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The Obama Foundation Welcomes 2021-2022 Class of Scholars at Columbia University and University of Chicago

CHICAGO — The Obama Foundation is proud to announce its fourth cohort of Obama Scholars, two groups of 12 emerging leaders from around the world who will study at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, respectively, for the 2021-2022 academic year. The Scholars will participate in a unique set of activities led by each academic institution and will jointly participate in Foundation-led leadership development programming that aims to provide training, networking activities, and individualized support as they work to expand their efforts after graduation. The Foundation’s programming will kick off virtually on Wednesday, September 8.

“It is truly remarkable to see the steadfast commitment of these rising leaders working to meet the economic, educational, and social needs of their communities across the globe,” said Obama Foundation President Valerie Jarrett. “These individuals have displayed profound courage, dedication, and the spirit needed to create lasting change in the world, especially during challenging times. I’m thrilled to welcome this cohort of Scholars.”

The newly designed program at the University of Chicago will bring together Scholars from across campus who are current students in their final year of study in a master’s program at either the Booth School of Business, the Harris School of Public Policy, or the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. As a part of the co-curricular programming, these Scholars will experience and examine how engaging with partners on the South Side of Chicago can lead to policies that help solve pervasive problems in communities across the globe.

“By fostering deep engagement with communities on Chicago’s South Side and beyond, the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program is a powerful complement to the intellectual skills that students develop in these graduate programs,” said University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos. “Our students are eager to help address some of the world’s greatest challenges, and this program provides a vital pathway for them to realize that aspiration.”

At Columbia University, the Obama Scholars will complete a nine-month residency with Columbia World Projects, an initiative that mobilizes the university’s faculty and researchers to work with governments, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, and communities to create tangible solutions to real-world issues. This cohort will also participate in seminars, personal and professional development workshops, audited coursework, and other programming designed in consultation with the Foundation.

“I’m very proud of the work being done by the Obama Foundation Scholars program and Columbia World Projects to train future generations to lead on the issues that matter,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. “We’re very grateful for the contributions of the Scholars to our University community over the last three years and look forward with great enthusiasm to welcoming this new cohort. The moment we’re in and the challenges we face underscore the need for talented leaders who understand the world’s problems and are committed to addressing them.”

The Obama Scholars program is designed to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective and impactful across their global communities. Members of this year’s cohort are actively working to address many challenges and issue areas, including:

  • Building inclusive learning opportunities for all children in Malawi by improving educational access and equity for children with special-needs and intellectual disabilities.
  • Building coalitions to transform legal precedent on gender and economic inequalities in Slovenia.
  • Supporting gun violence prevention across the South Side of Chicago through community outreach, using music and art to engage young people.
  • Closing the wealth gap by providing an alternative pathway to homeownership in the Midwest.

To learn more about the program, please visit obama.org/scholars. A list of the 2021-2022 cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars can be found below.

Columbia University Obama Foundation Scholars

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.

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.

Nika Kovač – Slovenia
Founding Director, 8th of March Research Institute
Building coalitions to transform legal precedent on gender and economic inequalities in Slovenia.

Jean-Noé Landry – Canada
Social entrepreneur and open data advocate;
Former Executive Director, Open North
Guiding public, private, and community stakeholders towards the responsible and collaborative use of data and technology to solve complex social and environmental problems.

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.

Lineo Matlakala – Lesotho
Founder and Director, Barali Foundation
Using arts, advocacy, and education to promote women’s reproductive health and financial independence in 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars

Aleena Agrawal – Chicago, Illinois
Director of Talent Solutions, P33 Chicago
Driving innovative, diverse, and inclusive growth across Chicago’s tech ecosystem.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Isabel Rodriguez Garcia – Mexico
Co-Founder & CEO, Axo
Fostering connections between farmers and direct consumers to create a healthier and more sustainable food system.

Tom Voutsos – Toledo, Ohio
Co-Founder and CEO, LadderUp Housing
Closing the wealth gap by providing an alternative pathway to homeownership in the Midwest.

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.

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.

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.

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Contact: Charliese Agnew, Obama Foundation, [email protected]

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