.

Maralmaa Munkh-Achit – Executive Director, Zorig Foundation [Mongolia]Empowering the next generation of young leaders in Mongolia by improving their access to quality education and employment.

Flávia Neves Maia – Researcher and practitioner in Urban Planning [Brazil]

Innovating participatory urban planning by leveraging local governments' capacity to promote gender equality and climate action in the making of resilient cities of the future.

Inés Palacios – Former Chief of Staff of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Institute of the Buenos Aires Province Government [Argentina]

Fostering the implementation of intersectional gender mainstreaming policies in the public sector to reduce gendered economic inequality and prioritize Indigenous populations.

Tessza Udvarhelyi – Head of the Office for Community Participation, Municipality of the 8th District of Budapest [Hungary]

Supporting community participation and social justice in cities.

To learn more about the Obama Foundation Scholars program and the 2020-2021 cohort, please visit


Contact: Nicole Anaejionu, [email protected]