Skip to content

Obama Foundation Welcomes Inaugural Cohort of Scholars to Chicago to Kick Off Year-Long Program

August 27, 2018 at 9:00 AM CDT

37 Scholars will participate in Obama Foundation Scholars programs at Columbia University and University of Chicago

Obama Foundation and University of Chicago announce 25 Scholars selected for program

Chicago, IL — Today the Obama Foundation, University of Chicago, and Columbia University announced the full inaugural class of Obama Foundation Scholars.

Consistent with the Obama Foundation’s mission to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world for the better, the Scholars program brings together 37 emerging leaders from around the globe to New York and Chicago to participate in year-long immersive learning experiences.

As part of the announcement, the University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation named the 25 Scholars who will join the previously announced group at Columbia University to complete the first cohort.

Each of the 37 Scholars, who come from Asia, Africa, Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, has shown a commitment to finding practical solutions to complex challenges facing society. These changemakers are focused on a variety of global issues ranging from climate change to education to government transparency, and they are committed to reinvesting their newly acquired skills and networks in their communities after the conclusion of the program.

Beginning today the Scholars are convening in Chicago for a week of Obama Foundation programming to kick off their year-long program. During the orientation, Scholars will participate in workshops and conversations focused on building community, storytelling, action planning, and communication. They also will take part in meetings with local community leaders focused on the history of civic work and community development in Chicago and participate in a service project in Englewood.

“We are thrilled to welcome the inaugural cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars to our hometown, Chicago,” said Bernadette Meehan, Chief International Officer at the Obama Foundation. “We hope that this year at the University of Chicago and Columbia University challenges them to develop greater leadership and community-building skills and that at the end of the year they will be better prepared to tackle challenges and create positive change. We are excited to start this year-long journey together and add this inspiring group of Scholars to our growing global network of people doing extraordinary work in their communities.”

“We are proud to be a partner with the Obama Foundation in launching the Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. “Together we will be advancing our shared mission to develop leaders who are determined to have positive effects on the lives of people around them and who are seeking, through their time at Columbia, to enhance the special combination of intellectual and practical capacities that will help them achieve their goals."

“At a time of great and urgent need for policy innovation, we are honored that Barack and Michelle Obama have chosen the University of Chicago, and specifically Harris, as one of the sites for this truly extraordinary program,” said Katherine Baicker, Dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. “These exceptional Scholars, who have already made an impact in their careers, will be vibrant members of our Harris community, bringing unique perspectives to our student body and amplifying our impact around the globe.”

The 25 Scholars in Chicago will participate in a new one-year program in which students will earn a Master of Arts in International Development and Policy at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. The 12 Scholars in New York will work with Columbia World Projects, a new initiative in which resources from Columbia University are paired with governments, nonprofits, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations to create tangible solutions to real-world issues.

In addition to classroom studies, the Obama Foundation will offer a robust program of leadership development and civic engagement throughout the academic year to help Scholars gain the real-world skills, networks, tools, and experiences to expand the impact of their work when they return home. Some of these Foundation activities will include experiences throughout Chicago and the South Side. By engaging with the local community, Scholars will have the opportunity to complement what they learn in the classroom and also to bring their unique perspectives to Chicago.

More information on the Obama Foundation Scholars program can be found at Emerging leaders interested in applying for the next class of Obama Foundation Scholars at UChicago should visit (Opens in a new tab). For more information about the Columbia University Obama Foundation Scholars program, including the application process for the 2019-2020 class, go to: (Opens in a new tab)

The 2018-2019 Obama Foundation Scholars are noted below:

University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy

Mahmoud Abouelnaga – Egypt

Technical team leader, CareForSEVEN

Intern, BioMerieux

Promoting sustainable energy development in the MENA region to decrease energy-related geopolitical conflicts.

Sassan Akhlaghi– Sweden/Iran

Political Advisor to the Prime Minister, Office of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven

Increasing investments in green energy and jobs in Sweden through policy making.

Marianne Akumu– Uganda

Transitional Justice Coordinator, Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD)

Fostering peaceful, just, and inclusive societies through transitional justice and conflict resolution programs for conflict affected communities, internally displaced people, and refugees in Uganda.

Mateus Donato Amorim de Araujo – Brazil

Coordinator, Ministry of Social Development

Enabling poor families in remote areas of Brazil to safely and effectively receive benefits from a conditional cash transfer program.

Nelly Wakim Awad – Lebanon

Humanitarian – Researcher – Writer

Identifying community needs in Syria through extensive research for a USAID funded project on infrastructure rehabilitation, women’s economic empowerment, and governance building.

Ana Cristina Becerra Salas – Peru

Forest Engineer

Empowering vulnerable populations to be changemakers and achieve inclusive sustainable development.

Miriam Benitez Isidoro – Mexico

Advisor, Sectorial Coordination for Academic Development at the Vice-Ministry of Upper Secondary Education, Ministry of Education

Increasing educational opportunities for young people from marginalized communities and forming a highly-trained teaching workforce.

Juliana Betancourt – Colombia

Former Regional Liaison - Reintegration and Recruitment Prevention Program, USAID / International Organization for Migration (UN - IOM)

Promoting peacebuilding and ex-combatant reintegration for vulnerable groups in Meta, Colombia.

Kimberly Brown – United States

Spearheading legal and policy reforms related to gender equality, children’s rights, and access to justice to support implementation of regional mechanisms and national constitutional frameworks, predominantly in East Africa.

Patricia Alyanna Esquivias (Trixie) Conlu – Philippines

Consultant, Atkins Acuity

Enabling public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects to close the infrastructure gap and spur economic activity in the Philippines and other developing countries.

Collins Dadzie – Ghana

Energy Modeler, ICF-Ghana, USAID Integrated Resource and Resilience Planning (IRRP) Project

Transforming Ghana’s power market by developing an Integrated Power Sector Master Plan and training emerging power sector leaders to lead ethically.

Bonaventure Dzekem – Cameroon

Founder, Keafon Health and Chief Medical Officer, HSPC-Cameroon

Improving access to healthcare through community-centric health insurance schemes and online healthcare delivery in Cameroon.

Rahmatullah Hamraz – Afghanistan

Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for the Peace and Reconciliation of Afghanistan (PRA), Ministry of Finance

Combating hostility and armed insurgency in Afghanistan by working with local communities to conduct intergroup dialogues and empowerment projects.

Sri Andini Handayani – Indonesia

Former Associate for Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation, Center on Child Protection & Wellbeing (PUSKAPA)

Enabling data-driven policy formulation through research and policy advocacy in Indonesia.

Sebastian Hernandez – Nicaragua/Colombia

Associated Researcher at Centro de Análisis Socioculturales, Universidad Centroamericana

Adjunct Instructor in the Department of Applied Economics, Universidad Centroamericana

Combating economic inequality in Nicaragua through academic research and collaboration with poor communities on infrastructure, education, and household finance projects.

John Hiu Fai Mak – Hong Kong / Myanmar

Co-founder, MM Community

Promoting inclusive development by reinventing the planning process with crowdfunding technology, participatory budgeting, and reduced-interest government bonds.

Mario Mazic - Croatia

Program Board President, Youth Initiative for Human Rights Croatia

Secretary General, European Grassroots Antiracist Movement

Promoting reconciliation, justice, democracy, and human rights in countries of former Yugoslavia.

Juan Carlos Monterrey Gómez – Panama

Working to empower youth, indigenous and rural communities impacted by sea level rise.

Joshua Nassari – Tanzania

Member of Parliament, National Assembly of Tanzania

Championing good governance and ethical leadership as a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly of Tanzania.

Stanley Ndambakuwa – Zimbabwe, South Africa

Founder & CEO, African Community Fund for Education Group; Chairman, African Community Fund for Education Canada

Promoting girls education by funding educational and leadership development programs for the disadvantaged in marginalized communities and launching an international campaign on the importance of girls education.

Lan Nguyen – Vietnam

Independent Consultant

Lan spent the past 10 years working to improve the quality of local economic governance and to empower the voice of the private sector in Vietnam, through the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI), a policy advocacy tool that measures the performance of provincial governments in 63 cities and provinces.

Edem Ossai – Nigeria

Founder and Executive Director, Mentoring Assistance for Youths and Entrepreneurs Initiative

Empowering young Nigerians to become civic leaders through a mobile library, community dialogues on girls education, and active citizenship training.

Nazish Tariq Rahmani – Pakistan

Research Officer - National Assembly of Pakistan

Creating a difference through research, better policies, and effective implementation.

Pearl Ranna – Botswana

Managing Director, Unitech Farming

Training women in rural and urban areas on sustainable farming practices and connecting agricultural youth leaders for training, mentoring, and cooperation.

Fatima Zaman – United Kingdom

Policy Advisor and Private Secretary - Her Majesty's Government

Countering Violent Extremism Advocate, Kofi Annan Foundation

Empowering a global network of activists to counter violent extremism worldwide with counter narratives, positive alternatives, and stories of peace.

Columbia University

Alice Barbe – France

CEO and Co-founder, SINGA France

Fostering collaboration between refugees and their host societies by focusing on refugees’ personal, professional, cultural, and entrepreneurial plans and goals.

Rumbidzai Chisenga – South Africa / Zimbabwe

Program Manager, Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS)

Building the capacity of African youth to lead the continent’s social and economic progress.

Gabriela Galilea – Paraguay

CEO and Founder, Okimo Vision Ltd.

Democratizing access to visual health and inclusive education through the creation of tools that help diagnose and treat visual and development conditions at a fraction of the current market price.

Ana Maria Gonzalez-Forero – Colombia

Chief Sustainability Officer, Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional (FEM)

Enabling inclusive development in Colombia through participatory planning and design processes that allow diverse stakeholders to find shared fulfillment and mutual recognition in indigenous communities.

Hong Hoang – Vietnam

Founder and Executive Director, CHANGE

Mobilizing youth leaders to promote environmental preservation through communication, education, and community organizing toward a vision of a green and clean Vietnam protected by all people.

Omezzine Khelifa – Tunisia

Founder and CEO, Mobdiun – Creative Youth

Inspiring youth to become peaceful and creative change leaders in Tunisia and throughout Africa.

Pavel Kounchev – Bulgaria

Co-Founder, Managing Director, Time Heroes Foundation

Co-Founder, Chair of the Board, Fine Acts Foundation

Developing creative solutions and digital tools to inspire civic engagement.

Peter Ndayihereje – Burundi

Community Engagement Program Manager, Village Health Works

Improving community cohesion among people of all backgrounds by leveraging communal structures to improve health and economic outcomes.

Ndansi Elvis Nukam – Cameroon

Founder and President, Unite for Health Foundation

Improving access to basic health care in underserved communities in Cameroon.

Oluseun Onigbinde – Nigeria

Lead Partner, BudgIT

Working to simplify budgets and public finance documents to strengthen the capacity of citizens to hold governments accountable.

Vanessa Paranjothy – Singapore

Co-Founder, Freedom Cups

Changing mindsets and making periods a problem of the past by providing women in underprivileged communities with menstrual cups through a “buy one, give one” model.

Trisha Shetty – India

Founder and CEO, SheSays, India

Advancing sustainable development through a gender-sensitive and youth-centric approach.