In service of the Foundation's efforts to support the next generation of global leaders, the Obama Foundation Scholars Program partners with UChicago and Columbia to combine academic learnings with one-of-a-kind experiences led by the Obama Foundation. The program aims to empower emerging leaders with a proven commitment to service with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective and impactful upon their return home.
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. 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. 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.
One Young World worked alongside the Foundation to ensure young leaders in all parts of the world had the opportunity to apply and targeted members of the Ambassador community that would benefit from the opportunity.
One Young World is pleased to announce that 4 OYW Ambassadors were selected as Obama Foundation Scholars this year at Columbia University: Millicent Barty, Cecilia Chapiro, Vincent Loka and Melusi Simelane.
Millicent Barty, Solomon Islands
Founder and Lead Designer, Millicent Designs
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.
Cecilia Chapiro, Argentina & Spain
Investments Lead, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Founder, Yunus & Youth
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 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.
Vincent Loka, Indonesia & Singapore
Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Wateroam
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.
In 2016, Vincent was chosen as one of the United Nations’ 17 Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Melusi Simelane, Eswatini
Founding Director, Eswatini Sexual & Gender Minorities
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.
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, non-governmental 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.