VVEngage is a Vital Voices signature fellowship supporting outstanding women political leaders making and influencing policy across the globe. Through this fully-funded fellowship, we aim to increase the capacity, decision-making power and effectiveness of women leaders in politics and government, shifting culture around women’s public leadership and moving towards equality in public representation globally. We also aim to work towards a more inclusive and equitable world by advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through policy.
Through this fellowship, Vital Voices advances women’s political leadership and the SDGs by conducting online and in-person* trainings with experts such as women leaders from the Vital Voices Global Network and professors from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The fellowship also connects participants to a global network of peers and mentors, such as current and former female heads of state with the Council of Women World Leaders, with whom they can brainstorm and share challenges and best practices.
Building on 25 years of leadership development work conducted by Vital Voices, the customized fellowship curriculum includes inspiring and rigorous courses in topics such as Leadership, Strategic Communications, Political Strategy and Governance. Fellows will acquire specific skills to achieve their goals and advance the SDGs in their communities.
*In-person trainings are subject to health and travel restrictions
For more information, please contact the Vital Voices Issue Advocacy team at VVEngage@VitalVoices.org.
Meet The 2023 Fellows
2023 Fellow, Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues, U.S. Department of State
Abby Finkenauer grew up in a working class family in rural Iowa and was a first generation college graduate. At the age of 24 she successfully ran for the Iowa House of Representatives and served her community and her state in the Iowa House from 2015-2019. She led the fight against attacks on collective bargaining and workers rights and was an advocate for legislation addressing equal pay, public education, infrastructure funding, voting rights and women’s reproductive health access. At the age of 28, Abby successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 2018 she became the youngest woman in history to flip a Congressional seat as well as one of the first of two congresswomen from the state of Iowa. She served as Democratic Caucus Assistant Whip, Vice Chair of Highways and Transit on the Transportation Committee, and Chairwoman of Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship Subcommittee as part of the Small Business Committee. Abby also founded the Endometriosis Congressional Caucus, and doubled the NIH research funding for the disease, which affects 1 in 9 women worldwide. In November 2022, Abby was appointed as the U.S. Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues and is focusing her energy on lifting up the voices and stories of young people across the globe and fostering relationship for the United States that will span generations advancing and protecting democracy.
2023 Fellow, Special Representative on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Argentina
Alba Rueda, the current Special Envoy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity of Argentina, was the first Undersecretary of Diversity Policies of the Nation, at the founding moment of the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity. During her function as Undersecretary of Diversity Policies, she promoted policies for the inclusion and integration of LGBTI+ people, coordinated actions for: strengthening access to health care; eradicating institutional and labor violence practices towards diversities; and promoting employment of the LGBTI+ population. Also she actively worked in the promotion and implementation of the Travesti Trans Labor Quota Law (Decree 721/20 and Law 27.636). Moreover, she worked twelve years in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, where she was in INADI, National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism and the National Secretariat of Human Rights. Alba Rueda is known as a trans activist who combines academic training with large experience in social activism. Furthermore she is one of the founders of Mujeres Trans Argentina (MTA) and member of Notitrans, the first trans magazine in the country.
2023 Fellow, Public Policy Fellow, Wilson Center
Alena Popova is a Russian opposition politician and a Public Policy Fellow at the Wilson Center. In 2021, she ran for election to the State Duma. In October 2022, the Russian Ministry of Justice designated her as a “foreign agent.” In her work at the Wilson Center, Alena focuses on research and policymaking to counter digital authoritarian regimes around the world that extensively use big data and AI for surveillance, control, and manipulation of citizens, as well as for strengthening their military to conduct conventional, cognitive, and cyber wars. Alena is also a women’s rights activist. She is one of the co-authors of the first anti-domestic violence laws in Russia and is currently coordinating efforts to pass this bill. More than 950,000 people have signed her petition for the adoption of this law. Alena has prepared several other bills aimed at protecting women’s rights in Russia, including an anti-harassment law. Before joining the Wilson Center, Alena was a fellow at The Davis Center at Harvard University. She holds a law degree from Kutafin Moscow State Law University and a journalism degree from Lomonosov Moscow State University.
2023 Fellow, Secretary for Social Management and Dialogue, Presidency of the Council of Ministers
Alexandra Ames holds a Master in Political Science from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú with a specialty in Public Management. She has specialized in Public Policy Implementation and Public Value Creation at Harvard Kennedy School. She is currently a public official of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in Peru. She has been Head of the Public Policy Observatory at the School of Public Management at the Universidad del Pacífico. She is taking a second master’s degree at the London School of Economics. Former executive secretary of the Social Progress Imperative for the Peruvian chapter. Expert in planning, managing, and monitoring projects, programs, and public policies linked to social inclusion and human development.
2023 Fellow, Director of Climate Affairs, Fundacion Ciudades Resilientes
Angélica Flores Rodríguez is a Chilean journalist specializing in science, climate activist and mentor, and political leader focused on climate public policies. She graduated in Journalism and Social Communication at Universidad Diego Portales and had extensive experience working for national newspapers such as El Mercurio and Las Últimas Noticias. As part of her teaching career, she became a university teacher, and become Academic Head of the Journalism School at Universidad de Las Américas. Since 2010, Angélica has been a part of NGO in GEA, where she became a board member and got involved in environmental education and reforestation in Indigenous communities. She is currently a collaborator at Fundación La Cuarta Ruta, where she fosters initiatives in sustainable businesses; part of the Fundación Ciudades Resilientes, working with disaster risk management, and training communities to adapt to climate risks such as heat waves and wildfires.
Angélica is also a leader and mentor for Climate Reality, an organization that recognized her as a Female Climate Champion in Chile, during the Women’s History Month of March 2022. Determined to make a difference, she joined the political party Evópoli (Evolución Política) in 2017. Due to her very active participation, Angélica was elected regional and general councilor for the party. There she was the founder and national coordinator of Evópoli Climate Action, coordinated local teams across most of the country, worked as a climate consultant for the party’s MPs, and pushed MPs and legislation in Chile in the pro-climate and environment direction.
2023 Fellow, President, National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe
Annah Shiri is a woman with a disability, currently serving as the president of the National Council of Persons with Disabilities in Zimbabwe, a multi-award-winning disability champion, philanthropist, farmer, teacher, and politician. She is the former Senator representing persons with disabilities in the Zimbabwean Senate. Annah Shiri has a wealth of vast experience in leadership with undisputed experience in both public and private sectors notwithstanding working with diverse disability constituencies nationally, regionally, and internationally. She participated in the Constitution-making process in Zimbabwe and pan – African Parliament. During her tenure in office, she participated in the UNCRPD conference at the UN headquarters in New York and advocated for inclusive accessible tourism in Nepal. She is a candid and seasoned human and disability rights champion in her own right. Recently she participated in the World Women ‘s Assembly for women with disabilities in South Korea. She has a keen eye for changing the lives of persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe. In that regard, she has helped many women and youth in developing and running self-help projects. Her joy is to ensure that there is inclusive development in all facets of life.
Catherine Nakhabi Omanyo
2023 Fellow, Member of Parliament, Kenya
Growing up in Busia, Kenya, Catherine Nakhabi Omanyo encountered many bottlenecks in life. She was raised by a single poor mother working as a nanny, sneaking to school to afford an education, and pleading with teachers to sit for exams without paying fees. She embarked on a journey of self-discovery, better living, and fulfillment. Her turning point in life was when she embarked on a vision to deliver children from poverty and other social-economic injustices in third-world countries. Her rural home is a home for poor children, orphans, and those with HIV. Catherine fight for the rights of women and orphaned children especially on the inheritance of property. She organizes campaigns on HIV awareness mainly targeting youth and women whose risk exposure is in rural areas and offers free education through Imprezza Academy for children whose parents are HIV+ and can’t afford school fees. Catherine is positioning herself to develop her community with greater zeal, setting up her projects and engagements to have a global identity.
2023 Fellow, Member of Parliament, South Africa
Chantel King is a Member of the South African parliament in the National Assembly. Representing the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance in the Higher education science and innovation portfolio. She was an educator for 15 years focusing on accountancy and business studies. Chantel also started a community project on entrepreneurship with grade 12 learners to allow them to grasp the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and self-sustainability to break the cycle of poverty. In 2014, Chantel joined active politics as a local government Councilor in the Finance and economic development portfolios. She started Virtuous Women’s community-based organization to empower women with self-sustainable projects for skills development in return for poverty alleviation. In 2016, she became a Member of Parliament, has been in the Basic education portfolio, and currently serves as the DA’s Shadow Minister for higher education science and innovation. Chantel holds a B.Com (General) degree in Industrial Relations and Industrial Psychology and National Professional Diploma in Education majors in mathematics and learner behavior. She also completed a mediation program through the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
2023 Fellow, Member of Parliament, The Gambia
Fatoumatta Njai is a member of Parliament in The Gambia with exposure to legislative and oversight functions. She has extensive knowledge of banking operations and analytical skills with strategic planning experience. She has extensive experience with public relations and maintaining professional working relationships. In 2017, she established a program to empower young children, especially young girls through Yayi-Denton.org. She is also a member of the West African Regional Parliament where she sits at the Bureau of the Female Parliamentary Caucus. Fatoumatta is currently a partner with the UN Women NDI, IRI, and Ecowas Gender Center to work on increasing the number of women in decision-making positions. She has observed elections in the ECOWAS region many times.
2023 Fellow, Founder and Manager, Speak Up
Gehad Hamdy is the founder and manager of Speak Up, a leading Egyptian feminist initiative against sexual harassment and gender-based violence in all its forms. Holding a Bachelor of Dental Surgery from October University for Modern Sciences and Arts, Gehad’s work focuses on breaking the cycle of violence against women in Egypt. She was named one of BBC 100’s most influential women in the world in 2022 and is the winner of the 2022 Social Change Maker of the Year in Gender Gold Award by The Stevie Awards, The Changemaker and The Humanitarian Awards by Women SME Leaders Awards by Entrepreneur Middle East, the winner of the International Humanitarian award at Women4Africa, was a finalist for the Women Empowerment Award by Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), and a finalist for the Equal Rights and Non-Discrimination award at the World Justice Forum 2022.
2023 Fellow, Executive Member for Infrastructure, Leeds City Council
Councillor Helen Hayden is Leeds City Council’s Executive Member for Sustainable Development and Infrastructure. As part of this role, she sits on the WYCA – Place Regeneration & Housing Committee, Transport Committee, and the Yorkshire and Humber Flood and Coastal Committee. In this role, Helen is responsible for driving the regeneration and transformation of the city of Leeds to realize our ambition to be the best city in the UK, including infrastructure for active travel and public transport so Leeds can become a city where you don’t need a car; delivery of city park to offer a vibrant green space in the heart of the city; as well as building sustainable and affordable homes and employment space to drive inclusive growth. Previously she was Chair of the Adults, Health and Active Lifestyles Scrutiny Board – a position held since May 2016. Focusing on services for adults and public health services, the Board monitors progress toward improving health, lifestyles, and the quality of care across the city. In addition, the Board provides oversight of integration and partnership in relation to the Council and health bodies and oversees activity relating to promoting and maintaining active lifestyles across Leeds.
2023 Fellow, Senator, House of Parliament
Senator Janice Allen is a seasoned public servant and tourism professional with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, which has given her a solid foundation in business, management and policy development.
She has spent most of her professional life in the public sector, with a particular focus on tourism. A policy advisor to two Ministers of Tourism she also served as a Regional Director for the Jamaica Tourist Board. An advocate for the sustainable development of tourism, she focuses her efforts as spokesperson on tourism on the balanced development and expansion of the industry paying close attention to the impact its development has on communities, the environment and the small and medium sized businesses which are inextricably linked to tourism. She has also worked in telecommunications for the two major telecoms companies in Jamaica managing several pioneering projects and services.
After two decades in the public and private sectors, she launched a boutique consulting firm, Forge Consulting which offers business and human resource development services to clients in the tourism industry.
She has worked as a campaign manager and communications and marketing specialist for the People’s National Party (PNP), a major political party in Jamaica. In 2020, she was appointed to the Senate and is the Opposition’s spokesperson on Tourism. Since then, she has been advocating for the equitable and sustainable development of the industry.
Senator Allen was appointed a Vice President of Socialist International Latin America and Caribbean Committee in April 2023. With her extensive experience and expertise, she is poised to make a significant impact in her new role and contribute to the development of the region.
Joanne Ascencion Valdez
2023 Fellow, City Council Member, Candon City Local Government
Joanne Valdez is a dedicated community leader and educator who currently serves as a third-term council member for Candon City, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. She contributes to committees on Gender and Development, Women and Family, and Education. Joanne’s work has been recognized with awards and honors, including the Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines, the Young Leaders Award, Award for Excellence in Advocacy Work conferred by the National Movement of Young Legislators. She has also been selected for prestigious fellowships such as the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, a program launched by the U.S. government to empower emerging leaders in Southeast Asia. In addition, she founded Candon Youth for Empowerment Movement, a community organization that inspires volunteers to create positive change in their communities. Her advocacy work includes promoting gender and development, particularly youth and women’s empowerment, respecting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression, HIV and AIDS prevention, community libraries, and youth in farming, among others. Joanne is also committed to producing videos for various advocacy projects for Non-Government Organizations, showcasing her expertise in video production. Additionally, she has served as a faculty member at St. Paul University Quezon City College of Mass Communication, where she has had the opportunity to share her insights and inspire future media professionals. Joanne is also a devoted mother, wife, daughter, and friend who values her relationships with loved ones. Her expertise and insights have led her to speak at numerous conferences and events as a resource speaker, sharing her experiences and knowledge with others.
Maria Rivera Espinosa
2023 Fellow, Founding Team and Director of Partnerships, onepoint5
Maria Rivera Espinosa is a sustainability advocate and has worked in the art world as a writer, curator, and advisor for over ten years. In November of last year, as part of the Founding Team and Director of Partnerships, Maria launched onepoint5, a consultancy firm that aims to harness the opportunities of a sustainable future. onepoint5 comprises a group of experts who guide and empower clients across the private and public sectors to accelerate their transition to a sustainable future. She believes in the power of dialogue and bridging creative minds with analytical thinkers to unlock the innovative solutions we urgently need for systematic change. One example of her work in this area is the Art Program she developed for the Sustainable AI Lab at the University of Bonn. Her career and deep respect for the environment have given her the insight to identify opportunities for creating forward-thinking communities. She graduated in 2017 from the University of Europe for Applied Sciences with a degree in Communications Design. She is currently enrolled in the Executive Master’s Program in Market Studies on Art at the University of Zurich.
2023 Fellow, Political Editor and Correspondent, Plus TV Africa and Nigeria Info FM
Maryann Duke Okon is a Nigerian broadcast journalist with nineteen years of experience in both TV and radio. She is a passionate storyteller, using her platform to bring awareness to the issues that matter most to her audience. With a knack for finding the human element in every story, Maryann has earned a reputation as a go-to source for reliable and engaging news content. Her career has taken her around the world, and she has interviewed some of the most influential people in the world. Maryann is committed to telling stories that matter and inspiring her viewers to make a difference.
2023 Fellow, Mayor, Ezulwini Municipality
Miliswa Mamba is an award-winning businesswoman, politician, and humanitarian. Despite being an IT Auditor by professional training, at 25 years old, Miliswa founded a premium tourism transport company, TransMagnific, that connects Eswatini to the world. Before going into business, Miliswa completed her articles at KPMG and became Eswatini’s first Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) registered by ISACA. She holds three qualifications from the University of the Witwatersrand and one from the University of Cape Town. Her company, TransMagnific, has won multiple awards, including being in the top 3 most outstanding Tourism Transport in Africa in 2020. Her business achievements had her selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2015 as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, where she met President Barack Obama. She serves on various boards, including Business Eswatini, which is the voice of business in Eswatini. Her passion board membership, however, is a leading non-profit organization for male mentorship. She is the Chairperson of Kwakha Indvodza, which works with young men and boys to help them become the best versions of themselves and build an understanding of gender equality and women empowerment. She is currently the youngest serving Mayor of Ezulwini, having served as a Councillor since 2018.
2023 Fellow, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Agriculture
Nigina Anvari is the Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Tajikistan. Nigina leads the economic analysis sector in agriculture, production forecasting, and food security monitoring. She has worked with multiple state partners on projects focusing on SDG-related goals on food security, nutrition, and rural women’s access to resources.
2023 Fellow, Advisor for Women and Youth, Presidential Council in Libya
Nisreen Eisay is an advisor to the Libyan Presidential Council on women and youth. Previously, she was a legal advisor in the Ministry of Economy. She has managed projects to promote women’s political and peace participation. Nisreen is the Head of the Libyan Network of the Howard International Initiative Network for Activists and Human Rights Defenders. She is also the chief editor of the Women Defenders newspaper.
Nurhayati Ali Assegaf
2023 Fellow, President, Nuraa Women’s Institute
Nurhayati Ali Assegaf is the President of Nuraa Women’s Institute (NWI) and the Geneva Council for International Affairs and Development (GCIAD). She was one of the Board Members of Women Political Leaders and sat as its Global Ambassador for SDGs. She was an Associate Professor at Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University (Ankara, Turkey). Between 2004 to 2019, she sat in the Indonesian parliament. She held numerous positions, including the chairperson of the Committee for Inter-parliamentary Cooperation of the Indonesian House of Representatives and the chairperson of the Democratic Party faction (the leading faction at the time). She was also a member of the steering committee for WTO, a member of the OECD Global Inter-Parliamentary Network, and a member of the Parliamentary Network on World Bank and International Monetary Fund. She is a strong proponent of women’s empowerment and gender issues and strongly engages with political and social issues and international affairs. She puts a lot of focus on matters related to SDGs, poverty, and education for women. She holds a Ph.D. in Social & Politics, a Master’s in American Studies, BA in HRM, and BS in Medicine.
Quincia Gumbs Marie
2023 Fellow, Minister of Sustainability, Innovation and the Environment
The Honorable Quincia Gumbs Marie was elected to public office in June 2020. In her immediate capacity as the Parliamentary Secretary of Information Technology, Natural Resources, Economic Development, and Tourism, Gumbs-Marie quickly accepted the role as tsar: jumpstarting the economy, hyper-communication, and changing scenes of a world locked down by unprecedented times. Quincia is currently the Honorable Minster of Sustainability, Innovation, and Environment. Minister Gumbs-Marie’s portfolio includes responsibility for thematic areas such as Conservation, Renewable Energy Development, Climate Change, Food Security, and Information and Communications Technology. Her political career has been instrumental in making issues of Sustainable Development and Climate Change household conversations amongst the average Anguillian. The Minister is known and celebrated for her no-nonsense approach and her penchant for sifting through politics and getting on with progress. Despite this, she admits to being painfully aware of the limitations placed on women in politics, particularly in roles not typically reserved for women, such as Agriculture and Fisheries. Minister Gumbs Marie says, “My work speaks for the women who came before me but were denied and the girl who will succeed me and thrive.”
2023 Fellow, District 4 Coucilmember & Mayor Pro Tem, City of Bowie, Maryland
Roxy Ndebumadu is a founder, technology leader, and elected official currently serving as Mayor Pro Tem and District 4 Councilwoman for the City of Bowie, Maryland. Mayor Pro Tem Ndebumadu is known for being a game-changing, ethical AI, consumer trust, and creative branding enthusiast who is making waves and redefining what it means to be an innovative professional powerhouse in today’s quickly changing world. After accepting her passion for strategic advising, Roxy founded a company called auderesonder. auderesonder is a digital and innovation company that focuses on helping leaders and businesses harness societal movements in time to create strategic outcomes that lead to increased profitability and better experiences. In November 2019, Roxy made history by being the youngest woman elected to serve as Vice Mayor and Bowie City Councilwoman, including the first African American woman to represent District 4 within the State of Maryland. Roxy has spent most of her career working in cyber security, enterprise technology, consumer technology, and regulation across many different sectors. This Howard University graduate is a Rodel fellow in Public Leadership and serves on the Maryland State Board of Waterworks and Affordable Housing. In addition, you can catch her collecting vintage red wines on travel, mentoring young girls, or dancing at pilates.
2023 Fellow, Deputy Minority Whip
Hon. Sabina Chege joined active politics in 2012, where she was overwhelmingly elected to the National Assembly as women’s representative for Murang’a County for the periods 2013 -2017 & 2017 – 2022. She has served as chairperson of the parliamentary committees, i.e., the Departmental Committee on Education, Research & Technology and the Parliamentary Committee on Health. For the greater good, she chose not to seek any elective position in Murang’a County in the 2022 elections to concentrate unequivocally on national Politics in the Azimio La Umoja council. She was nominated as a potential deputy president nominee to the Azimio La Umoja Council Presidential candidate, where she attended the deputy president nominees’ interview. Currently, Hon. Chege serves as a member of parliament, having been nominated by the Jubilee Party to represent specialized groups and interests in the National Assembly.
Shah Gul Rezaie
2023 Fellow, Women and Human Rights Activist
Shah Gul Rezaie is a Human Rights Activist with 16 years of legislative experience in the Afghanistan parliament (2005- 2021). She served as a member and deputy head of the Commission on Women’s Affairs, Civil Society, and Human Rights, member and chairperson of the Central Audit and Law Enforcement Oversight Commission, and member of the International Relations Commission in the House of Representatives of Afghanistan. Additionally, she has been active in various programs, particularly litigation for human rights and equality, including membership in the Parliamentary Caucus, fighting against Corruption, and in a Parliamentary Group called Voice of Justice, focusing on social justice and equal rights of citizens. She is a well-known face in Afghanistan’s media. She was a member of the official delegation attending the Bonn II Conference in 2011 and one of the participants of the two-day Doha-Qatar Intra-Afghan Dialogue in 2019, the Oslo Forum, and the Oslo Intra-Afghan Dialogue in 2022. After the takeover of the Taliban in 2021, she continued as an activist from exile and participated in various conferences regarding the current situation in Afghanistan. She is a member of several networks and women’s coalitions advocating for human rights and raising the voice of Afghan women and girls in the current difficult circumstances. Fighting for justice and equality is the main motivation behind her social activities and the decision to participate in politics. Ms. Rezaie started the struggle for change at the village level and continued up to parliament. She believes that no decision about Afghanistan should be made in the absence of women of Afghanistan.
2023 Fellow, Member of Parliament
Simina Tulbure is a Member of the Chamber of Deputies in the Romanian Parliament and the Vice President of the Renew the European Project of Romania (REPER) party. She represents the Romanians living abroad in the Parliament, leading the Parliamentary Friendship Group with the UK, and she is a member of the committees dedicated to the Diaspora, education, and Romania’s OECD accession. She was awarded a BA in English Language and an MA in English Language and Literature by the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, and during her studies, she received multiple awards for her volunteering work and for promoting Romanian culture in the academic community. She has a background at European institutions, as Liaison Trainee at the European Parliament and Administrative Assistant at the European Investment Bank. In the Romanian Parliament, she passed legislation regarding educational inclusion, Ethics, and Education for European citizenship as mandatory learning modules, facilities for youth public participation, and support for seasonal workers. She currently works on legislation dedicated to combating human trafficking, Diaspora affairs, e-identity cards, guaranteeing safe abortion procedures, and decriminalizing the possession of 3g of cannabis for personal consumption. She is fluent in English and Spanish and intermediate in French and Portuguese.