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Obama Foundation Announces New Class of Scholars in Chicago and New York

June 18, 2019 at 9:00 AM CDT

NEW YORK AND CHICAGO—Today, the Obama Foundation announced its second cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars, 32 rising leaders from around the world who will study at the University of Chicago and Columbia University for the 2019-2020 academic year.

In service of the Foundation’s efforts to support the next generation of global leaders, the Obama Foundation Scholars program partners with UChicago and Columbia to combine academic learnings with one-of-a-kind experiences led by the Obama Foundation. The program’s aim is to empower emerging leaders with a proven commitment to service with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective and impactful upon their return home.

“The inaugural class of Scholars emerged more energized and capable of creating lasting change in their communities,” said Obama Foundation CEO David Simas. “They are one of the backbones of the Obama Foundation’s global ecosystem of young leaders, and we are inspired by the connections they have made and the work they will go on to do. We are eager to grow this international network of changemakers with our second cohort of Scholars.”

The 20 Obama Foundation Scholars at the University of Chicago will earn a Master of Arts degree focused on international development and policy at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. Outside the classroom, the UChicago Scholars will have the chance to participate in experiences throughout Chicago, including on the South Side where the Foundation is located and where President Obama got his start in community organizing. By engaging with the local community, students will have the opportunity to complement what they learn in the classroom and also to share and exchange perspectives on service and change with local Chicago leaders.

“We are delighted to welcome our second cohort of Scholars and grateful for the Obama Foundation’s support in ensuring that promising leaders from across the globe have access to the world-class education and leadership opportunities they need to achieve their ambitious goals,” said Katherine Baicker, Dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor, Harris Public Policy. “The Obama Foundation Scholars will enrich our vibrant community and bring diverse global perspectives to addressing the critical international development and policy questions facing the world.”

The 12 Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University will participate in Columbia World Projects, an initiative in which students, faculty, and researchers from Columbia partner with governments, nonprofits, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations to use university research to create tangible solutions to real-world issues. The cohort at Columbia will participate in a rigorous, immersive program that brings together academic, skills-based, and experiential learning, designed by the university in consultation with the Obama Foundation.

“This program captures the essence of why Columbia University is such an inspiring institution,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. “The Obama Foundation Scholars already have dedicated their lives to civic-minded projects that are helping to address problems in different regions around the globe. The academic year they will spend on campus is designed to strengthen their impact, individually and collectively—while the Scholars’ larger-than-life presence will enhance the experience of every member of our community. In just one short year, the Obama Foundation Scholars program has come to embody the essence of a global university located in New York City.”

The Obama Foundation Scholars program was launched in 2018. The inaugural class of Scholars recently graduated, having studied a core graduate curriculum supplemented with Obama Foundation sponsored leadership programming. The Scholars developed, with the guidance of the Obama Foundation, an action plan and approach that they are now taking back to their home regions to scale up their work and reinvest in their communities.

The 2019-2020 Scholars are actively working to solve a diverse array of challenges, including:

  • Advocating to make public resources more friendly and inclusive to LGBTQ people in China;

  • Encouraging the growth of technology and innovation in Africa by providing pathways for youth to get into software development;

  • Fostering collaboration between stakeholders and government on the implementation of policies regarding Sorcery Accusation Related Violence in Papua New Guinea; and

  • Developing youth-centered public policy focused on social inclusion, health, and human rights in Argentina.

To learn more about the Obama Foundation Scholars program and the 2019-2020 cohort, please visit A list of the second class of Scholars can be found below.

Columbia University Obama Foundation Scholars

Ali Almurtadha, Yemen

Researcher, Mwatana for Human Rights

Defending human rights through the documentation of violations against civilians and conducting advocacy efforts locally and internationally to shed light on the conflict in Yemen.

Edmond Byaruhanga Atto, Uganda

Senior Software Engineer, Andela

Encouraging the growth of technology and innovation in Africa by providing pathways for youth to learn software development skills.

Kirsten Brosbøl, Denmark

Former Minister of Environment and Member of Parliament

Working across political and geographic divides to foster collaboration around concrete actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, for a more equal, just, and green future for all.

Mor Efrat, Israel

Director of the Occupied Palestinian Territories Department, Physicians for Human Rights, Israel

Advocating for health care access for Palestinian patients who need to leave Gaza and the West Bank for treatment and educating groups around the barriers in the current permit system.

Giselle Garcia Castro, Cuba

Film Director and Producer

Using film to expose pressing social issues and support the freedom of expression and collaboration for positive social change in Cuba.

Natalia Herbst, Argentina

Director for Community Organizations, National Youth Institute, Ministry of Health and Social Development

Developing youth-centered public policy focused on social inclusion, health and rights, culture, and employability so that young people are empowered to define their own goals and reach their full potential.

Ruth Kissam, Papua New Guinea

Director of Operations, Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation

Fostering collaboration between stakeholders and government on the implementation of policies related to Sorcery Accusation Related Violence.

Samira Koujok, Lebanon

Human Rights Researcher

Working with civil society organizations and families of missing persons to enhance their capacity to address the issue of the missing and promote an accountability process in Syria.

Peter Kwame, Kenya

Co-founder and Programs Director, Hatua Network Organization

Promoting equal opportunity in Kenya by providing promising low-income students with scholarships, mentoring, and career guidance that prepares them for careers and to serve as a link between their community and professional networks.

Wai Wai Nu, Myanmar

Founder and Executive Director, Women Peace Network

Founder, Yangon Youth Leadership CenterEmpowering young people and women from marginalized communities through programming and that builds peace and mutual understanding among diverse groups in Myanmar.

Isaiah Owolabi, Nigeria

Co-founder and Project Director, HACEY Health Initiative

Leveraging an innovative capacity building, advocacy, research and education (iCARE) approach to implement solutions and drive accountability to create a healthy and productive society for women and girls.

Christian Vanizette, France


On a mission to engage millions of citizens to solve the global goals through community organizing and technology solutions.

University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars

Dipak Bishwokarma, Nepal

Project Manager, Practical Action

Enhancing community resilience and environmental sustainability through advocacy for livelihood improvement of vulnerable populations, technology, inclusive policymaking, and partnerships between stakeholders and government.

Jacob Bul Bior Bul, South Sudan

Co-Founder and Media Coordinator, Anataban

Providing a platform for youth civic engagement, advocacy, and empowerment for the betterment of South Sudan.

Yara Cumbi, Mozambique

Health Systems Analyst, ThinkWell

Using multidisciplinary and collaborative approaches to achieve better health outcomes at local levels.

Mariana Deschamps, Mexico

Deputy Chief of Staff to the Undersecretary of Cultural Development, Ministry of Culture

Expanding educational and cultural opportunities for disadvantaged communities throughout Mexico.

Rosario Diaz Garavito, Peru

Executive Director, The Millennials Movement

Promoting people’s engagement in the local sustainable development process of their own communities through education, community action, and “glocal” citizen diplomacy.

Wafa Ebenberi, Israel

Former Head of Government Policy, The Economic Development Authority for Minorities in the Ministry for Social Equality

Using leadership development and economic empowerment as tools to strengthen disadvantaged populations to achieve equal representation.

Segun David Fatudimu, Nigeria

Founder and Director, Sozo Networks for Leadership Development

Creating and leading formidable networks of young Nigerian social change leaders by discovering, coaching, and connecting them to local and international opportunities.

Tamar Gabruashvili, Georgia

Advisor, Georgia Revenue Service, Ministry of Finance

Enhancing the efficiency of the Georgia Revenue Service by coordinating the implementation of high-profile projects in cooperation with international and donor organizations and researching international best practices.

Feri Gwata, Zimbabwe

Program Associate, Higherlife Foundation

Fostering multi-sectoral collaboration for improved access to water and sanitation and the creation of healthy and productive communities.

Pedro Hernández Santamaría, Colombia

Former Advisor, Director of Competitiveness, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia

Promoting a competitive and productive economy through valuable public-private partnerships that address public problems and meet public needs.

Cesar Jara, Peru

Advisor to the Vice Minister of Construction and Sanitation, Ministry of Housing, Construction, and Sanitation

Working to close the water and sanitation gap by empowering rural communities and local governments with technical assistance and technology.

Menghun Kaing, Cambodia

Senior Program Officer, The Asia Foundation

Contributing to Cambodia’s development by supporting the economic empowerment of women and youth and promoting evidence-based policy decisions.

Sowmya Karun, India

Enabling the design and adoption of disruptive data and tech innovations to amplify the impact of development organizations and grassroots workers.

Haneen Khalid, Pakistan

Research Associate, National Assembly of Pakistan

Informing better policy and political consensus on issues of urgent importance by leading research, advocacy, and workshops in the National Assembly of Pakistan.

Danyang Luo, China

Operation Director, Zhitong Guangzhou LGBT Center

Advocating to make public resources more friendly and inclusive to LGBTQ people in China.

Shireen Naffa, Jordan

Policy Analyst, Royal Hashemite Court

Enabling policy change and reform through research and analysis, taking into consideration field trends and existing policies.

Regina Nkonge, Kenya

Manager, Digital Learning Research & Innovation Team, @iLabAfrica, Strathmore University

Widening access to education for youth in marginalized areas, promoting technology research and innovation through student engagement, and collaborating with government and industry leads to propose technology solutions to complex problems.

Karl Vendell Satinitigan, Philippines

Director, Office of Senator Bam Aquino

Pushing for evidence-based policymaking around entrepreneurship and youth development while utilizing design thinking to aid in policy implementation in the Philippines.

Guilherme Syrkis, Brazil

Former Special Advisor to the Minister of Mines and Energy of Brazil

Promoting renewable energy and innovation to lead Brazil’s transition to a low-carbon economy that boosts affordable clean energy, entrepreneurship, quality employment, and economic growth for all.

Hanna Yim, South Korea

Head of Business Impact, Sentbe

Producing rigorous evidence that will inform policymakers and businesses by making remittance services and remittance-linked financial products accessible to all migrants in the world and their families.


Contact: Laura Lucas Magnuson, [email protected]