Get to know the previous classes of Obama Foundation Scholars—dynamic, collaborative, rising leaders from around the world who came together for a unique one-year academic and leadership experience.
About the Scholars Program
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
Obama Foundation Scholars at the University of Chicago earned a Master of Arts degree focused on International Development and Policy at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. In addition to classroom studies, the Obama Foundation offered a robust program of leadership development and service activities throughout the academic year to help Scholars gain the real-world skills, tools, and experiences to expand the impact of their work when they return home.
These included leadership development convenings; program experiences in New York and Washington, DC; speaker series with innovators across a variety of sectors; individual and group service projects; mentorship through the Obama Foundation network; potential internship placements; and action plan development for post-program activities.
Meet the University of Chicago Scholars
Technical team leader, CareForSEVEN, Intern, BioMerieux
Promoting sustainable energy development in the MENA region to decrease energy-related geopolitical conflicts.
Mahmoud is a Technical Team leader at CareForSeven, an association of international young professionals committed to implementing projects addressing the United Nations SDG07 goals, and an intern at BioMerieux. A rising Egyptian leader, Mahmoud is focused on sustainable energy development in the MENA region in an effort to decrease energy-related geopolitical conflicts. He is currently working on building a risk management system for climate change-related risks and improving the carbon footprint assessment of bioMerieux activities.
SASSAN ALEXANDER AKHLAGHI
Political Advisor to the Prime Minister, Office of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven
Investing in increased equality and green jobs in Sweden through policy making.
Sassan is a political advisor to Prime Minister Stefan Lofven of Sweden, overseeing the jobs, industrial policy, and climate and energy policy portfolios. He was the youngest individual to ever assume the position. Before that he advised the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom on Sweden’s feminist foreign policy. He was directly involved in drafting and negotiating Sweden’s Climate Policy Framework Act, increasing Sweden’s investments in green jobs and reducing CO2 emissions under the Paris Agreement. Driven by a wish to create increased equality and sustainability, Sassan deeply understands the power of policy to impact local communities and industries.
Transitional Justice Coordinator, Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD)
Fostering peaceful, just, and inclusive societies through transitional justice and conflict resolution programs for conflict affected communities, internally displaced people, and refugees in Uganda.
Marianne is a Transitional Justice Coordinator at the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD), a pan-African development organization promoting social justice and sustainable development throughout the continent. Marianne coordinates and designs programs focused on transitional justice and conflict resolution for communities, internally displaced people, and refugees impacted by conflict in Uganda and the region. Through her work, she oversaw the successful conflict resolution process between clans and communities in Northern Uganda, resulting in an innovative ‘social contract’ agreement for peaceful co-existence and sustainability.
MATEUS DONATO AMORIM DE ARAUJO
Coordinator, Ministry of Social Development
Enabling poor families in remote areas of Brazil to safely and effectively receive benefits from a conditional cash transfer program.
Mateus is a coordinator for the Ministry of Social Development of Brazil He is responsible for managing the benefits distribution process for Bolsa Familia Program, a conditional cash transfer program that provides cash benefits to poor families, including indigenous communities, in the 5,570 municipalities of Brazil. As many of the beneficiaries are based in extremely remote areas, Mateus reworked the distribution process to decrease risk associated with travel for these benefits.
NELLY WAKIM AWAD
Humanitarian – Researcher – Writer
Identifying community needs in Syria through extensive research for a USAID funded project on infrastructure rehabilitation, women’s economic empowerment, and governance building.
Nelly most recently worked as a Research & Analysis Officer on a USAID-funded project in Southern Syria, identifying community needs through research on infrastructure rehabilitation, women’s economic empowerment and livelihood & governance building. Nelly previously worked with the International Labor Organization on their Fundamental Principles & Rights Project in Jordan, which focused on the development of strong relations and dialogue between local and national stakeholders within the Hashemite Kingdom through policy advice on social dialogue, collective bargaining and the prevention and resolution of labor disputes as well as labor law reform, workplace cooperation and collective bargaining. Her experiences also include working as part of a team in launching a long distance learning course in Human Rights with the University of Nottingham and as a Cultural Orientation Trainer in Lebanon, where she was responsible for research and design of training materials and for facilitation of cultural orientation training program for U.S. bound refugees. Nelly wrote her Master’s Degree Dissertation on the lived experiences of children in Syria prior to the conflict and their present experiences as refugees in Lebanon. In her free time, Nelly freelances as a researcher and a writer in the publishing of topical issues in the region; her latest publication was on the persistent issue of non-revenue water.
ANA CRISTINA BECERRA SALAS
Empowering vulnerable populations to be changemakers and achieve inclusive sustainable development.
Ana Cristina is a Forest Engineer experienced in natural resources management research and environmental education. She has also worked at a human rights organization on family and gender violence prevention. Ana Cristina believes that public interventions should empower vulnerable populations to build capacity to lead change. Her goal is to ensure that women, and other populations living close to natural resources, are included in the policymaking process around sustainable development interventions.
MIRIAM BENITEZ ISIDORO
Advisor, Sectorial Coordination for Academic Development at the Vice-Ministry of Upper Secondary Education, Ministry of Education
Increasing educational opportunities for young people from marginalized communities and forming a highly-trained teaching workforce.
Miriam served as Advisor at the Sectorial Coordination for Academic Development of the Vice-Ministry of Upper Secondary Education. As a first-generation college student, Miriam is deeply committed to promote access to education and to improve educational outcomes of young people from marginalized communities in Mexico. Her work has contributed to the establishment of a newly created educational service aimed to increase rural access to education. Students from this service represent 17% of the growth of the overall enrollment rate in the country. She has also worked towards the formation of a highly-trained teaching workforce by leading a cutting-edge initiative that trained over 10,000 teachers in the use of data for learning tracking and by assessing the impact of the national teacher`s training strategy on teacher ́s performance evaluation and on students scholar achievement.
Former Regional Liaison – Reintegration and Recruitment Prevention Program, USAID / International Organization for Migration (UN – IOM)
Promoting peacebuilding and ex-combatant reintegration for vulnerable groups in Meta, Colombia.
Juliana is the former Regional Liaison for the Reintegration and Recruitment Prevention program, for the International Organization for Migration (UN – IOM). She designs, monitors, and implements programs that support local governments and mobilizes resources for initiatives targeting vulnerable groups, especially ex-combatants and children, that are at risk of forced recruitment in Meta, a region with more than 200,000 victims of the armed conflict. Her work in ex-combatant reintegration and peacebuilding has impacted more than 4,000 individuals from armed groups and their communities.
Spearheading legal and policy reforms related to gender equality, children’s rights, and access to justice to support implementation of regional mechanisms and national constitutional frameworks, predominantly in East Africa.
Since her move to Kenya after law school, she has helped spearhead legal and policy reforms in the region related to legal aid, gender equality, access to justice, criminal justice, children’s rights, and commercial justice. Most recently she served as a Program Manager – Access to Justice and Gender Reforms, with the International Development Law Organization in Nairobi, managing the development of programmatic interventions towards implementation of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya. Her work has helped to establish the necessary foundational legal and policy frameworks with tremendous impact on judicial reforms. Prior to that, she worked with Equality Now’s Africa Office on justice for adolescent girls in the region, including institutional strengthening efforts with state actors, and strategic litigation in furtherance of the Maputo Protocol and international human rights.
PATRICIA ALYANNA ESQUIVIAS (TRIXIE) CONLU
Consultant, Atkins Acuity
Enabling public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects to close the infrastructure gap and spur economic activity in the Philippines and other developing countries.
Trixie works as an infrastructure advisor, assisting public and private sector clients in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa in developing public infrastructure projects, particularly through private-public partnerships. Trixie works in spaces where the public and private sector converge, helping align their interests in order to bring infrastructure projects to life. Her mission is to help close the infrastructure gap, especially in her own community in the Philippines, where she hopes to eventually return to public service and help deliver infrastructure projects more effectively.
Energy Modeler, ICF-Ghana, USAID Integrated Resource and Resilience Planning (IRRP) Project
Transforming Ghana’s power market by developing an Integrated Power Sector Master Plan and training emerging power sector leaders to lead ethically.
Collins is an Energy Modeler for ICF-Ghana, working on a USAID funded project to develop a long-term Integrated Power Sector Master Plan (IPSMP) for Ghana. His goal is to significantly contribute to the development of a fully functioning electricity market in Ghana to provide access to efficient and affordable electricity across the country. Collins also founded Transgenerational Leaders Hub (TLU), a leadership hub focused on ethical leadership education and development for emerging power sector leaders.
Founder, Keafon Health and Chief Medical Officer, HSPC-Cameroon
Improving access to healthcare through community-centric health insurance schemes and online healthcare delivery in Cameroon.
Bonaventure is Chief Medical Officer at Health Services Partner Cameroon, a nonprofit organization involved in the provision of healthcare services in Kumba-Cameroon. He works to improve access to healthcare through outreach programs in remote areas, establishing community-centric health insurance schemes, and increasing access to mobile health technology. A physician and social entrepreneur, Bonaventure founded Keafon Health, a group of Cameroonian medical doctors and allied healthcare workers seeking to improve patient satisfaction and engagement by providing online healthcare services through various online platforms, from simple messages and phone calls to video consultations and online prescriptions.
Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for the Peace and Reconciliation of Afghanistan (PRA), Ministry of Finance
Combating hostility and armed insurgency in Afghanistan by working with local communities to conduct intergroup dialogues and empowerment projects.
Rahmatullah is a Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Project, working with local communities to conduct intergroup dialogue and identify the underlying causes of hostility and armed insurgency in Afghanistan. Through his work, Rahmatullah has travelled to 138 districts around the country and has encouraged approximately 4000 armed fighters to return to normal lives. He also developed Backyard Chickens, a social venture focused on economic empowerment that plans to distribute 100,000 laying hens to families in Jaghutu District. He is the winner of the most prestigious award, Maqsudi Social Entrepreneurship Award of USD 10,000 at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) for his social venture project.
SRI ANDINI HANDAYANI
Former Associate for Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation, Center on Child Protection & Wellbeing (PUSKAPA)
Enabling data-driven policy formulation through research and policy advocacy in Indonesia.
Andini is an Associate for Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation at the Center on Child Protection and Wellbeing (PUSKAPA) prior to joining the Obama Foundation Scholars Program, supporting various research initiatives led by the Government of Indonesia. Working across Indonesia, Andini’s analytical and advocacy work ensures that policymakers—government and non-government partners—use generated data for policy formulation and develop policies that are inclusive of marginalized groups in the country.
Associated Researcher at Centro de Análisis Socioculturales, Universidad Centroamericana, Adjunct Instructor in the Department of Applied Economics, Universidad Centroamericana
Combating economic inequality in Nicaragua through academic research and collaboration with poor communities on infrastructure, education, and household finance projects.
Sebastian is an associated researcher at the Centro de Análisis Socioculturales (CASC) at Universidad Centroamericana de Nicaragua and an adjunct instructor in the university’s Department of Applied Economics. In Sebastian’s academic role, he focuses on empirical research around economic inquiries and inequalities in Nicaragua. He experienced these inequalities first hand through his work with TECHO-Nicaragua, collaborating with inhabitants of poor communities on the formulation of small-scale projects on infrastructure, education, and household finance.
JOHN HIU FAI MAK
HONG KONG, PRC/MYANMAR
Co-founder, MM Community
Promoting inclusive development by reinventing the planning process with crowdfunding technology, participatory budgeting and reduced-interest government bonds.
John is the co-founder of MM Community (MMC), a Myanmar-based social enterprise that allows the Government of Myanmar to crowdsource via reduced-interest government bonds for local infrastructure and services. Through this participatory model, citizens can influence planning decisions in their neighborhood. Aiming to bridge the gap between government and citizens, MMC promotes inclusive approaches in government planning and community development. John’s goal is to be a champion for inclusive policy making, fostering collaboration between governments and civil society.
Human Rights and Democracy Advocate
Promoting reconciliation, justice, democracy and human rights in countries of former Yugoslavia.
Mario is the Founder and Program Board President of Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Croatia, a youth-led non-governmental organization focused on reconciliation, justice, democracy and human rights. His work is driven by his personal experience in this post-war context; Mario left his hometown at the age of 4 and returned six years later. He is also the Secretary General of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement, a movement to answer the rise of racism, antisemitism, and populism in Europe. Mario is the initiator of the regional Political Youth Network which gathers young political leaders from post-Yugoslav nations and is a Board Member at the Humanitarian Law Center in Kosovo. He is currently focused on developing a democratization policy think-tank.
JUAN CARLOS MONTERREY GÓMEZ
Former Climate Change Analyst – Adaptation and Finance, Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Panama
Working to empower youth, indigenous and rural communities impacted by sea level rise.
Juan is a climate change specialist from Panama, working on international maritime emissions and sea level rise adaptation. He has a variety of experiences drafting, implementing, and monitoring climate policies and projects, and seeks to empower youth, indigenous and rural communities, who are often excluded from policy discussions. Juan was an active member of Panama’s delegation to the UN Climate Talks during the negotiations of the Paris Agreement.
Member of Parliament, National Assembly of Tanzania
Championing good governance and ethical leadership as a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly of Tanzania.
Joshua is a Member of Parliament from the Chadema party, representing Arumeru East Constituency in the National Assembly of Tanzania since 2012. Elected at 26 years old, he was the youngest MP during his first term. Joshua believes in democracy, good governance, and people-centered leadership and development.
Founder & CEO, African Community Fund for Education Group; Chairman, African Community Fund for Education Canada
Promoting girls education by funding educational and leadership development programs for the disadvantaged in marginalized communities and launching an international campaign on the importance of girls education.
Stanley is Founder and CEO of African Community Fund for Education Group, a nonprofit that provides funding for educational and leadership development opportunities to marginalized communities. He spearheaded the launch of an international campaign to create awareness and promote inclusive and sustainable education for girls. The campaign, launched in partnership with the Botswana Embassy in Zimbabwe, has reached more that 33,000 people over various platforms and has educated more than 1,000 parents and guardians on the importance of girls’ education.
Strengthening local economic governance in Vietnam.
Lan spent the past 10 years working to improve the quality of local economic governance and to empower the voice of the private sector in Vietnam, through the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI), a policy advocacy tool that measures the performance of provincial governments in 63 cities and provinces. She worked to make the PCI more reliable and trusted by improving the quality of data collection and by making its methodology and dataset accessible to more stakeholders. Through her work, approximately 55,000 government leaders have been informed on responsive and accountable governance and PCI is one of the most widely used policy tools in the country.
Founder and Executive Director, Mentoring Assistance for Youths and Entrepreneurs Initiative
Empowering young Nigerians to become civic leaders through a mobile library, community dialogues on girls education, and active citizenship training.
Edem is Founder and Executive Director of Mentoring Assistance for Youths and Entrepreneurs Initiative (MAYEIN). MAYEIN seeks to empower young Nigerians to become early leaders, innovative problem solvers, engaged civic actors and citizens through mobile library outreach, community dialogues focused on correcting misconceptions around girl’s education, and active citizenship trainings on participatory budgeting, political decision-making, and electoral access. In the last seven years, MAYEIN has engaged over 1000 stakeholders and gatekeepers in community dialogues on girls education and trained over 400 students in active civic participation.
NAZISH TARIQ RAHMANI
Research Officer – National Assembly of Pakistan
Creating a difference through research, better policies and effective implementation.
Nazish has been working in the Parliament of Pakistan for the last five years. She has served at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition at the National Assembly of Pakistan to assist the Leader of Opposition in effective oversight of government agencies. Nazish is involved in providing policy research on pressing developmental challenges, including SDGs, economic and gender disparity, security and environmental challenges and the rights of marginalized communities. She particularly assists women MPs in dispelling their role in the legislative process particularly in gender sensitive legislation.
Managing Director, Unitech Farming
Training women in rural and urban area on sustainable farming practices and connecting agricultural youth leaders for training, mentoring, and cooperation.
Pearl is a social innovator in the agricultural sector who trains and empowers women in rural and urban areas on sustainable farming practices. She recently launched the African Young Farmers Network which connects more than 1,000 agricultural youth leaders from across Botswana to promote business plan refinement and rural-urban cooperation around agricultural issues. The platform creates inclusive opportunities and an enabling environment for youth who wish to become involved in the agricultural sector.
Policy Advisor and Private Secretary, Her Majesty’s Government,
Countering Violent Extremism Advocate, Kofi Annan Foundation
Empowering a global network of activists to counter violent extremism worldwide with counter narratives, positive alternatives and stories of peace.
Fatima has worked across the national security portfolio, advising senior members of the United Kingdom Government. She has coupled this work with the Kofi Annan Foundation, where she serves as a Countering Violent Extremism Advocate. With the backing of the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Fatima helped launch the Extremely Together initiative, which aims to empower a global network of activists to fight violent extremism with positive stories of peace. Since its launch in 2016, Extremely Together has reached 2.5 million young people online, recruited 10,000 members and delivered numerous training sessions throughout Europe, the Middle East, Americas and Africa.
Project Manager, Practical Action
Promoting sustainable energy development in the MENA region to decrease energy-related geopolitical conflicts.
Dipak Bishwokarma is a development practitioner and researcher who works to support government initiatives that aim to reduce the risks of climate change on vulnerable communities, develop effective governance systems in the changing context of federalization in Nepal, and facilitate the creation of inclusive public policy especially on environmental issues, disaster risk reduction, and community resilience. He provides technical support to local communities as they take on local level management of forests and trains these community members on enterprise development and non-timber forest product management.
JACOB BUL BIOR BUL
Co-Founder and Media Coordinator, Anataban
Providing a platform for youth civic engagement, advocacy, and empowerment for the betterment of South Sudan.
Jacob Bul Bior Bul is a Co-founder and Media Coordinator for Anataban Arts Initiative, Anataban is an Arabic word for “I am tired” a youth-driven campaign that uses art as a platform for young leaders in South Sudan to speak out on national issues. He aims to create a stage for youth to raise their voices and be proactive in addressing the ongoing conflict in his county. Previously, Jacob worked with Free Voice South Sudan as an actor and outreach coordinator for a peace-building radio drama series called Sawa Shabab, ( ‘Youth Together’) He simultaneously managed the social media and web content for a human rights radio program called Echoes of Our Rights.
Health Systems Analyst, ThinkWell
Using multidisciplinary and collaborative approaches to achieve better health outcomes at local levels.
Yara Cumbi is committed to addressing gaps in the health care system by finding lasting public health solutions with beneficiaries in mind and using data for support. She has worked across an array of public health projects including
establishing a comprehensive approach to care for survivors of gender-based violence, evaluating Mozambique’s national tuberculosis program, HIV/AIDS primary healthcare, health research, human resources for health, supply chains for medical commodities, and more.
Deputy Chief of Staff to the Undersecretary of Cultural Development, Ministry of Culture
Expanding educational and cultural opportunities for disadvantaged communities throughout Mexico.
Mariana Deschamps is a policy professional with experience working in a variety of government positions to empower communities across Mexico. During her tenure with the Ministry of Education, she was part of the team implementing reforms designed to create career paths for more than 1.2 million teachers in Mexico based on merit, and helped with the development and implementation of a new curriculum that reached more than 25 million students across 200,000 schools. In her most recent role at the Ministry of Culture, she was responsible for designing and overseeing the implementation of new cultural policies aimed at expanding equal access to culture, promoting community involvement in cultural and artistic activities, as well as developing new cultural industries using technology and digital applications.
ROSARIO DIAZ GARAVITO
Executive Director, The Millennials Movement
Promoting people’s engagement in the local sustainable development process of their own communities through education, community action, and “glocal” citizen diplomacy.
Rosario Diaz Garavito is the Founder and Chief Executive Director of The Millennials Movement, a youth led, nonprofit organization that aims to engage citizens, especially youth, and social actors in the sustainable development process of their communities, which currently engages 10,000 people annually. As the UN NGO Major Group Operating Partner for Latin America and the UN Major Group of Children and Youth Focal Point for the Latin America/Caribbean Regional Caucus, Rosario facilitates the engagement of regional civil society organizations and youth on the global monitoring process of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Former Head of Government Policy, The Economic Development Authority for Minorities in the Ministry for Social Equality
Using leadership development and economic empowerment as tools to strengthen disadvantaged populations to achieve equal representation.
Wafa Ebenberi is a social activist and the former head of government policy in the Economic Development Authority for Minorities in the Ministry for Social Equality in Israel. Wafa’s work has affected the lives of millions of people throughout Israel: through her organizational counseling programs on minority integration and workforce training programs attended by hundreds of women from welfare backgrounds, her goal is to achieve a 42% employment rate of Arab women by 2020. In her prior role, as the first and youngest woman to run the Bedouin volunteer tent at AJEEC- the Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment, and Cooperation – Wafa managed a team of 70 program coordinators and over 1,300 volunteers to create shared spaces for Arab and Jewish-Israeli students to inhabit while preserving their respective identities and cultures.
SEGUN DAVID FATUDIMU
Founder and Director, Sozo Networks for Leadership Development
Creating and leading formidable networks of young Nigerian social change leaders by discovering, coaching, and connecting them to local and international opportunities.
Segun Fatudimu is the Director and Founder of the Sozo Networks, a youth-led non-profit organization that trains and empowers young Nigerians through experiential trainings, volunteering opportunities, and local and international connections and hands-on experiences. These programs have reached more than 750 young Nigerians who have gone on to win and implement local and international grants worth over $500,000. Through their local level work and leadership on diverse development projects, these program alumni are transforming Nigeria’s socio-economic landscape.
Advisor, Georgia Revenue Service, Ministry of Finance
Enhancing the efficiency of the Georgia Revenue Service by coordinating the implementation of high profile projects in cooperation with international and donor organizations, and researching international best practices.
Tamar Gabruashvili is an Advisor at the International Relations Department of the Georgia Revenue Service within the Ministry of Finance. She works closely with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other international organizations to involve Georgia in global efforts to enhance tax administration, to combat fiscal evasion, and to promote greater tax transparency worldwide. Through sharing international best practices, implementing technical assistance programs, and operationalizing recommendations from partner countries and organizations, Tamar’s work aims to dramatically improve taxpayer services and tax compliance in Georgia.
Program Associate, Higherlife Foundation
Fostering multi-sectoral collaboration for improved access to water and sanitation and the creation of healthy and productive communities.
Feri Gwata is an economist with a passion for the socio-economic development of disadvantaged groups, particularly women. Her most recent work has been in the water and sanitation sector where she provided leadership in the planning and implementation of projects focused on improving access to water, training communities in water quality management, and educating marginalized communities on the human right to water. Through her participation in important high-level sector platforms she has built relationships with key networks and continues to lobby policy-makers and municipal authorities to address the disproportionate impact of poor water and sanitation service delivery on women and young girls.
PEDRO HERNÁNDEZ SANTAMARÍA
Former Advisor, Director of Competitiveness, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia
Promoting a competitive and productive economy through valuable public-private partnerships that address public problems and meet public needs.
Pedro Hernández worked for the Presidential Office for Competitiveness and Public-Private Affairs where he advised on competitiveness, science, technology, and innovation issues. He led the coordination of the National System of Competitiveness to collaborate across policies at the national and regional level around improving competitiveness conditions, increasing productivity, strengthening the capacities of human capital and developing scientific knowledge, technology, and innovation. Pedro’s work also focused on the intersection of Colombia’s policies around innovation issues and international trade and foreign investment in this space.
CESAR JARA TRUJILLO
Advisor to the Vice Minister of Construction and Sanitation, Ministry of Housing, Construction, and Sanitation
Working to close the water and sanitation gap by empowering rural communities and local governments with technical assistance and technology.
In 2017, Cesar Jara created and implemented PRESET, a virtual platform that has improved the evaluation process of water and sanitation projects through digital technical assistance reaching 1,872 Peruvian municipalities and reducing evaluation time on projects from 24 to five months. Now, Cesar is focused on the implementation of the First Strategy, which aims to increase the percentage of rural households in Peru that drink chlorinated water from 2.6 percent in 2018 to 41 percent in 2021.
Senior Program Officer, The Asia Foundation
Contributing to Cambodia’s development by supporting the economic empowerment of women and youth and promoting evidence-based policy decisions.
Menghun Kaing is a senior program officer at The Asia Foundation in Cambodia. Her work focuses on economic empowerment, governance, and technology. Most recently Menghun served on the design and implementation team of a multi-year multi-million-dollar project that aims to strengthen the capacity of Cambodian research institutions to produce high quality independent research that can be used to support government policy decisions. Menghun began her career as a journalist at The Cambodia Daily newspaper where she reported on critical topics including the 2013 Cambodian elections, land-conflicts and forced eviction, and challenges faced by victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Enabling the design and adoption of disruptive data and tech innovations to amplify the impact of development organizations and grassroots workers.
Sowmya Karun works at the intersection of development and data and technology innovation. Most recently, Sowmya worked with SocialCops, a start-up, where she advised a spectrum of public and development stakeholders ranging from political representatives to government officials, to philanthropic leaders and field officers from around the world on implementing data and tech solutions in their fields. Her work involves understanding their programs to advise on how analytics and technology can solve on-the-ground issues and amplify their impact, by conceptualizing bespoke data-driven technological solutions. Prior to SocialCops, Sowmya was a legal and policy researcher on information and data policies and worked with the Election Commission of India to convene a diverse set of government, political, and civil society stakeholders to recommend reforms on political finance.
Research Associate, National Assembly of Pakistan
Informing better policy and political consensus on issues of urgent importance by leading research, advocacy, and workshops in the National Assembly of Pakistan.
Haneen is a Research Associate at the Parliament of Pakistan. She works with over eighty women Parliamentarians on issues of social justice, peace and security, and climate change, providing briefings to help inform new policy and legislation. Previously, she was the South Asia representative for Global Zero, the international movement to eliminate nuclear weapons. She worked with more than 4,000 young people across India and Pakistan to mobilize grassroots activism against nuclear weapons and developed a first-of-its-kind campaign strategy for South Asia on the nuclear weapons issue, and a volunteer recruitment, leadership and training program that supported hundreds of volunteers to bring the movement to their local communities. This work built the first and only region-wide grassroots voice against nuclear weapons in Pakistan, advocating for peace and a nuclear-weapons-free world.
Operation Director, Zhitong Guangzhou LGBT Center
Advocating to make public resources more friendly and inclusive to LGBT people in China.
Danyang Luo is Operation Director of Zhitong Guangzhou LGBT Center, which has 6 full-time staff members in Guangzhou and two full-time staff members in Xi’an and nearly 10 years of history of working with the local LGBT community. Danyang joined Zhitong Guangzhou LGBT Center eight years ago, where he has served as the sexual health outreach group leader and HIV-positive people support group leader. He now leads the team to manage Zhitong’s seven Gay-friendly clinics in Guangzhou. In addition to Danyang’s experiences in public health, he has also worked with a local government education department, participating in sexuality education programs. Zhitong was one of the first LGBT organizations to be funded by UN Women to do sexuality public education programming in China.
Policy Analyst, Royal Hashemite Court
Enabling policy change and reform through research and analysis, taking into consideration field trends and existing policies.
Shireen Naffa is a policy analyst at the Royal Hashemite Court (RHC), which serves as the link between His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, the state’s institutions, and citizens. RHC is the official entity that oversees the preparation and implementation of His Majesty the King’s activities locally and abroad, and is responsible for the implementation of and follow-up on various Royal initiatives. As a policy analyst, Shireen provides insights and analysis on policy-related issues, based on field trends and existing policies, to advance policy change and reform.
Manager, Digital Learning Research & Innovation Team, @iLabAfrica – Strathmore University
Widening access to education for youth in marginalized areas, promoting technology research and innovation through student engagement, and collaboration with government and industry leads to propose technology solutions to complex problems.
Regina Nkonge’s career has focused on technology, innovation, education, and community development. Currently, she is the head of the Digital Learning Research and Innovation Team at @iLabAfrica where her projects included training over 3,000 youths in Kenya on employability skills, starting the CS4Teachers program that has fostered professional development for 100 secondary school teachers in the area of computer science, and developing a project on Refugee Empowerment: Enhancing Affordable Access to Education in Refugee Camps, which sought to widen access of technology to tertiary education for refugees at Kakuma refugee camp. Regina has also provided leadership in the development of animated digital training modules on trade for governments and business organizations across East Africa. She’s also worked in the technology innovation space as it relates to public health, leading activities around capacity building to improve TB detection rates by reducing diagnostic errors made by laboratory technicians, with the intention of improving diagnostic capabilities of 56 laboratories in Kampala.
KARL VENDELL SATINITIGAN
Director, Office of Senator Bam Aquino
Pushing for evidence-based policymaking around entrepreneurship and youth development while utilizing design thinking to aid in policy implementation in the Philippines.
Karl works at the intersection of policy design and social innovation. Since 2013, he has led a service design team in the Office of Senator Bam Aquino that works to bridge policymaking and implementation, specifically in the fields of entrepreneurship and youth development. Prior to this, he was part of the founding team of the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, a social enterprise incubator in the Philippines.
Former Special Advisor to the Minister of Mines and Energy of Brazil
Promoting renewable energy and innovation to lead Brazil’s transition to a low-carbon economy that boosts affordable clean energy, entrepreneurship, quality employment, and economic growth for all.
Guilherme Syrkis is an entrepreneur and a policy advisor on renewable energy. In 2009, Guilherme co-founded a solar-energy startup that was one of the pioneers in the development of solar photovoltaic projects connected to the grid in Brazil. The company also provided consulting services to foreign energy companies. In 2013, Syrkis co-founded the Brazilian Solar Photovoltaic Energy Association and became its Vice-President; during his tenure he analyzed and negotiated agreements to consolidate the Brazilian energy industry. From 2016 to 2019, Guilherme served as Special Advisor to the Minister of Mines and Energy, promoting renewable energy, innovation, and tackling climate change. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Manaus Free Trade Zone to evaluate and recommend industrial investments in the Amazon.
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Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University participated in Columbia World Projects, a new initiative in which faculty and researchers from Columbia partner with governments, nonprofits, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations to create tangible solutions to real-world issues. The inaugural cohort at Columbia University participated in a rigorous, immersive program that brings together academic, skills-based, and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation. 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 in the city of New York.
Meet the Columbia University Scholars
CEO and Co-founder, SINGA France
Fostering collaboration between refugees and their host societies by focusing on refugees’ personal, professional, cultural, and entrepreneurial plans and goals.
Alice Barbe is the CEO and Co-founder of SINGA France, which has worked with over 3,000 refugees who participated in its programs— including 550 who have been hosted through SINGA’s housing platform, CALM, which connects locals with refugees they can host for 3 to 12 months. SINGA’s methodology has proved to be extremely efficient for integration. On average, refugees who participate in the program are able to find a job, social network, and speak French within 9 months, and locals change their perception of newcomers, no longer considering them as migrants, but seeing the potential for collaboration and friendship through these shared connections.
Program Manager, Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS)
Building the capacity of African youth to lead the continent’s social and economic progress.
Rumbidzai Chisenga is a Program Manager at the Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS), a pan-African think tank that provides platforms for Africans to rigorously engage on the continent’s development challenges and offer Afro-centric solutions. Rumbi is in charge of the MINDS Youth Program on Elections and Governance, which equips African youth with requisite knowledge and skills for meaningful participation in elections and governance. Under Rumbi’s leadership, the program has established a growing alumni network that has spread across 53 African countries. Rumbi also leads the MINDS Scholarship Program, a leadership development initiative that enables African students to gain exposure by studying in another African country, outside their country of origin.
CEO and Founder, Okimo Vision Ltd.
Democratizing access to visual health and inclusive education through the creation of tools that help diagnose and treat visual and development conditions at a fraction of the current market price.
Gabriela Galilea is the founder of Okimo, an alternative diagnostics software that uses sensors for the early detection of vision and developmental problems that affect learning in school-aged children. Gabriela’s work is rooted in her personal experiences as a visually impaired person in Paraguay. As a child, her parents had to take her abroad to receive treatment; there are only 250 ophthalmologists for a population of almost 7 million people in Paraguay and the majority of them are located in the capital. With Okimo, her goal is to provide preventative visual and developmental screenings to every child in the world, and treatment via telemedicine.
ANA MARIA GONZALEZ-FORERO
Chief Sustainability Officer, Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional (FEM)
Enabling inclusive development in Colombia through participatory planning and design processes that allow diverse stakeholders to find shared fulfillment and mutual recognition in indigenous communities.
For more than 25 years, Ana Maria Gonzalez-Forero has worked on organizing and advocating for the rights of local indigenous communities in Colombia. Through her work with FEM, Ana helps rural ethnic communities secure their land ownership, self governance, and resource allotment rights which are guaranteed in Colombia’s National Development Plan. In the last four years FEM has helped several communities obtain their ethnic rights, strengthened the Zenu people organization by helping create ATINAZ — an association of 120 indigenous Zenu families that live as urban migrants in Cartagena, and helped the Inga Indigenous Community received their ethnic recognition documents after a 30-year legal battle.
Founder and Executive Director, CHANGE
Mobilizing youth leaders to promote environmental preservation through communication, education, and community organizing toward a vision of a green and clean Vietnam protected by all people.
For the past 20 years, Hong Hoang has been working on raising public awareness and engaging communities in tackling Vietnam’s most urgent issues, including climate change, pollution, and illegal wildlife trade. She brought the youth-led climate change movement 350.org to Vietnam, which had more than 10,000 volunteers, and helped coordinate the movement in Singapore, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Together with CHANGE, the NGO she founded, Hong mobilizes, organizes, and builds capacity for local youth groups to speak up and take action to mitigate climate change and support affected communities.
Founder and CEO, Mobdiun – Creative Youth
Inspiring youth to become peaceful and creative change leaders in Tunisia and throughout Africa.
Omezzine founded her nonprofit, Mobdiun – Creative Youth, to inspire youth to become peaceful and creative change leaders in Tunisia and throughout Africa. Through a community based, youth development-centered approach, Omezzine and a group of sociologists applied a scientific methodology for asking questions, listening, and analyzing the data they collected from youth living in marginalized areas that are traditionally targeted for recruitment by extremist groups. Her research aims to understand youth vulnerabilities and barriers to inclusion as well as to explore their resilience towards violence, at the individual, family, and community levels.
Co-founder, Managing Director, Time Heroes Foundation, Co-founder, Chair of the Board, Fine Acts Foundation
Developing creative solutions and digital tools to inspire civic engagement.
Pavel Kounchev is the founder and director of Time Heroes, the largest volunteering platform in Bulgaria, which matches volunteers with causes while creating effective incentives for civic engagement. Currently, TimeHeroes.org has over 45,000 registered volunteers in Bulgaria. The organization has provided crucial support, through free online and offline services, for the implementation of over 1,600 initiatives by more than 670 non-profit organizations. Pavel also co-founded the Fine Acts Foundation, which bridges art and technology to instigate social change, by designing and applying creative methods to raise awareness, trigger action, and foster greater support for human rights campaigns.
Community Engagement Program Manager – Village Health Works
Improving community cohesion among people of all backgrounds by leveraging communal structures to improve health and economic outcomes.
Peter Ndayihereje is the Community Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator for Village Health Works in Kigutu, Burundi. For the past 10 years he has worked with Village Health Works in rural Burundi serving an area of roughly 300,000 people. Through his work to improve community cohesion among people of all backgrounds by leveraging communal structures and using an approach that creates resilience among vulnerable populations, he has mobilized hundreds of community members, providing both health education and economic development skills.
NDANSI ELVIS NUKAM
Founder and President, Unite for Health Foundation
Improving access to basic health care in underserved communities in Cameroon.
Ndansi Elvis Nukam is the Founder and President of Unite for Health Foundation, a NGO that assists Cameroonians by improving access to health care through its project that fosters micro-clinics. He has worked in community health for over eight years, and has a strong interest in providing basic health care to underserved communities in Cameroon, with a specific focus on reducing maternal mortality in the country. Ndansi is also a former national youth president of his party.
Lead Partner, BudgIT
Working to simplify budgets and public finance documents to strengthen the capacity of citizens to hold governments accountable.
Oluseun Onigbinde is a Lead Partner at BudgIT, a civic organization that works to simplify budgets and public finance documents, strengthening the capacity of citizens to hold governments accountable. He believes that in a democracy, every responsible citizen has the right to know how communal wealth is being expended in the delivery of public infrastructure and services. BudgIT, a data-driven entity, uses creative technology to drive institutional efficiency and provides support to key stakeholders – citizens, civil society, and public institutions.
Co-founder, Freedom Cups
Changing mindsets and making periods a problem of the past by providing women in underprivileged communities with menstrual cups through a “buy one, give one” model.
Vanessa Paranjothy is one of three sisters that helped found Freedom Cups, a feminine hygiene company operating a “buy one, give one” model that provides women in underprivileged communities with menstrual cups. Each cup lasts up to 15 years and replaces about 5,000 disposable sanitary products, making it a more economical and eco-friendly option. Vanessa has conducted over 16 projects in 7 countries reaching more than 3,000 underprivileged women by providing them with access to their products. The Freedom Cups team has facilitated educational workshops on women’s bodies and waste produced by traditional feminine care products, to more than 5,000 women in South East Asia.
Founder and CEO, SheSays, India
Advancing sustainable development through a gender-sensitive and youth-centric approach.
Trisha Shetty is a lawyer and full-time social activist in Mumbai. In 2015, Trisha founded SheSays, a youth led non-profit that works towards achieving gender equality through youth and civil-society engagement. Through her body of work, Trisha has worked to address the pandemic public problem of gender based violence and discrimination, recognition and fulfillment of women’s rights and need for women and youth to have equal representation in leadership positions so they can advocate for themselves.
Researcher, Mwatana for Human Rights
Defending human rights through the documentation of violations against civilians and conducting advocacy efforts locally and internationally to shed light on the conflict in Yemen.
Ali Almurtada works as a central researcher at Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemen-based organization working on documenting human rights violations committed by all parties in Yemen. He produces statements, reports, and short films to promote human rights ideals and defend civilians with the goal of encouraging discourse around rule of law and transitional justice.
EDMOND BYARUHANGA ATTO
Senior Software Engineer, Andela, Co-Founder, Arvana
Encouraging the growth of technology and innovation in Africa by providing pathways for youth to learn software development skills.
Edmond Atto is a Senior Software Engineer at Andela where he produces the The Andela Way, which provides access to free content for people looking to get started with software development and currently receives more than 6,000 unique daily visitors a month. Edmond is also the Co-founder of Arvana, a mobile application providing a digitized physical addressing system for Uganda as a means to increase access to critical infrastructure and services in the country.
Former Minister of Environment and Member of Parliament
Working across political and geographic divides to foster collaboration around concrete actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – for a more equal, just, and green future for all.
Kirsten Brosbøl is a former Minister of Environment and Member of Parliament of Denmark. She served in government for more than 14 years, during which she founded and chaired the Danish All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Sustainable Development Goals. Her approach focused on involving civil society, the business community, academia, and municipalities in Denmark’s implementation efforts around Sustainable Development Goal. She is currently focused on continuing to engage international bodies to link local and national efforts around these goals with regional and global implementation initiatives.
Director of the Occupied Palestinian Territories Department, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel
Advocating for health care access for Palestinian patients who need to leave Gaza and the West Bank for treatment and educating groups around the barriers in the current permit system.
Mor Efrat is the Director of the Occupied Palestinian Territories Department at Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, an NGO promoting the right to health in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Through individual advocacy support for patients and broader policy work around the healthcare profession, Mor works to lift the obstacles that prevent access to health care for patients living in the West Bank and Gaza. In one of the major challenges for Palestinian patients – the freedom of movement – the department Mor leads is able to overturn the denial of permits in more than half of cases.
Director for Community Organizations, National Youth Institute, Ministry of Health and Social Development
Developing youth-centered public policy focused on social inclusion, health and rights, culture and employability so that young people are empowered to define their own goals and reach their full potential.
Natalia Herbst served as Director for Community Organizations at the National Youth Institute of Argentina where she worked on youth-centered public policy-making focusing on social inclusion, health and rights, culture and employability. One program she led, #AcáEstamos, has reached more than 350,000 youth through partnerships with 1,800 grassroots organizations, strengthening supportive communities in the country’s most vulnerable areas. Over 1.5 million youth use Hablemos de Todo, a digital platform designed to engage in conversations around and provide information on topics including sexual and reproductive health and rights, substance abuse, and suicide prevention. Her work has focused on shifting paradigms around government engagement with youth through innovations in language, topics, and perspectives.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Director of Operations, Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation
Fostering collaboration between stakeholders and government on the implementation of policies related to sorcery accusation-related violence.
Ruth Julie Kissam is a community organizer and a human rights activist focusing specifically on areas of Sorcery Accusation Related Violence (SRV) in Papua New Guinea. Currently she is the Director of Operations for the PNG Tribal Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works in areas of maternal health, education, women, and gender issues. In this role, she led the Senisim Pasin Film Campaign, a multi-year national campaign that has been specifically designed to change thinking and cultural attitudes about how women are valued in Papua New Guinea. Ruth’s prior work focused on addressing law and order issues around illegal settlements, including a lack of education and gender based violence in illegal settlements in Papua New Guinea.
Human Rights Researcher
Working with civil society organizations and families of missing persons to enhance their capacity to address the issue of the missing and promote an accountability process in Syria.
Samira Koujok is a human rights researcher from Lebanon whose work centers around the evolution of human rights discourse post-2011, with a focus on missing persons from the Syrian conflict. She works closely with Syrian family associations and civil society organizations to address the issue of missing persons by identifying key stakeholders and building capacities of families and civil society organizations to safeguard the rights of families of the missing and empower them to advocate for their rights. Ultimately, the mission of her work is the adoption of a rule of law approach in investigating disappearances and promoting justice in Syria.
PETER KWAME MWAKIO
Co-founder and Programs Director, Hatua Network Organization
Promoting equal opportunity in Kenya by providing promising, low-income students with scholarships, mentoring, and career guidance that prepares them for careers and to serve as a link between their community and professional networks.
Peter Kwame Mwakio is a Co-Founder and Programs Director at Hatua Network Organization. Through the Hatua Network, Kwame is providing scholarships, mentoring, and career guidance to 500 students from low income families. He has graduated 70 students who have returned to their communities and are contributing to the economic development of their communities and country. Over the next five years, Kwame aims to expand Hatua Network to cover all four locations of Mombasa, serving a population of 1.2 million residents and plans to provide scholarships to 1,600 students annually and graduate 200 students from university every year.
WAI WAI NU
Founder and Executive Director, Women Peace Network, Founder, Yangon Youth Leadership Center
Empowering young people and women from marginalized communities through programming that builds peace and mutual understanding among diverse groups in Myanmar.
Wai Wai Nu emerged from seven years as a political prisoner to become a human rights advocate and the founder of two organizations. Through the Women Peace Network, Wai Wai works to build peace and mutual understanding between Myanmar’s ethnic communities and to empower and advocate for the rights of marginalized women throughout Myanmar, and particularly in Rakhine State. Her work also aims to reduce discrimination and hatred among Buddhist and Muslim communities and to improve the human rights of the Rohingya people. To engage youth in the peacebuilidng process, Wai Wai founded the Yangon Youth Center—a space where young people from diverse backgrounds can come together to learn, share, and explore their ideas and promote leadership in social, political, and peace-building policy making.
Co-Founder and Project Director, HACEY Health Initiative
Leveraging an innovative capacity building, advocacy, research and education (iCARE) approach to implement solutions and drive accountability to create a healthy and productive society for women and girls.
Isaiah Owolabi is the Project Director and Co-founder of HACEY Health Initiative. HACEY Health leverages a multisectoral, multi-pronged, and inter-generational approach to significantly improve the life outcomes of women and girls. The “Hands up for HER (Health, Empowerment and Right)” initiative of HACEY has focal points in 13 states in Nigeria that carry out activities and have distributed over 25,314 birthing kits, provided HIV/AIDS counselling, testing and referral service for at least 10,000 women and provided over 20,000 long lasting insecticide treated nets. The “Back on Track” program has helped place more than 150 girls in vocational training and paired over 200 girls with mentors. The “Connecting Voices Against Gender Based Violence” program of the initiative has reached more than 100,000 young girls using web and mobile technology. Through their Code4impact program, they have provided media and digital skills training to over 1,000 women and girls.
On a mission to engage millions of citizens to solve the global goals through community organizing and technology solutions.
In 2010, Christian took a sabbatical to travel the world and find out how social entrepreneurs use technology to solve social and environmental issues. As he travelled, Christian organized a small community of citizens committed to support social entrepreneurs through skilled volunteerism and rapid innovation workshops. This organic community was the beginning of Makesense. Makesense is now a community of 100,000 citizens who support 3,000 local initiatives tackling the Global Goals in 100 cities and 45 countries. Makesense and its 80 employees work to scale those local initiatives hosted on the platform by partnering with forward looking companies and governments across the world.