Meet Our Team
We are executives, human rights activists, analysts, social workers, doctors, academics, scholars, international development professionals, citizens of the world and, above all: humanitarians.
Our organization is privileged to draw upon the collective brain trust of some of Chicago's finest.
Our organization is privileged to draw upon the collective brain trust of some of Chicago's finest.
Board of Directors
Strategic Advisory Council
Interns & Fellows
Young Professionals Board
Jamia Jowers is the President of the Board of Directors at the Chicago Refugee Coalition. She previously served as the Director of International Policy and Development and the Director of the Obama Foundation Scholars program at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. With over 10 years of experience in international affairs, she designs strategies and programing for rising global leaders to continue their service, build on their expertise, innovate, and elevate creating a path toward finding the solutions to the most pressing challenges in their communities.
She previously served as the Associate Director of Student Recruitment & Global Outreach where she contributed to engagement efforts, strategic development, and recruiting and outreach across public policy programs with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Jamia also worked for the Office of Academic Leadership, Advancement, and Diversity under the Provost where she fostered a diverse and inclusive campus community through initiatives aimed at underrepresented minorities. Prior to that post, Jamia was a staffer with the National Security Council (NSC -African Affairs) at the White House and spent two years in the Multilateral Affairs office advocating for human rights and U.N. reform. In her position with the African Affairs Directorate, Jamia was instrumental in the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit which focused on trade, investment, and security on the continent. While in the Multilateral Affairs office, she contributed to the Atrocity Prevention Board, the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, and the Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQ Persons. Before joining the NSC, Jamia also served in the White House as the director of student correspondence. She received her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois and her M.A. in International Relations from Salve Regina University.
Ésperance Gikundiro brings both professional and personal passion for helping refugees thrive. She has worked extensively with different refugee groups and understands their challenges not only through her work, but through her experiences as an alumni and former Board Member with RefuSHE.
Since her U.S. arrival with her daughter in 2014 as a refugee assisted by catholic social services, Ésperance has been a tireless advocate for refugees. She dedicates the majority of her personal and professional time to assist refugees and the displaced.
Ésperance recognizes the enormous, and all too often overlooked, potential of refugees and supports them to shape a brighter future for their families and their communities. She comes with expertise in program creation, fundraising strategies, and resource management. She volunteers with Welcome Dayton, Bunco for Charity, and Catholic Social Services which recently conferred two awards upon her for activism on behalf of refugee families from the city of Dayton.
Esperance works as a Residential Advisor for at-risk students and currently attends Clark College. Esperance believes in improving the community and making refugees feel at home away from home.
Sahro Mukhtar Moalim
Sahro Mukhtar Moalim is an activist, wife and mother of four residing in Chicago, Illinois. Sahro fled violence in her native Somalia and arrived in the US in 2014, where she forged a successful career in the hospitality industry as a gourmet pasta maker and working in the back of house.
She serves as a cultural advisor guiding young refugees on their new life in America, drawing from her expertise balancing the rewards of career and motherhood. Sahro’s work has been featured on ABC7 Primetime News, NPR’s Worldview Chicago and in NewCity magazine.
Nhu is currently a project manager at Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit parent organization of Wikipedia, whose goal is to advance the free knowledge movement. Prior to joining Wikimedia Foundation, she was the senior project manager at World Vision USA, working towards global poverty alleviation through children-centric community development programs worldwide.
She is passionate about serving others, especially vulnerable groups like refugees and immigrants, as an immigrant herself and granddaughter to refugees of the Vietnam War.
Nhu graduated from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration. She went on to complete her graduate education at Sciences Po in Paris, France where she earned a Master’s in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action. Additionally, she was a Fulbright Scholar in South Korea.
Born and raised in the Windy City, Katie recently returned to Chicago after serving for three and a half years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the West African Nation of Togo. As an extension agent for the Community Health and Malaria Prevention program, she developed a malaria prevention curriculum and organized events to promote women’s and girls’ empowerment. Afterwards, Katie chose to extend her service to work with Catholic Relief Services in Lomé, Togo where she provided program quality support for a variety of projects within the Togo country office and acted as the lead proposal developer for a six- month, youth social cohesion and peace building project which was awarded by the U.S. Embassy in Togo’s Sector of Public Affairs.
In 2014 Katie graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Madison with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, Life Sciences Communication and a certificate in Public Health. She is currently working towards her Masters Degree at Tufts University, Fletcher School of Public Service.
Eda Akyar, M.D., MPH
Dr. Eda Akyar is a resident physician at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. She completed medical school at Loyola University Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine and graduated in 2018. She is in the Global Health Honors and Research Honors Programs. Her research focuses on infectious disease transmission and community health, with projects including Hepatitis C infection in Ghana and the use of dental varnishes among pediatric populations in Chicago. Eda has a strong interest in the intersection of medicine and social justice.
Eda graduated from the Science and Humanities Scholars Program at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and a minor in Chemistry.
After her undergraduate years, Eda completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Indonesia where she taught English to 10th and 11th grade students in Tana Toraja. Following her Fulbright, Eda earned a Master of Public Health from Yale University with a focus on the Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases.
Signe Hanson is the Director of Product Management at Home Chef, a Chicago based meal solutions service acquired by Kroger in 2018. She found her way to Chicago and Home Chef in 2017, after a brief stint planning events for the International Peace Institute in New York City.
Signe studied International Affairs and Portuguese at the University of Georgia. In Georgia, she founded a non-profit that focuses on access to education for at-risk youth in Athens-Clarke County. A participant in the U.S. Department of Defense's Portuguese Flagship Program, Signe spent two years in Brazil learning the language, interning, and working on community development projects.
Hinsley is an accomplished strategy, analysis & transformation leader, with over 15 years’ experience in senior management positions leading cross-enterprise initiatives within the banking and financial services industry. He currently leads Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) analysis, modernization, and transformation for Citibank, N.A.: one of the world’s largest financial services firms serving more than 100 million customers in 98 countries.
Previously, Hinsley was Head of Analysis & Reporting for Citi Retail Services, responsible for creating the analytics data strategy, and for leveraging the full array of Citi’s capabilities to deliver cutting edge analytics solutions that speed access to insights for internal and external stakeholders across all levels of leadership. Citi Retail Services delivers consumer and commercial credit card products, both private label and co-brand, to retailers and their clients across North America. Backed by the global power of Citi, the business serves nearly 90 million accounts for several iconic brands, including Best Buy, ExxonMobil, Macy's, Sears, Shell, and The Home Depot.
Prior to joining Citi in 2013, Hinsley held senior leadership positions with Huntington Bank, where he helped develop and expand innovative banking products to low- and moderate-income customers. Before working in financial services, Hinsley was an active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force, holding several domestic and international leadership positions across the Middle East & Africa. Hinsley holds an MBA and a Masters in Statistics from the University of Illinois. Hinsley was an Emerging leader with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and manages a portfolio of community engagements for Citibank, N.A.
Purvi Patel, Esq., MPH
Purvi has lived and worked in Latin America since 2013, working on projects for NGOs and for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on labor rights, forced migration, and refugee protection in Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Prior to 2013, Purvi practiced as a health & disability lawyer in Chicago. She has a developed a deep interest in the using data analytics to drive more targeted, inclusive, and intersectional responses to legal protection and humanitarian interventions for families caught up in mass population displacement. Purvi believes very strongly that humanitarian response must move past old colonial models to better incorporate diverse perspectives and the voices of displaced families to help them reestablish their lives with dignity.
Purvi hold a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law, and a master’s in public health from Tufts University School of Medicine. She also has earned certificates in Forced Migration from the Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and in Data Analytics & Visualization from the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico.
Brendan Sodikoff is the Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Hogsalt, a Chicago-based restaurant group. The rapidly growing company spans 14 concepts and 15 locations, each with a distinct culinary voice, style and identity. Hogsalt’s impact over the past half-decade has elevated Sodikoff to the ranks of Chicago Magazine’s “100 Most Powerful People in Chicago,” as well as Crain’s “40 Under 40.”
Beginning at the age of fifteen, Sodikoff developed his craft in the kitchen, moving from modest beginnings in his California hometown to studying under Chef Martin Woesle at Mille Fleurs to cooking in some of the most celebrated restaurants on two continents. After graduating from a culinary program at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris, he worked with industry luminaries at Lucas Carton, Alain Ducasse and Eugenie-les-Bains in France, and The French Laundry, Per Se, Chez Panisse and Alain Ducasse New York— all Michelin-starred establishments. Following his international experiences in fine dining, Sodikoff worked for Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You as a Chef of New Concept Development. After extensive training with world-renowned chefs and restaurateurs, Sodikoff was ready to launch his first restaurant.
Today, Hogsalt Hospitality includes the following nationally acclaimed establishments: 4 Charles Prime Rib, Au Cheval Diner®, Bavette’s®, Doughnut Vault®, Gilt Bar, Green Street Smoked Meats, High Five Ramen®, Sawada Coffee, Small Cheval, and Trivoli Tavern. For more information on Hogsalt Hospitality, visit www.hogsalt.com.
Alisa believes when you empower a girl; you empower an entire community and generations beyond. She is a social entrepreneur and executive strategist passionate about creating a safer, more just world for girls and young women. Alisa’s twenty year career has focused within the human rights sector as an advocate for women and girls, namely refugees and asylum seekers, especially those displaced throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
From 2012-2018 she led RefuSHE, an award-winning international NGO. Alisa's leadership was honored as an International Woman Leader by Chicago Woman magazine and named a 2017 Emerging Leader by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
She has appeared on BBC Worldwide, WBEZ Worldview (NPR) radio, MSN, Refinery29, The Chicago Tribune, ABC7 primetime news and NewsDeeply and frequently speaks on issues of forced migration and women’s rights.
Alisa holds certifications in Forced Migration from Northwestern and Oxford Universities, a BA in Humanities and an MA in Comparative Religions. Alisa currently serves on Chicago Council on Global Affairs Women and Global Development Advisory Committee.
Connor Mautner is the Founder of the Chicago Refugee Coalition (CRC). A Floridian, Mautner graduated cum laude from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida with a B.A. in International Affairs.
During his time at Rollins, Mautner completed a fellowship with the Arab American Community Centers of Central Florida where he orchestrated mutual aid initiatives with a primary emphasis on food security, domestic violence prevention, and financial literacy.
Mautner served as a staffer with the United States Senate for three years while congruently earning his Master's Degree in Public Policy and Public Administration from Northwestern University. As a graduate student, Mautner's primary research emphasis focused on the political economies of failed/fragile states with an emphasis on the Islamic World.
Mautner founded CRC in June 2018. He is currently working towards his Ph.D. in Political Science at Loyola University Chicago where his research is focused on political rhetoric, political violence, civil wars, decolonization, and insurgencies.
When the civil war in Somalia began, Abdi Nor Iftin was five; he and his brother became the sole providers for the family while they also attended a madrassa. Amidst the daily shelling and the famine, Abdi had one escape: American movies and music. At neighborhood showings of Rambo, Commando, and The Terminator, Abdi learned of America, and taught himself English, and began to dream of a life in the United States.
In his memoir Call Me American, Iftin recounts his harrowing, extraordinary, and uplifting story. His love of western culture and music earned him the name “Abdi American.” This became a liability when Islamic extremism took hold of Somalia. Evading conscription by al-Shabaab while secretly filing stories for NPR under penalty of death, he stayed in Somalia until he had no choice but to flee. He smuggled himself into Kenya, where a different but grinding life of hopelessness awaited. He spent days hiding silently in an apartment from raids by Kenyan police, once passing time reading memoirs and watching more movies. And then, a stroke of incredible luck: he won the Diversity Visa Lottery.
Now a proud and legal resident of Maine, Abdi is advocating for the refugee rights he is also a community navigator. He’s on the advising council for Refugee International with some of America’s most distinguished diplomats and prominent international human rights leaders. Abdi was also a TEDx Amoskeag 2019 speaker.
On Janauary 17th 2020, Abdi’s long-life dream came true after he was sworn in as a naturalized American citizen in Portland, Maine. For the first ever, Abdi is voting in the US elections and exercising his American rights, one which many Americans take for granted. But for Abdi it is liberating to have a voice in America.
You can learn more about Abdi and his work by visiting his website.
David Heath is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bombas. Prior to the launch in 2013, David dedicated two years to rigorous product testing and refinement to create the best performing and most comfortable sock available, while staying true to their mission of helping those in need.
David holds a BA from Babson College with majors in Marketing, Management, and Entrepreneurship. Previously, he led business development as one of the founding employees at UrbanDaddy followed by joining the new media acquisitions and strategy team at Yucaipa Companies. As a true serial entrepreneur, David has founded three companies, with one successful exit, and has invested and consulted on a range of start-up businesses from concept, through launch and continued growth.
David has been featured on ABC’s Shark Tank, NBC TODAY Show, CBS This Morning, ABC Good Morning America, Bloomberg TV and in The New York Times, and was named EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017.
Dr. Sarah Deardorff miller
Dr. Sarah Deardorff Miller works on refugee and migration issues as an academic and policy advocate. She is currently a Senior Fellow with Refugees International, where she covers the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa, internal displacement and global governance of the refugee regime. She has consulted for UNHCR, the ILO, the World Bank, the IRC, and Mercy Corps, and has worked on refugee issues with think tanks and various NGOs in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
She is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and has helped with displacement-related projects at USAID and the U.S. Department of State as a Franklin Fellow. A native to the Chicago area, she has also worked on refugee resettlement with World Relief DuPage.
She is currently adjunct faculty with Georgetown University, and convenes a refugee protection course for the University of London. She has published a range of books, articles, and reports on forced migration, and received her doctorate in International Relations from Oxford University in 2014. She also holds an M.Sc. in Forced Migration from Oxford University, an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and a BA in History, Spanish, and International Service from Valparaiso University.
Our mission of providing support to refugees, empowering communities, and supporting developing economies is something that we can not do alone. We believe that it takes a coalition style effort to achieve these aims and we are sincerely grateful to our community partners and donors who make this vision a reality. We can't do this alone. Thank you for your support of our work!
For more information about how to support the Chicago Refugee Coalition, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about how to support the Chicago Refugee Coalition, please contact us at: email@example.com.
Amira Guy is a Northwestern Law student ('24) from Laurel Springs, NJ. She is currently pursuing a J.D./LLM in International Human Rights Law. She volunteers with the Northwestern Law International Refugee Assistance Project and a Moot Court Society (Constitutional Law Team) member.
Amira received her undergraduate degree from Villanova University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Classical Studies (summa cum laude). Amira has cultivated her passion for service and the protection of human rights through her work with the World WE Youth Coalition and the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE Institute). At the CSE Institute, Amira had the privilege of writing high-quality and nonpartisan material for the institute’s blog. She also had the opportunity to work alongside lawyers as they sought legislative and policy reform and promoted victim-centered, trauma-informed care.
Amira is excited to join the Chicago Refugee Coalition as her academic and legal career is devoted to legal reform and restoring and protecting human dignity.
Jade Smith is a current first year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts before graduating from Dartmouth College in 2019 with degrees in neuroscience and philosophy. With a passion for global health and medical ethics, Jade then moved to the Netherlands on a research fellowship to study barriers to medical care for Turkish and Moroccan refugees with dementia. While there, she taught English to two refugees who had received asylum in the Netherlands, thereby learning about the asylum-seeking process and the need for continued advocacy for refugee populations.
She continues working for health equity as treasurer of the Health Equity Group at Feinberg School of Medicine and looks forward to addressing other needs of the refugee community as a member of the YPB. Jade also enjoys drawing, woodworking, volleyball, rock climbing and anything that involves animals.
Caitlyn Hoeflin Hana is a graduate student at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. Prior to arriving in Chicago, she worked with students at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public to launch HERA Inc., a digital app that enables refugee women to access reproductive healthcare. Caitlyn became involved refugee and immigrant advocacy issues while volunteering with a grassroots immigrant accompaniment network in Boston. She is especially interested in refugee issues, health, digital technologies, and data analytics. Caitlyn graduated with a degree in Psychology: Cognitive Neuroscience from Reed College in 2015.
Kunal Yajnik is a Senior Solutions Consultant at Espressive, an Artificial Intelligence startup based out of Santa Clara, CA. He has seven years of experience working in cross functional roles spanning from sales, to consulting, to product management at multiple startups in Chicago prior to his current role.
As a child of immigrants, Kunal has long had a passion for learning about other cultures, being a part of the international community, and helping other immigrants and refugees in any way he can. He is a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs YP Network and an Ambassador for the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. He also serves as VP of American Outlaws Chicago, a USA Men's and Women's soccer supporters group whose mission is to grow the beautiful game in the Windy City.
Kunal earned his BSBA in Finance and International Business from The Ohio State University, Fisher College of Business.
Nadeige Uwamba is an Associate Director of Development at the University of Chicago, and a current public policy student. Nadeige’s advocacy for refugees stems from her childhood as her family escaped the Rwandan Genocide. After emigrating to Eswatini, her family helped build the incoming refugee community.
Throughout her career, Nadeige has sought to provide equal opportunities for marginalized communities through access to elite higher education, and community-led programs on the south side of Chicago. Nadeige is passionate about offering refugees the chance to rebuild their lives as her family did for themselves and others.