Obama Foundation Scholars Begin Inaugural Year at Columbia University

Bashar Makhay
December 14, 2018

The Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University is a new program from the Obama Foundation, the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and Columbia. The program brings together rising leaders from around the world who have demonstrated a commitment to finding solutions to challenges in their communities, countries, and regions. Over the course of an academic year, the Obama Foundation Scholars will have the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and skills and to build new capacities and networks that will accelerate their impact in their home countries.

The inaugural cohort is comprised of twelve accomplished leaders who are  articipating in an immersive program that brings together academic, skills-based, and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation. The program takes advantage of the unique opportunities for engagement that come with being at one of the world’s most important centers of research and with being in the City of New York. The current group is extraordinarily diverse—following is a sample of their work:

Rumbidzai Chisenga is a program manager at the Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS), a pan-African think tank that seeks to address shortand long-term development challenges in Africa. At MINDS, she manages the Youth Program in Elections and Governance, which provides African youth with relevant knowledge and skills required for meaningful participation in elections and governance. Under Rumbidzai’s leadership, the program has a growing network of about 430 alumni based in 53 countries, including alumni who have run for parliament.

Pavel Kounchev is the founder and director of Time Heroes, the largest volunteering platform in Bulgaria, matching people with organizations who need support. The technology platform currently has over 43,000 registered volunteers. Pavel also cofounded the Fine Acts Foundation, which bridges human rights and art to foster social change by curating, commissioning, and promoting contemporary art with purpose. He trains the NGO sector to work effectively with volunteers, engages in storytelling and campaigning to promote the concept of volunteering, and fosters the inclusion of underrepresented and marginalized groups in volunteering initiatives.

Oluseun Onigbinde is cofounder and lead partner at BudgIT, an organization focused on data transparency and increasing access to public finance information to strengthen the capacity of citizens to hold governments accountable. He believes that in a democracy, every responsible citizen has the right to know how resources are being expended to develop and deliver public infrastructure and services.

For more than 25 years, Ana Maria Gonzalez-Forero has worked in Colombia organizing and advocating for the rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. Through her work with FEM, Ana helps rural ethnic communities secure the land ownership, self-governance, and resources guaranteed in Colombia’s National Development Plan.

Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia are part of Columbia World Projects, a new initiative that aims to systematically bring university research out into the world in the form of projects that will have a significant and lasting positive impact on people’s lives and will help guide the way to solutions to intractable problems, while additionally enriching research and scholarship. Learn more about the program at https://president.columbia.edu/obama-scholars-program.

This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of The Columbia Newsletter, which is available for download.