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 will build 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. After completing the program, Obama Foundation Scholars will:

  • Return to work on their global issue of focus and implement their personalized action plan to accelerate positive change within their community. 
  •  Have an opportunity to play a role in the Obama Foundation’s efforts to inspire, empower, and connect rising leaders from around the globe.

You can get to know our previous classes of Obama Foundation Scholars and see highlights from their time together here.

ABOUT THE SCHOLARS PROGRAM

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 of the experience led by the Obama Foundation include:

  • An orientation program to welcome the cohort to the Obama Foundation community and a concluding graduation program to celebrate the cohort’s achievements and present their action plans. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Connections across the growing alumni community, the Foundation facilitates direct connections between current Obama Scholars and prior cohorts, based on their issues of focus. 
  • 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. 

Have questions about the program? Read our FAQ sheet for more information.

Hong Hoang smiles at a man as they walk down the sidewalk together.

Columbia University

Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University will participate in 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. The program will also take advantage of the unique opportunities for engagement that come with being at one of the world’s most important centers of research and residing in New York City.

Scholars participate in an immersive program that brings together academic, skills-based and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation.

Key components of the program at Columbia University include:

  • A Weekly Seminar that runs the length of the academic year, exploring questions in tandem with key global trends including inequality, technological developments, the diffusion of power, population movements, and climate change.
  • Personal and Professional Development Workshops designed to strengthen practical skills to enhance Scholars’ ability to lead. Previous workshop topics, led by institutes and faculty from across Columbia, include conflict management and resolution, design thinking, public speaking, and data analysis and interpretation.
  • An Experiential Learning component that engages Scholars in the work of Columbia World Projects.
  • Audited Coursework that provides Scholars with the flexibility to select and enroll in up to two graduate level courses each semester at Columbia.
  • A Thought Leadership Speaker Series that introduces Scholars to seasoned practitioners from the NGO community, and philanthropic, governmental, and international organizations to expand Scholars’ networks and perspectives to help advance their work.
  • Partnership with a Columbia faculty adviser selected for their subject matter expertise to provide Scholars with new insights and perspectives to inform Scholars’ work.
  • Meaningful opportunities for Scholars to contribute to the intellectual life of the campus and gain exposure to different perspectives by engaging with the Columbia University community.

The application for the Columbia University Obama Foundation Scholars Program is closed. You can learn more about the program and future application cycles here.

AMNA AKHTAR

UNITED KINGDOM

Co-Founder and Creative Director, GirlDreamer

Increasing access to opportunities for young women of color to support their professional and entrepreneurial development and increase representation for minority communities.

Amna Akhtar is the co-founder and creative director of GirlDreamer, an award-winning non-profit organization dedicated to dismantling social inequality and supporting young women of color in the United Kingdom. After she was unable to pursue an opportunity to compete in the Olympics due to societal and cultural barriers that prevent women of color from pursuing and achieving their dreams, Amna sought to ensure others wouldn’t face the same obstacles. Initially founded as a community-building and networking platform, GirlDreamer has since supported over 2,500 women in the UK through capacity-building initiatives and training opportunities in sports, technology, arts, media, business and finance. In 2020, Girl Dreamer distributed nearly £30,000 in microgrants to 26 minority-owned organizations. The organization has delivered 300 school enrichment programs and 300 skills-sharing workshops, and provided 400 people with financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic. When gathering in person was no longer possible due to the global pandemic, Amna’s organization launched DreamState, an online social platform designed specifically for women of color that allowed participants around the world to develop action plans for professional or personal development. GirlDreamer’s award-winning blog reaches 10,000 followers globally with online resources and programs.

Amna’s work has been recognized by the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. She is also a TEDx speaker and a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient.

JESÚS ARMAS

VENEZUELA

President, Ciudadanía Sin Límites

Promoting democracy and human rights in Venezuela through grassroots mobilization, technology and increasing equitable access to water and energy.

Jesús Armas is the president of Ciudadanía Sin Límites, an organization that promotes freedom and democracy in Venezuela. Jesús leads the core programming of Ciudadanía Sin Límites, including an online crowdsourcing platform that maps and records power and water supply failures in Caracas. Tracking the number of hours per week that citizens have gone without water, payments provided to water providers, and the quality of water that is delivered, Ciudadanía Sin Límites puts pressure on failing service providers through protests and media advocacy to ensure that the right to clean water for citizens is upheld. Since 2018, Jesús has created a network of 400 citizens to fight for water and sanitation access and his interventions have helped thousands of citizens gain access to drinking water and energy. This approach has created a neighborhood network where community members share information and propose solutions and goals for their communities. Ciudadanía Sin Límites also provides direct support to 1,200 children and families living in five low-income communities, facilitating opportunities for community members to secure positions in food preparation, receive advice and guidance from nutritionists, and participate in training opportunities focused on democratic values.

Jesús received a Chevening Fellowship to complete his master’s degree in public policy at the University of Bristol and he holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas.

DINARA AUYELBEKOVA

KAZAKHSTAN

Founder and Director, Girls Power Fund

Designing and delivering innovative solutions to address gender inequality in rural Kazakhstan by promoting girls’ access to STEM education.

Dinara Auyelbekova founded Girls Power Fund in 2021 to empower young women to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Providing high school students with hands-on experience in coding, web development and project design, her organization has worked with over 700 girls and has developed partnerships with Eurasia Foundation, local universities and the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan. Using a project-based learning methodology, Dinara’s organization has delivered 20 tailored programs focused on developing technical and leadership skills. Each program is created using a participatory design process, allowing program participants to voice their interests, aspirations and needs in the development of the curriculum. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Girls Power Fund launched a free tutoring program after learning that students were not able to complete homework due to childcare responsibilities during remote learning.

Dinara is an international consultant in project management working with Eurasia Foundation, UNDP Kazakhstan, and Germany’s Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations. She holds a master’s of business administration in international management from Geneva Business School and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan.

KEALOHAKU’UALOHAKU’UPOKI’I (POKI’I) BALAZ

UNITED STATES

Interim Executive Director, Lunalilo Home

Shaping the future of senior care and improving community health by engaging leaders, families, and neighbors to develop culturally appropriate continuums of care for the kupuna (elders and aging adults) of Hawaiʻi.

Kealohaku’ualohaku’upoki’i Balaz is a leader in senior and community health with an emphasis on memory care and advocacy for underserved populations. A Native Hawaiian and geriatric nurse practitioner, Poki’i develops cultural approaches to caregiving to improve health outcomes for aging individuals. Poki’i served as Interim Executive Director of Lunalilo Home, a residential care home that serves Hawaiʻi’s elders and aging adults. Since its establishment over 130 years ago by Hawaiʻi’s King William Charles Lunalilo, Lunalilo Home has served thousands of kupuna and offers residential care, day programs, private transportation and meal services for Native Hawaiian elders. In her role at Lunalilo Home, Poki’i centered Native Hawaiian culture and practices to honor the kupuna her organization serves and to uphold the vision of King Lunalilo. Poki’i also leverages her clinical and personal background and expertise in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia to address senior care issues in public policy.

Poki’i is a member of the Native Hawaiian Health Advisory Board and the Policy Advisory Board for Elderly Affairs where she promotes legislation to protect the interests of the aging population of Hawai’i. She is a recipient of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Aloha Chapter Advocate of the Year Award and the Pacific Business News 40 Under 40 award. Poki’i is a double board-certified family nurse practitioner with a doctor of nursing practice, a master’s degree in business education, and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Hawaiʻi. She also holds a master’s of science degree in nursing education from the University of Oklahoma.

ALLISON BENSON-HERNÁNDEZ

COLOMBIA

Founder, Director and Principal Researcher, Re-imaginemos Action Research Center

Creating opportunities for Colombians to challenge inequality and reimagine the future of their country through collaborative conversation, research-based journalism, art, and media.

Allison Benson-Hernández is the founder, director, and principal researcher of Re-imaginemos, an action research center that works to reimagine inequality in Colombia through engaged research by facilitating open dialogues and engaging with arts and cultural communities. Encompassing a network of over 150 academics, artists, and activists, Allison’s organization has published over 30 investigative articles on income, gender,political, and other inequalities and has coordinated over 300 intersectional discussion groups to discuss these issues. Founded on the principle of open and inclusive dialogue, Re-imaginemos enables academics and policy experts to directly engage with affected individuals whose voices often go unheard. By shining a spotlight on diverse forms of knowledge and life-experiences, Allison is highlighting inequality in public conversations and encouraging citizens to reimagine options for a more equitable society. Her organization launched a museum exhibition in Colombia’s Peace, Historic Memory and Reconciliation Center. Re-imaginemos’s research has been published in 13 newspapers in Colombia.

Allison has a PhD and a master’s degree in international development from the London School of Economics. She also holds a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Los Andes in Colombia. She has previously worked as a deputy ministerial advisor in Colombia and has worked as a consultant for international agencies such as FAO and USAID.

TERESA BUCZKOWSKA

POLAND & IRELAND

Integration Manager, Immigrant Council of Ireland

Mobilizing migrant communities to increase political participation, strengthen democracy, and support migrant voices in leadership roles.

As a migrant woman living in Ireland, Teresa Buczkowska served as the Integration Manager at the Immigrant Council of Ireland, a national organization working to protect and advance the human rights of migrants and their communities. Teresa is focused on building migrant leadership as a long term strategy for addressing inequality and to strengthen migrants’ ability to play a meaningful role in programs and policy decisions that impact their lives. She has delivered voter education and mobilization workshops to 2,500 people and has led leadership development programs to provide migrant communities with the skills to become active participants in their local governments. She also works directly with migrant leaders to support their growth, amplify their political visions, and provide them with opportunities to share their insights with elected officials. Through her work, voter registration in migrant communities has increased and two successful policy campaigns have changed immigration policy in Ireland.

Teresa is a board member of the Arts Council of Ireland and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Transatlantic Migrant Democracy Dialogue. Teresa holds a master’s degree in social anthropology and ethnology from Jagiellonian University in Poland and a Professional Diploma in human rights and equality from the Institute of Public Administration in Ireland. Teresa is a recipient of the Social Change Initiative Fellowship.

JOSUE DE PAZ

MEXICO & UNITED STATES

CEO & Co-Founder, First Tech Fund

Supporting low-income youth to reach their full potential by providing access to technology, career mentorship, and skills training.

Josue De Paz is working to break generational cycles of poverty by lowering barriers to education and providing holistic interventions for underserved and first-generation students. As students struggled to adjust to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Josue founded First Tech Fund (FTF) to close the digital divide faced by under-resourced students. Working with 50 volunteers since May 2020, FTF has provided free computers, internet access, mentorship, networking, and workshops to over 135 low-income New York City high school students. FTF received over 1,000 applications from students across New York for participation in their programs. After FTF’s first cohort year, Josue found that the computers and other technology that his organization provided not only supported the students themselves–but also their siblings and extended family members, enabling them to participate in remote schooling and access social services, employment, and health resources.

Originally from Cuernavaca, Mexico, Josue is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. Prior to founding FTF, Josue worked at Girls Who Code, an organization that works to close the gender gap in technology, where he managed partnerships, outreach and strategy across the southern United States. Josue was a 2021 Coro Workforce Systems Leadership Fellow and a 2022 Council for Urban Professionals Fellow. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Santa Clara University.

WAEL HAFFAR HABBAL

SYRIA & GREECE

Community Leader and Director, The Syrian and Greek Youth Forum

Connecting refugees, migrants, and all Athenians living in Greece to gather, share experiences, and work together to create creative action for their communities.

Wael Haffar Habbal is a Syrian asylee living in Greece who is fostering active political engagement among Greece’s migrant communities and reshaping the narratives that portray refugees as victims rather than leaders. He co-founded The Syrian Greek Youth Forum (SGYF) in 2018, a community-based organization that brings together artists, activists, and academics to advocate for human rights and to support social equality in Greece. Wael’s organization provides award-winning cultural programs and professional development opportunities to migrants and refugees including the Active Citizens Project, the Athens Food Collective, and the Initiative on Workplace Training, an initiative that links job-seeking refugees with employment opportunities. Working in collaboration with the Athenian government and the Onassis Cultural Center, the largest cultural center in Greece, Wael has also organized cultural festivals to celebrate and promote cultural diversity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wael’s organization worked in partnership with public health organizations to donate 50,000 surgical masks to the Greek Ministry of Health.

Wael is a member of the Solidarity Fields Farmers Association and a member of the Trojan DAO community, the first blockchain organization for the democratization of art in Greece. He also works as an interpreter, a cultural mediator and a caregiver for unaccompanied minors. Wael was a member of the 2020 class of the Obama Foundation Leaders program in Europe.

LILIAN NAKIGOZI

UGANDA

Founder & CEO, Women Smiles Uganda

Building innovative vertical farming technology to improve food security and empower women to develop sustainable agricultural solutions for urban spaces.

Working at the intersection of agricultural sustainability and women’s empowerment, Lilian Nakigozi is a social entrepreneur who has designed affordable, climate-resilient vertical farming units that grow sustainable crops in areas of limited space. With these vertical farms, Lilian is seeking to eradicate poverty in underserved urban communities by offering food-security programs and agro-entrepreneurship opportunities to women and youth. Partnering with women’s groups and NGOs in slums and refugee camps, Lilian’s organization has trained 6,500 women to be independent urban farmers who are able to reliably feed their families and generate income by selling fresh produce to local restaurants, schools, and hotels. The organization also hosts workshops on topics such as entrepreneurship, nutrition, women’s empowerment, climate-resiliency, eco-friendly waste management practices, composting and recycling. Lilian’s model builds supportive networks that allow women to share skills, develop self-sustaining food for their families and overcome poverty through reliable urban agriculture to create resilient and sustainable urban communities.

Lilian holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Makerere University. She was a member of the 2019 class of the Obama Foundation Leaders program in Africa and is a graduate of President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative.

OLUSOLA OWONIKOKO

NIGERIA

Executive Director, Stanforte Edge; Founder, Project Enable Africa

Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in workplaces and legislation to allow people with disabilities in Nigeria to fully participate in employment and civic life.

Olusola Owonikoko is a development practitioner working with businesses and legislators to promote inclusive policies and programs to increase the hiring of people with disabilities in Nigeria. Olusola is the Executive Director of Stanforte Edge, an organization that has provided training to 250 corporations to develop disability-inclusive policies, practices, and programs. To improve the developmental outcomes of people with disabilities and to remove barriers to employment, Stanforte Edge’s disability-focused digital skills program has trained 5,000 youth with disabilities in sought-after skills, connected 1,500 youth to job opportunities, and provided business support to 1,000 entrepreneurs with disabilities since 2014. Stanforte Edge’s advocacy, education and training programs are all co-created with the communities they serve. The organization has supported four people with disabilities in their run for public office, and the organization’s Disability Audit Toolkit, which was created using feedback and solutions from people with disabilities, is used by organizations across Nigeria. Olusola’s work with state-level policymakers contributed to the successful implementation of disability-inclusive public policies in four Nigerian states.

Olusola was named one of the 100 Most Influential Young Leaders in Africa by the Pan-Africa Youth Leadership Foundation. He is a member of The World Bank’s Skills for Employment Youth Advisory Group and he is the president of the Carrington Fellowship Network, a U.S. Government civic leadership program in Nigeria. Olusola holds a master’s degree in globalization, business and development from the University of Sussex and a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Ilorin.

JACKSON ROWLAND

NEW ZEALAND

Impact Investing Advocate; Former Director, Ākina Invest, Ākina Foundation

Growing New Zealand’s impact investing space to connect social impact businesses with capital and to encourage corporations and economic leaders to invest in social change.

Jackson Rowland is an impact investing advocate and the former director of Ākina Invest at the Ākina Foundation, a development consultancy that aims to transform New Zealand’s economy by supporting the development and sustainability of social impact business. In his five years as director, Jackson launched New Zealand’s first impact investing fund, quintupled the reach of the organization’s investment readiness program and developed advisory partnerships with government agencies and investors to encourage impact investing. Understanding that community-led and indigenous approaches often create the most impactful small businesses, Jackson has designed impact management frameworks to advance these approaches and has advised government leaders and corporations to support this work. For example, Ākina’s investment in a local packaging company that replaces single-use plastics with sustainable materials has enabled the business to grow from replacing 300,000 units per month to replacing 2,600,000 units. Jackson is building an impact investing structure in New Zealand where the needs of businesses, investors, communities and the environment are consistently met.

Previously, Jackson worked with several startups and as a lawyer in one of New Zealand’s leading law firms. He currently serves as a Board Trustee for Make a Wish New Zealand and was previously a regional lead for Oceania’s World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community. He holds bachelor’s degrees in law and science from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and was a member of the 2019 class of the Obama Foundation Leaders program in Asia-Pacific.

MUSTIKA WIJAYA

INDONESIA

Founder & Executive Director, Solar Chapter

Promoting sustainable community development by increasing access to water, sanitation, and education in rural communities across Indonesia.

Mustika Wijaya is an engineer who has developed an innovative community-owned solar pump system that seeks to ensure that all Indonesians have access to clean water. Implemented with the knowledge that the responsibility of obtaining clean water disproportionately impacts women and girls in rural areas, Mustika’s efforts have reduced long-term barriers for women’s education and employment. Women and girls in 10 villages no longer have to walk three to five hours a day to gather water. Solar Chapter’s pump technologies allowed them to participate in Solar Chapter’s educational programs, resulting in higher levels of school participation and engagement in health and hygiene practices. Each Solar Chapter intervention is community-led, with members of each village playing an active role in the development, implementation, operation and maintenance of each water system. Solar Chapter has also engaged 160 young adults from around the world to find water solutions and has collaborated with Indonesia’s Ministry of National Development Planning and The World Bank.

Mustika holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and participated in UNICEF’s Young Changemakers initiative.

The inaugural cohort of Obama Scholars graduated from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago with Master of Arts degrees focused on International Development and Policy.

The University of Chicago

Students in their final year of study in a Master’s program at one of three Schools at the University of Chicago: the Harris School of Public Policy; Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; and Booth School of Business will participate in the Obama Foundation Scholars program at the University of Chicago.

With a particular focus on the neighborhoods near campus, this program will provide opportunities for students to experience and examine how community engaged partnerships on the South Side of Chicago can inform scalable solutions that can, in turn, help solve pervasive problems in communities around the world. Over the course of this one-year program, students will develop a distinctly interdisciplinary approach to advancing social change, and they will leave the University and program prepared to reinvest this experience and committed to working to address complex social challenges through impactful careers across sectors and the world.

In addition to students’ degree coursework, the University of Chicago will organize and lead a series of supplemental initiatives that bring Scholars across the schools together to engage with a curated selection of University researchers, civic leaders, and social sector practitioners to bring academic insights to bear in creating scalable solutions around the world.

Key components of the program at the University of Chicago include:

  • Community Impact Seminars that draw from faculty across the University’s research and impact ecosystem, designed to help students better understand how engaged scholarship can bridge rigorous research with the practice of uplifting communities–from Chicago’s South Side to around the globe.
  • Quarterly Civic Treks that bring Scholars off-campus to meet with and learn from civic leaders and community activists who are confronting pressing social issues that shape Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods and are of critical concern to communities around the world. Through these treks, Scholars will develop sustained relationships with civic practitioners who are working on the South Side and access new opportunities to support local nonprofits.
  • Scholars will have an exclusive opportunity each quarter to meet with, question, and learn from the Institute of Politics Pritzker Fellows, a diverse cohort of elected officials, diplomats, policymakers, activists, nonprofit leaders, and journalists.
  • Paired mentorship with accomplished professionals from their University of Chicago schools’ alumni community to help them connect their coursework with the practical day-to-day challenges and opportunities that await them in their careers.

Students entering their final year of a Master’s program at one of three Schools at the University of Chicago: the Harris School of Public Policy; Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; and Booth School of Business are eligible to apply for the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Chicago.

The application for the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program is closed. You can learn more about the program and future application cycles here.

DEQA ADEN

SOMALILAND

Former Manager, Harhub

Empowering victims of gender-based violence in Somaliland by providing access to legal services, medical, and psychosocial treatments.

Deqa Aden was recently a Manager at Harhub, a business incubator in Somaliland that creates jobs for vulnerable youth across the country through mentorship and grant investments. Deqa previously worked at the World Bank’s Finance Competitiveness and Innovation global practice, where she handled projects aimed at supporting fragile, conflict-affected countries with a focus on marginalized youth and women. Through these impact-driven investment projects, Deqa found her unwavering passion for working at the nexus between economics and gender-politics. In the near future, Deqa plans to establish a holistic advocacy center for victims of gender-based violence in memory of her late mother, Amran Abdi, a fierce advocate for education and women’s rights.

Deqa is pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

CHRIS AKEL

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Co-founder, Pathways

Nurturing access to education and mental health counseling for youth leadership development in refugee, rural, and low-income Palestinian communities.

Chris Akel is the co-founder of Pathways, an organization that serves to enhance English education, college access, and youth development for rural, refugee, and low-income communities in Palestine. Chris was previously a K-12 teacher and college counselor in both the United States and Palestine, and is currently transitioning to work in community-based mental health and therapy in the U.S. Through both avenues of prior experience, he seeks to support Pathways’ long-term vision to support broad access to counseling and mental health support for Palestinian youth by connecting the U.S. diaspora community and resources with those in the West Bank and Gaza.

Chris is pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

OLAMIDE BABATUNDE

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Former Director, Alumni Career Office, Noble Network of Charter Schools

Improving career opportunities for low-income youth and adults across Chicago.

Olamide Babatunde founded the Alumni Career Office at Noble Network of Charter Schools, an open enrollment, multi-campus public charter school network that predominantly serves low-income and first-generation college students throughout Chicago. Through that work, he improved the employment outcomes of over 17,500 Noble alumni from 41% to 80% within three years, surpassing the national average for all college graduates in the U.S. by 5%. The Alumni Career Office has since provided individual coaching to graduates, established recruiting pipelines with over 150 regional employers, and created paid internship programs that students can complete during college to boost their experience.

Olamide is pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

LINDA FLOR BRITO

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Community Organizer, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos

Building collective resistance against the deportation and criminalization of immigrants and forcefully displaced communities.

Linda is a Community Organizer at Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, a community-led organization working at the intersection of labor and immigration on the Southeast side of Chicago. Linda organizes alongside community members to build collective power, lead campaigns, and develop educational training that promotes solidarity amongst immigrant workers. Linda previously worked in Washington, D.C. as a migrant justice organizer with the FreeThemAllVA Coalition and Sanctuary DMV to call for the abolition of the Prison-Industrial Complex. Linda also utilizes her poetry and the power of storytelling as a tool of resistance and liberation.

Linda is pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

BINH (BEN) BUI

VIETNAM

Founding Member and Product Lead, Social Walk

Increasing educational opportunities for underserved learners through technology.

Binh (Ben) Bui was recently Head of the Teaching Assistant Team at the STEAM for Vietnam Foundation, a non-profit educational organization providing free Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics education in Vietnam. While there, he led, recruited, and built a training program for a team of 20 teaching assistants who provided free computer science lessons for over 7,000 children. Prior to leading STEAM – Binh served as a volunteer consultant to help launch Khan Academy Vietnam, where he contributed to the delivery of over 2,500 video translations. Since gaining first-hand experience in the power of education technology and the non-profit sector, Binh has been committed to identifying scalable long-term business models for organizations to increase their social impact work.

Binh is pursuing a dual degree MS in Computer Science and MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

CHRISTINE GOGGINS

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Lead Violence Recovery Specialist, University of Chicago Medical Center

Providing crisis intervention care to promote the comprehensive recovery of victims and families of intentional violence.

Christine Goggins serves at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she helps patients and their families recover from intentional violence by providing crisis intervention and intensive clinical case management. Christine has been an advocate for Chicago residents impacted by violence in various capacities for the past 15 years. She experienced the devastating impact of gun violence first-hand when her best friend, Blair Holt, was shot and killed on a Chicago Transit Authority bus in 2007. Through her work she has engaged with the root causes of gun violence, and maintains a vested interest in addressing housing insecurity as a critical solution to the issue of gun violence in the community.

Christine is pursuing her second master’s degree in clinical social work with a focus in trauma response at The University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

NOEL GREEN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Student & Change Agent, Southside Health Advocacy Resource Partnership (S.H.A.R.P.)

Curating community-driven models of social change that foster liberation of marginalized groups from oppressive systems.

Noel Green is Chair of Southside Health Advocacy Resource Partnership (S.H.A.R.P.), an institution that seeks to end HIV and liberate the economic, physical, and emotional health of communities in the South Side of Chicago. Since 2016, Noel has developed interventions that foster re-engagement into primary care for HIV positive youth; economic justice for Black queer public health workers, cross-city collaborations for homeless queer youth, and efficacious community-level, public health interventions. Noel’s community work now focuses on ending the school to prison pipeline and preventing recidivism for Black men and boys in Chicago through emotional and economic empowerment.

Noel is pursuing a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

BEN HARRIS

DENVER, COLORADO

Former Health and Social Systems Strategic Advisor, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing

Developing and supporting community-based service models for individuals with complex health and social needs.

Ben has worked in the US health and human services system for over a decade. He began his career at Erie Family Health Center in Chicago, where he monitored and managed the performance of health programming, including HIV/AIDS care, pediatric and perinatal behavioral health, and diabetes management. He then led the Accountable Care Collaborative at Colorado’s Medicaid agency. There, he developed a cross-sector workgroup to improve behavioral health access and engagement for people reentering the community from state prisons. Under his leadership, the workgroup tripled the rate of engagement with behavioral health services for the population. He most recently served as a Farber Fellow through the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) at Repowered, an employment social enterprise in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Ben is interested in developing and implementing community-driven models that combine multiple human and social services into a cohesive delivery fabric for individuals with complex health and social needs.

Ben is pursuing a master’s in business administration at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he is a Neubauer Family Civic Scholar.

AMANDA LEE

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Director of Practice Transformation, Access Community Health Network

Transforming health care delivery in the community health setting to advance health equity.

Amanda is a practicing pediatric primary care nurse practitioner and the Director of Practice Transformation at Access Community Health Network (ACCESS). She collaborates with ACCESS leaders and care team members to develop and execute strategies that advance the overall care delivery environment and promote accessible, trauma-informed, and value-based care at ACCESS’ 35 community health centers, serving 185,000 patients annually throughout Cook and DuPage counties. She works to ensure their roadmap for transformation centers the voices and expectations of the patients and communities ACCESS serves. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has led ongoing initiatives including the development and implementation of telehealth services, COVID-19 testing, and COVID-19 vaccination programs at ACCESS.

Amanda is a Neubauer Civic Scholar, pursuing her second master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

ORLANDO MAYORGA

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

McCormick Reentry Policy Coordinator, Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative – Office of Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton

Championing restorative and transformative policy reform that supports healing for people and communities impacted by mass incarceration.

Orlando Mayorga serves the Office of Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton’s Justice, Equity, and Opportunity Initiative as McCormick Reentry Policy Coordinator. Orlando’s passion to reverse the adverse effects of mass incarceration in Illinois is informed by the 20 years he spent in the Illinois Department of Corrections. As a part of his work, Orlando collaborates with reentry stakeholders and individuals transitioning out of incarceration to create an ecosystem of holistic support and a healing-centered process in support of people impacted by harm. His advocacy efforts to promote policy that is restorative and transformative have led to collaborative initiatives that provide Illinois State Identification Cards for people released from prisons in Illinois. He is also the co-founder of People’s Liberty Project, a trauma-informed, peer-led support group centered on healing and policy reform advocacy designed to remove post-incarceration barriers to healthy reintegration into society.

Orlando is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

HEENA MOHAMMED

UNITED KINGDOM

Former Policy Advisor, UK Government

Designing and improving equitable, community-based solutions to eliminating racial disparities in crime and policing policy.

Heena most recently served as the Deputy Head of Police Powers for the UK Home Office. In this role, Heena was responsible for ensuring police powers, notably stop and search powers, were used fairly and equitably in the pursuit of reducing crime and violence. Prior to this role, Heena served as the Senior Private Secretary to the British Minister of State for Policing and Fire. Through her early career as a civil servant, she worked on key social policy issues including welfare, housing, and criminal justice. Currently, Heena organizes and delivers educational programming for incarcerated populations, which includes creative writing, civic engagement and voter rights training, at Cook County Jail and Illinois Youth Center.

Heena is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and is a Fulbright Scholar with the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

KAREM MUKSED

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Mental Health Professional and Refugee and Immigrant Advocate

Increasing mental health care access to refugees by focusing on services and trauma informed practices.

Karem Muksed grew up in Iraq and fled to the United States as a refugee when he was a child. This experience formed his deep commitment to advocating for immigrant rights and providing mental health support to refugees. Karem has previously worked at the Illinois Migrant Education Program and the National Immigrant Justice Center, conducting outreach to migrant farmworkers and legal advocacy for unaccompanied minors. He is a therapist in training at the The Family Institute of Northwestern University, where he provides therapy to groups and individuals facing challenges such as anxiety, chronic thoughts of suicide, depression, self-harming behaviors and intense emotions.

Karem is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

OMOTUNDE ODEDEYI

NIGERIA

Co-Founder, JetAfrica

Bridging the opportunity gap for young Nigerians through mentorship and entrepreneurial skills development.

Omotunde Odedeyi is the co-founder of JetAfrica, a platform that tackles unemployment and poverty of disadvantaged communities in Nigeria through skills development and mentorship for youth. She is passionate about improving access to tools and learning opportunities for recent graduates and young people seeking unique career, educational, or entrepreneurial opportunities. Omotunde aims to fill these gaps by providing youth with practical knowledge to demystify the job search and application process, to navigate the interview process and learn corporate etiquette, and to provide a toolkit for entrepreneurial engagement. JetAfrica has a growing network of volunteers working across disciplines who are matched with young graduates based on their area of interest, with the goal of expanding professional networks and securing full time employment for their participants.

Omotunde is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

REBECCA SILVERMAN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Co-Founder, Rose Café

Promoting literacy, education, and peace in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago.

Rebecca Silverman is the Co-Founder of Rose Café, a community bookstore in the Roseland neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago that aims to address the book desert in the community by providing access and reading opportunities. Rebecca became passionate about equal access to quality literature during her time as an elementary school teacher in Chicago, and believes that literacy access can transform a historically disinvested neighborhood. In partnership with her co-founder, Roseland native Iesha Malone, Rebecca hopes Rose Café will be a community space that will encourage a love of reading for youth, bring business and art to the Roseland neighborhood, and inspire new generations through community programming and civic engagement opportunities.

Rebecca is pursuing a dual master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

NISHIT SHUKLA

INDIA

Co-Founder, ReHive

Scaling impact of promising climate adaptation startups through climate finance solutions.

Nishit Shukla is the Co-Founder of ReHive, an optimized fundraising platform that helps climate adaptation innovators raise capital. ReHive’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to a climate-resilient reality for under-resourced communities. In his home country, India, climate extremes are rising and becoming more intense and frequent than ever before. While effective adaptation innovations exist, climate finance, the lever needed to support and scale these innovations is significantly skewed towards climate mitigation solutions such as solar and electric vehicles that don’t necessarily tackle these climate extremes today. ReHive takes the first step towards creating such a shift by curating impact-driven investors and high-potential startups, facilitating their interactions, and enabling seamless investments.

Nishit is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

LILY WANG

CANADA

Co-Founder & CEO, Demi

Building a healthier planet through sleek and convenient urban composting solutions to reduce food waste and encourage sustainable living habits.

Lily Wang is the co-founder & CEO of Demi, a social enterprise that aims to combat the climate crisis by making composting mainstream amongst urban residents, starting with Chicago. Their mission is to create a healthier planet by cultivating a culture of composting amongst local communities through sleek biodegradable bins, a mobile interface, affordable collection services, collaborative partnerships, and educational tools and resources. Lily plans to work with local residents, businesses, and families to advance the necessary tools, resources, and training to achieve a truly circular economy, reduce 25 million tons of landfilled food waste and mitigate up to 10 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Lily is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where she is a Forte Fellow and C200 Scholar.

DEKEVIOUS WILSON

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Regional Manager, Youth Guidance – Becoming A Man Program (BAM)

Fostering, supporting, and strengthening resources of urban communities through mental health advocacy and policy work.

DeKevious Wilson currently serves as Regional Manager for the South Side of Chicago’s Youth Guidance’s Becoming A Man (BAM), a program that encourages academic achievement and aims to reduce violence among boys and young men of color. Through his work, DeKevious has co-created space for young men to learn, internalize, practice their social cognitive skills, and expose them to life after high school, through both workforce and post-secondary development. DeKevious oversees planning, development, coordination, implementation, and evaluation of all program activities, staff and the outcomes of program participants. In his home state of Arkansas, DeKevious is also a member of the American Legion Arkansas Boys State program, an immersive civics-based leadership program for rising high school seniors.

DeKevious is pursuing his second master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

UMAMA ZILLUR

BANGLADESH

Founder and Director, Kotha

Addressing the root causes of gender based violence in Bangladesh and South Asia through advocacy and educational interventions.

Umama Zillur is a researcher, community organizer, and founder of the Bangladesh based feminist organization, Kotha. Kotha uses community building, education interventions, art, interactive theater, and accessible research to fight root causes of gender-based violence. Through Kotha, Umama launched Bangladesh’s first fully youth-led comprehensive sexuality education program, Kotha at School, with a vision to change mindsets and model behavior for a society free of gender-based violence. Under her leadership, Kotha at School has impacted 1,000 students through long-term partnerships with educational institutions and played a critical role in popularizing root cause solutions to tackle Bangladesh’s rape culture. Umama also focuses on national coalition building to connect the power of mass demonstrations and protests to policy advocacy and social change. Umama’s research work has taken her to low income communities across Bangladesh and most recently to the Rohingya refugee camps to analyze power and violence through a gendered lens.

Umama is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and is a Fellow at the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts.

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