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Obama Foundation Scholars

The Obama Foundation Scholars program gives rising leaders from around the world who are already making a difference in their communities the opportunity to take their work to the next level.

Members of the Obama Scholars New York and Chicago cohorts celebrated the end of their year-long academic and leadership experience.


The Scholars program at Columbia University and the University of Chicago empowers individuals with a proven commitment to service with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective, to identify innovative solutions to complex global problems, and promote change through values-based leadership.

The program builds lasting relationships among emerging leaders who are committed to working together to solve the most pressing challenges of our time, thereby creating a global network that reaches across issues and borders.

The Obama Foundation offers a robust curriculum of leadership development, training, networking activities, and customized support throughout the academic year to help the Obama Scholars gain the real-world skills, tools, and experiences they need to expand the impact of their work when they return home. These experiences allow Scholars to gain insights from high-level leaders across sectors and from the wealth of knowledge across the network of Obama Foundation program participants while planning the way they’d like to reinvest their new skills, networks, and knowledge after they graduate from the program.

Foundation-led activities include both cohorts of Scholars, based at UChicago and Columbia, with the aim of creating a broader global community of practice for shared learning to both inform Scholars’ approaches to their own work and accelerate that work as they return to their communities after graduation. Each cohort’s experience is tailored to tap into the rich research ecosystems of these two world-class institutions and the cities where they are based, providing unique and immersive learning opportunities for Scholars in Chicago and New York City.

Key components

Key components of the Scholars program experience led by the Obama Foundation include:

  1. 1


    An orientation program to welcome the cohort to the Obama Foundation community, a mid-program convening,  and a concluding graduation program to celebrate the cohort’s achievements and present their action plans.

  2. 2


    Leadership Development Workshops and Conversations designed to improve Scholars’ ability to tell the story of their work, reflect and refine their leadership approach, and build sustained, personal resilience. Through a variety of virtual session formats, Scholars also hear about the innovative solutions coming from the Obama Foundation program participant alumni community and have conversations with high-level thought leaders across sectors.

  3. 3

    Action Plans

    Development and refinement of an action plan that draws on their experiences throughout the program, centered around their initiative of focus and their future vision for their work.

  4. 4


    Connections across the growing alumni community, the Foundation facilitates direct connections between current Obama Scholars and prior cohorts, based on their issues of focus.

  5. 5


    Tailored support including an executive coach and strategic communications and fundraising experts to aid Scholars in their action plan development, and their own progression over their leadership journey.

Meet the 2023-2024 Scholars

Two women are hugging each other at an event. The first woman's face is obscured from the camera. She has dark hair and is wearing a black shirt and black pants. The second woman is turned towards the camera and smiling. She  has a deep olive complexion, long dark hair, and is wearing a red jacket with black pants. Behind them, a woman in a blue dress stands off to the side.

Get to know our previous classes

Meet previous classes of Obama Foundation Scholars and see highlights from their time together.

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University of Chicago Scholars

Learn more about the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program and how to apply.

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Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University

Learn more about the Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University Program and how to apply.

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Donate to the Barack Obama Foundation to inspire, empower, and connect the next generation to change their world.

The Barack Obama Foundation is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (EIN 46-4950751).

Stories About Our Scholars

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The inaugural class of Obama Scholars attend a networking event at the home of  Judy Wise in Chicago, IL on Wednesday August 29, 2018. Photographer: Christopher Dilts / The Obama Foundation

This post is authored by Dr. Bonaventure Dzekem, a medical doctor and entrepreneur from Cameroon who is an Obama Foundation Scholar currently studying at the University of Chicago.

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A close up photo of a woman who is medium brown skin sitting and wearing a floral blouse with people around her

This post is authored by Edem Dorothy Ossai, a youth advocate from Nigeria who is an Obama Foundation Scholar currently studying at the University of Chicago.

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