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 2022-2023 Columbia University Obama Foundation Scholars Program is now open. Applications are due by December 22, 2021 at 5:00PM EST. You can learn more about the program and apply here!

MILLICENT BARTY

SOLOMON ISLANDS

Founder and Lead Designer, Millicent Designs

Combining traditional oral history practices with innovative infographic design to communicate complex development issues across the Solomon Islands.

Millicent Barty is a social entrepreneur, designer and advocate for innovation and entrepreneurship across the Pacific. In light of the high illiteracy rate among the adult population in the Solomon Islands, Millicent uses oral history practices and infographic designs to enable all people to make informed decisions about crucial policies and projects that affect their communities. By bridging the communication divide between development agencies, national governments, and rural communities, she has successfully mediated conversations that contributed to the successful launch of two national infrastructure development projects. As the lead designer for the National General Election in 2019, Millicent designed voter-awareness guides, 500,000 of which were distributed across the country inside bags of rice—a practice that NGOs have since used to disseminate information on other critical issues such as gender-based violence.

In 2018, Millicent received the Queen’s Young Leader Award and she is an Adviser to the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust Board which supports young changemakers across the Commonwealth. Millicent holds a bachelor’s degree from Goldsmiths, University of London.

CECILIA CHAPIRO

ARGENTINA & SPAIN

Investments Lead, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Founder, Yunus & Youth

Using technology and innovative financing to enable entrepreneurial ecosystems to grow and progress the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Cecilia Chapiro is the investments lead at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), overseeing its Innovation Fund. The fund is the first of its kind at the United Nations (U.N.) and invests in early stage, open-source technology solutions that have the potential to impact and benefit children on a global scale. Cecilia structured the fund at its inception, leading a team of technology, businesses and industry experts who sourced and managed a portfolio of 85 investments in 36 countries. In 2019, she expanded UNICEF’s reach by launching the U.N.’s first CryptoFund, an innovative investment tool that allows the organization to explore the use of crypto currencies.

In addition to her work at UNICEF, Cecilia is the founder of Yunus & Youth, a global social enterprise that empowers young leaders to build, develop, and expand social ventures that promote economic advancement and reduce unemployment in their communities. Yunus & Youth has accelerated more than 5,000 youth-led ventures globally by connecting entrepreneurs with innovative tools and support to increase their financial sustainability and maximize the impact of their work to achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Cecilia received her bachelor’s degree from the University of San Andres in Buenos Aires. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from New York University.

NIKA KOVAČ

SLOVENIA

Founding Director, 8th of March Research Institute

Building coalitions to transform legal precedent on gender and economic inequalities in Slovenia.

Nika Kovač is the founding director of the 8th of March Research Institute, a movement-building organization that uses storytelling and advocacy to confront gender and economic inequalities across Slovenia. Commemorating International Women’s Day, which is celebrated annually on March 8th, the 8th of March Research Institute works to break the silence around sexual violence by gathering testimonials and data on issues of rape, abortion, and sexual assault across the country. Under her leadership, the 8th of March Research Institute’s advocacy campaigns successfully initiated the legal redefinition of rape in Slovenia, enforcing a new legal precedent for the “yes means yes” consent model.

Nika has a master’s degree in social and cultural anthropology from the University of Ljubljana and was a member of the 2020 class of the Obama Foundation Leaders program in Europe. She is also the author of two books, My Choice: Testimonies, Rights and Prejudices Regarding Abortion and Brave Girls.

JEAN-NOÉ LANDRY

CANADA

Social entrepreneur and open data advocate; Former Executive Director, Open North</h5
Guiding public, private and community stakeholders towards the responsible and collaborative use of data and technology to solve complex social and environmental problems.

Jean-Noé Landry is a social entrepreneur who uses innovative data and technology solutions to build scalable, evidence-informed and issue-based initiatives that redefine power relations among city stakeholders. Between 2015 and 2021, Jean-Noé served as the Executive Director of Open North, an organization that advises communities and governments of all sizes, including the Canadian government, on data governance and literacy, digital transformation and open technology strategies. During that time, Open North grew from a civic tech start-up into a leading international multidisciplinary, multi-sector open government nonprofit. His applied research approach confronts systemic socioeconomic issues and has been published in international publications. Prior to his work with Open North, Jean-Noé was a field-based staff member at the National Democratic Institute and the United Nations, where he worked alongside civic and political pro-democracy leaders in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Russia, Kenya, Tunisia, and Ukraine.

Jean-Noé holds a bachelor’s degree in the humanities from Carleton University in Canada, and a master’s degree in philosophy from Trinity College Dublin. He was also a Community Leadership in Justice Fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Law, Technology and Society.

VINCENT LOKA

INDONESIA & SINGAPORE

Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Wateroam

Working towards a world without prolonged thirst by providing access to clean, affordable water technologies in areas with limited infrastructure across Southeast Asia.

Vincent Loka is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Wateroam, a Singapore-based social enterprise that aims to create a world without prolonged thirst. He invented and patented a portable water filtration device that is specifically designed for rural and disaster-impacted areas. Since Wateroam’s founding in 2014, Vincent’s invention has impacted more than 130,000 people across 38 countries in Southeast Asia. The organization is also known for its response to many global disaster relief efforts — including Vanuatu’s Typhoon Harold in 2020 and Nepal’s earthquake in 2017 — during which it worked closely with governments, international agencies and local non-profits to deploy and implement immediate, on-the-ground community solutions. This water technology targets on-the-ground needs, centering input from local beneficiaries and partners to ensure sustainable and long-lasting impact.

In 2016, Vincent was chosen as one of the United Nations’ 17 Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals. He holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the National University of Singapore.

LINEO MATLAKALA

LESOTHO

Founder and Director, Barali Foundation

Using arts, advocacy, and education to promote women’s reproductive health and financial independence in Lesotho.

Lineo Matlakala is the founder of the Barali Foundation, an organization that centers the dual pillars of advocacy and education to promote sexual and reproductive health and eliminate gender-based violence and human trafficking. Partnering with government ministries, local leaders, schools, churches and international organizations across Lesotho, Lineo holds art-focused workshops on reproductive health and works with girls and women to develop advocacy and educational campaigns to spread awareness about these issues.

In addition to her work with the Barali Foundation, Lineo is a director at the Agritech Institute of Lesotho where she teaches resilient farming and rural development. In this role, she focuses on educating women and girls about food security and offering opportunities for them to develop farmland to create self-sufficient livelihoods.

Lineo is a graduate of President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative and was a recipient of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. She also participated in the Women, Peace and Security Fellowship with Columbia University’s Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity at the Earth Institute. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the National University of Lesotho.

PATIENCE MUSIWA MKANDAWIRE

MALAWI

Founder and Executive Director, Fount for Nations

Building inclusive learning opportunities for all children in Malawi by improving educational access and equity for children with special-needs and intellectual disabilities.

Patience Musiwa Mkandawire is the founder and executive director of Fount for Nations, a nonprofit that aims to improve the educational access and economic mobility for all children in Malawi by creating learning and development spaces for differently-abled children. Engaging with teachers, healthcare practitioners, families, and students, Patience advocates for inclusive and community-centered solutions. Fount for Nations’ teacher training program has empowered more than 300 teachers across Malawi to implement inclusive teaching strategies that enhance their ability to effectively educate differently-abled students. Since 2015, the organization has worked with more than 10,000 children and their families, providing teaching and learning materials, parent support, counseling, and financial services. Patience aims to increase the primary-school graduation rate for children with special needs by 50%, an increase that would reach nearly 200,000 differently-abled learners.

Patience is an African Visionary Fellow with the Segal Family Foundation and was recognized as a leader by Global Changemakers, an international youth organization that supports leaders in sustainable development. Patience holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food science from the University of Malawi.

MOHIT RAJ

INDIA

Co-Founder and Executive Director, Project Second Chance India, Turn Your Concern Into Action Foundation (TYCIA)

Working with incarcerated and justice-involved youth in India to bring systematic and structured change to the Indian prison landscape.

Mohit Raj is the co-founder of Project Second Chance, a first-of-its-kind prison reform and criminal justice intervention program in India that works directly with incarcerated youth between the ages of 18-21 and guides them to be change agents in the prison ecosystem. Paired with a peer fellow, each participant identifies a structural problem in the criminal justice system, envisions a scalable on-the-ground solution, and implements a year-long pilot project to test their solution. As a result, seven of these initiatives have been funded and supported beyond the fellowship year pilot, including Kunji, a helpline for ex-inmates that has engaged more than 400 formerly incarcerated individuals to assist them with reentry into society. Mohit is also the co-founder of the Turn Your Concern Into Action Foundation (TYCIA), an organization that strives to improve educational access for children across India.

Mohit was a Social Innovation Fellow with StartingBloc, an organization that supports global leaders. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Rohilkhand University and a master’s degree from the Apeejay School of Management.

MOHAMMED KEANA SABO

NIGERIA

Founder and Team Lead, Almajiri Child Rights Initiative

Advocating for the social inclusion and right to education of vulnerable children by promoting sustainable development and accountable governance.

Mohammed Sabo Keana is the founder of the Almajiri Child Rights Initiative (ACRI), a support and accountability nonprofit that amplifies the call for education and social inclusion for West Africa’s most at-risk children. ACRI uses a child-rights centered approach to develop and deliver direct support programs for vulnerable out-of-school children in northern Nigeria and raises awareness among policymakers at all levels of governance to bring attention to this issue. ACRI’s child-protection interventions have reached more than 5,000 children across 15 states in northern Nigeria and its advocacy campaigns have garnered international attention and partnerships with the Nigerian government at state and federal levels, the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations.

Mohammed participated in the Social Innovation Program with LEAP Africa, a program for changemakers and entrepreneurs. Mohammed is a trained microbiologist with a bachelor’s degree from Ahmadu Bello University and a master’s degree in development studies from the Nigerian Defense Academy.

MELUSI SIMELANE

ESWATINI

Founding Director, Eswatini Sexual & Gender Minorities

Advocating for the acceptance and legal rights of the LGBTQ community in Eswatini and building intersectional human rights coalitions to empower young leaders across Southern Africa.

Melusi Simelane is the founding director of Eswatini Sexual & Gender Minorities, the country’s first membership-based LGBTQ organization, which aims to increase awareness of the social and systematic exclusion of LGBTQ citizens across the Southern Africa region. The organization’s approach is guided by the belief that long-term sustainable change comes through intersectional movement-building and fostering an environment of mutual respect. Melusi’s work aims to position LGBTQ rights as a central part of broader justice and human rights movements in Eswatini and across Southern Africa.

Melusi is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in marketing at the University of Eswatini. He was selected to participate in the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

JULIANA TAFUR

MIAMI, FLORIDA

Founder and Social Impact Filmmaker, Story Powerhouse

Designing and implementing a listening methodology to inspire positive dialogue across differences and foster human connection.

Juliana Tafur is the founder of Story Powerhouse, a professional and social development organization that uses film to cultivate understanding. She is also the creator of the organization’s Listen Courageously workshop series, which guides participants in empathic listening, providing tools to nurture heart-centered dialogue. The workshops use Juliana’s award-winning documentary List(e)n, which brings together Americans with opposing viewpoints on issues like abortion, gun rights, and immigration, and facilitates opportunities for them to discuss their viewpoints and connect across their differences. Listen Courageously has impacted thousands of people in the business sector, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations, including the United Nations’ Girl Up partnership and the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.

Prior to Story Powerhouse, Juliana produced hundreds of hours of content for Discovery Networks, National Geographic and others. Juliana’s social impact films have screened in festivals across the United States, receiving awards from organizations such as the IndieFEST Film Awards, Accolade Global Film Awards, and ImpactDocs. She graduated with honors from Northwestern University with a double major in journalism and history.

FRANCESCO TENA

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Founder, Pipeline to Power

Training young people to be leaders in participatory budgeting processes and governmental decision-making across the United States and Canada.

Francesco Tena is the founder of Pipeline to Power, working to develop meaningful civic engagement habits in young people, ensuring that they have the access and knowledge to remain active and informed residents for life. Francesco recently directed the Participatory Budgeting Youth Fellowship at Coro New York where he trained young people in participatory democracy and leadership development, equipping them with skills to understand, engage with, and take leadership in the governmental decision-making process in their communities. Francesco also partnered with the New York City Civic Engagement Commission to facilitate remote youth-led participatory budgeting processes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previously, Francesco led youth civic engagement for the Mayor’s Youth Council in the City of Boston. Francesco also oversaw the first three cycles of Youth Lead the Change, the nation’s first youth-exclusive participatory budget process, and received the 2016 Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation.

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.

ALEENA AGRAWAL

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Director of Talent Solutions, P33 Chicago

Driving innovative, diverse, and inclusive growth across Chicago’s tech ecosystem.

Aleena Agrawal is the director of talent solutions at P33, building pathways that meaningfully connect aspiring talent with thriving businesses. Through her work, Aleena is creating systems-level change to ensure the city of Chicago works for all Chicagoans. She believes addressing lack of economic opportunity is the key to dispelling inequality and unlocking hope in our communities. Prior to joining P33, Aleena directed the national expansion of Cara Collective, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing pathways out of poverty through personal and professional training. Her experience also includes strategy consulting on organizational change, modernizing healthcare systems with new technology, and driving operational efficiencies in sales and distributions.

Aleena is a Neubauer Civic Scholar, pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She also has a BA in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis.

TOM VOUTSOS

TOLEDO, OHIO

Co-Founder and CEO, LadderUp Housing

Closing the wealth gap by providing an alternative pathway to homeownership in the Midwest.

Tom Voutsos is the co-founder and CEO of LadderUp Housing, an organization committed to bridging the wealth gap by providing an alternative pathway to homeownership for working class people living in low-income communities. LadderUp purchases and renovates homes, allowing the future homeowners to rent the property while building their credit score with guidance from a non-profit financial coaching partner. Once they are able to receive traditional mortgage financing, LadderUp sells the home to the participant. By targeting mid-sized Midwest cities, LadderUp can maintain affordability for the customer while creating a sustainable business model. Tom led LadderUp to a second-place finish in the University of Chicago’s Social New Venture Challenge, completed a pre-seed round of fundraising, and is implementing LadderUp’s model in Toledo, Ohio.

Tom is pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Prior to his academic career at the University of Chicago, Tom served as a Marine Corps officer and President of TRU Colors, a start-up brewery that hires active gang members to reduce violence.

SAMANTHA ALEXANDRA MARTINEZ

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Co-Founder, Gage Park Latinx Council

Empowering young people of color from the Southwest side of Chicago to imagine new possibilities and be changemakers in their communities.

Samantha Martinez is a first-generation, immigrant queer artist and co-founder of the Gage Park Latinx Council (GPLXC), the first community-led Cultural Center in Gage Park. Samantha develops and facilitates youth programs at GPLXC to create culturally affirming spaces where young people of color can imagine and lead change in their communities. In 2020, Samantha also co-founded GPLXC’s Mercadito, a free community market stocked with food and hygiene items that is visited by more than 90 residents every week. Samantha’s community-based work is led through an intersectional and anti-oppressive framework that considers the multiple intersections of oppression that impact the lives and experiences of Latinx, undocumented, and low-income people in Chicago.

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

SAMEER WARRAICH

PAKISTAN

Trustee, Squeaks Foundation
Outreach Consultant, Innovate. Educate. Inspire (IEI)

Using technology enabled solutions to tackle issues in development impact and capacity building in Pakistan.

Sameer Warraich is a trustee at Squeaks Foundation, a scholarship endowment fund, and an outreach consultant for Innovate. Educate. Inspire (IEI), working directly at the intersection of development, capacity building, and technology solutions. Prior to this role, Sameer worked as a management consultant at Kingsley Associates and was the Country Head for nexquare, a tech solution platform for educational institutes. His work helped develop schools in Pakistan and increase access to education for women and marginalized groups – including refugees and non-Muslim communities.

Currently, Sameer is working with The World Bank on impact evaluation to help optimize judicial processes in Pakistan and ultimately expand access to justice through AI enabled automation for marginalized communities. He is pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

MARA HENEGHAN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Director of Policy, Office of the Cook County Board President

Strengthening local government response to economic justice to support residents during the pandemic and beyond.

Mara Heneghan is the director of policy in the Office of the Cook County Board President, managing the implementation of the County’s strategic policy goals. Mara works to advance policies that address the root causes of inequities and advance economic justice, in close partnership with advocates, nonprofit organizations, and other community stakeholders. She also assists the County’s pandemic response and recovery efforts, overseeing the creation of a legal aid program for residents facing eviction, foreclosure, or consumer debt cases and supporting the launch of the County’s first direct cash assistance program.

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

RIA ZAPANTA

PHILIPPINES

Social Protection and Jobs Consultant, World Bank Group

Using data and technology to improve access and delivery of social assistance programs in developing countries.

Ria Zapanta is the social protection and jobs consultant at the World Bank Group in the Philippines, serving as the lead data analyst to deliver various research and analytical outputs in the areas of poverty and labor. Ria’s major work includes the monitoring and evaluation of the country’s Conditional Cash Transfer program, the government’s flagship poverty alleviation program, and the design and analysis of the COVID-19 High-Frequency Surveys that monitor the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic across households. Her work ensures that key policymakers are aided with data-backed evidence to support their policy formulation and response. She believes in the power of data and technology and wants to leverage these assets to transform access and delivery of social assistance programs in developing countries, particularly in the Philippines.

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

ISABEL RODRIGUEZ GARCIA

MEXICO

Co-Founder & CEO, Axo

Fostering connections between farmers and direct consumers to create a healthier and more sustainable food system.

Isabel Rodriguez Garcia is the co-founder and CEO of Axo, a regenerative marketplace that helps climate-conscious farmers connect directly with food companies and other buyers. Isabel works to promote regenerative agriculture as a solution to social justice in the sector, as well as a means to grow more nutrient-dense food and fight climate change. She also founded an educational recycling program in Mexico City, enabling households to sort and recycle their garbage.

Isabel is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She represented Chicago Booth in the 10th annual Turner MIINT competition and won second place, helping a disruptive residential heating startup earn a $25,000 investment, allowing them to further impact the sector with an affordable climate-friendly solution.

RAMESHWARA NAND JHA

INDIA

Development Professional

Mobilizing women in rural neighborhoods to become first generation entrepreneurs through community organizing and training towards a vision of a poverty free and self-reliant India.

Rameshwara Nand Jha recently worked as the assistant program manager with Kudumbashree NRO, an organization led by the Government of India that aims to eliminate poverty by helping women in rural communities set up profitable enterprises. Through his work, Rameshwara led a team of 72 people to support micro-enterprises across 18 states in India that support women and girls interested in developing diverse income streams. He established systems that support first generation women entrepreneurs through knowledge dissemination, advisory and financial support, and other hands-on assistance to ensure sustainability.

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

PRACHI NAIK

PLEASANTON, CALIFORNIA

CEO and Founder, Counselors for America

Equipping public schools with the resources needed to provide comprehensive school-based mental health services.

Prachi Naik is the CEO and founder of Counselors for America, a social venture dedicated to providing comprehensive school-based mental health services in under-resourced communities. Prachi’s work aims to ensure schools serve the needs of the whole child, integrating mental health into school culture. As a former middle school teacher, she is passionate about pursuing educational equity and social justice at the intersection of business and policy.

Prachi is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She is also a former Fulbright Scholar, and holds a Master in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School, a Master of Studies in World Literature from Oxford University, and a Bachelor in Arts from UC Berkeley.

NEEL MCNEILL

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Executive Director, Definition Theatre

Bridging theater, activism, and education with leading artists, administrators, and designers of color to create art and culture to support human and community development in the neighborhoods we call home.

Neel McNeill is the executive director with Definition Theatre and the Managing Director of Theater & Performance Studies at the University of Chicago. Definition Theatre expands perspectives, stewards resources, and bridges the immense possibility found at the intersection of art, innovation, and education through sharing stories created with, inspired by, and intended for people of our community. Currently, Neel is working to build a permanent space for the theater in Woodlawn.

As a graduate of Howard University in Theatre Arts Administration, Neel was named by American Theater Magazine as a “Theatre Worker to Know.” She also participated in the 2018 American Express Nonprofit Leadership Academy. Neel is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice.

DEMEATREAS WHATLEY

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Site Supervisor, Cure Violence Global

Supporting gun violence prevention across the South Side of Chicago through community outreach, using music and art to engage young people.

Demeatreas Whatley is the site supervisor at Cure Violence Global, working to combat gun violence in the South Side of Chicago. As a part of this work, Demeatreas leads and trains a team of community outreach workers on conflict mediation and ways to detect and interrupt community violence. After serving 17 years in prison, Demeatreas dedicated his life to working on violence interruption tools and techniques in his own community of Woodlawn. Demeatreas is also the co-founder of the Woodlawn Battle On Wax for Peace, an organization that uses music and art as a foundation to conduct healthy dialogue around conflict resolution and peace agreements with young men and women throughout the community. His model of community engagement has been so successful, he currently facilitates national trainings for Cure Violence Global.

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

GRACE ELIZABETH OXLEY

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA

Former Program Manager, Pitt-Assisted Community & Schools (PACS), University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work

Combatting education inequality and technology access in urban areas through research and inclusive policy advocacy and implementation.

Grace Elizabeth Oxley recently served as the former program manager at Pitt-Assisted Community & Schools, a research-to-practice program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social. Through her work, Grace provided leadership in the planning and mobilization of projects focused on academic achievement, workforce development, and community development. As an education professional, she aims to bridge the gap between institutions that can provide resources in communities, particularly in urban areas, that need them most, with just, inclusive policies.

Grace is pursuing her master’s degree from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. She is also a former visiting English lecturer at the University of Malaysia Perlis.

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