Staff

Kate Kroeger | Executive Director

Kate joined Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights as Executive Director in 2012, fulfilling a lifelong dream of pursuing her feminist activism at an organization dedicated to supporting women’s human rights defenders around the world. Kate is a seasoned advocate, grantmaker and strategist, bringing two decades of experience with grassroots human rights work and social justice philanthropy to her leadership of UAF.

Kate learned about grassroots activism in India, where she was a fellow with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada in rural Rajasthan and later worked in the Tansa Valley of Maharashtra.  She then moved to New York City, where she spent twelve years funding human rights and social justice work globally, at NetAid (now part of Mercy Corps) and American Jewish World Service (AJWS), where she oversaw grants to over 450 grassroots organizations in 36 countries. Under her leadership, AJWS deepened its commitment to funding women’s rights activism, including support to young women, LBT women, indigenous women and ethnic and racial minorities. In an earlier incarnation as a policy wonk in the US government, Kate worked in the Department of Health and Human Services, and in the House of Representatives, where she focused on U.S. foreign policy in Asia and the Pacific.

Kate has earned degrees from McGill University, the London School of Economics, and New York University, and most recently received her Master’s in International Human Rights Law with Distinction from the University of Oxford.  A board member of Prospera (the international network of women’s funds) and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, she speaks French and Hindi.  She is a proud Canadian, and watches her country closely through rose colo(u)red binoculars, from her perch south of its border.

 

Shalini Eddens | Deputy Executive Director

Shalini’s passion for women’s health and rights is grounded in her deep belief for justice and equity.  Shalini’s African American/India heritage and her strong sense of community and family are the compass by which she approaches her work. She has an extensive background in women’s health and rights, with over 20 years of leadership experience in the grassroots public health sector providing direct services, training, education and advocacy for women living with and affected by HIV. Previously, Shalini served as a Program Officer for the UN Foundation in Washington, D.C. where she oversaw a portfolio focused on advocacy and reproductive health. Shalini has spent most of her career working with HIV/AIDS civil society organizations domestically including; Project Inform, where she developed a curriculum for faith-based leaders on HIV Science and Treatment and Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases, she developed a national peer education and training program for women living with HIV that was replicated in domestically and globally. Shalini has expertise in training and capacity building, program monitoring and evaluation, and curriculum design. She has worked with women’s organizations globally in India, South Africa, and Mozambique to provide technical assistance on women-centered HIV/AIDS programming. She holds a bachelor’s in sociology with a minor in African American studies from the University of California Davis and an M.P.H. from Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

 

Theary Chan | Director of Partnerships

Theary (pronounced: terry) has been in fundraising and philanthropy for social change since 2000. Prior to joining UAF, she worked for or consulted a wide portfolio of social change & social justice organizations, including the (formerly) Grassroots Fundraising Institute, Heritage of Pride – NYC Pride, The Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project, Tides Foundation & others. Most recently, she served as the Director of Philanthropic Services at Horizons Foundation, an LGBTQ Community Foundation.

Theary grew up in Long Beach, CA as a first-generation immigrant and refugee of Cambodian/Khmer heritage. She has spent a lifetime reconciling the injustices within a historical perspective of genocide and the intergenerational trauma of its aftermath with a passionate belief in the best of humanity’s efforts towards resilience and kindness through philanthropy. Her guiding principles are rooted in upholding equity & justice through the active embrace of economic, racial, and gender justice values.

She lives in San Francisco, CA with her little dog who thinks he’s a big dog, Milo.

 

Otibho Obianwu| Director of Programs

Otibho brings her rich lived experience and deep passion for and commitment to justice, equity, health and well-being, and movement building, to resourcing social justice movements. Prior to joining UAF, she served as a Program Officer on the Grantmaking team at the International Women’s Health Coalition where she resourced and supported feminist and women-led groups advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Otibho has extensive experience advocating for the SRHR of women, adolescents and young people, and LGBTQI persons. She organized as part of the founding leadership at the Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative, a feminist organization focused on advancing the rights, health, and well-being of lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women in Nigeria. She has implemented programming to help prevent HIV infection in men who have sex with men and persons who use drugs, which contributed to the design and implementation of more effective programs to support these communities.  Her work in collaboration with others to identify and center the various SRHR vulnerabilities facing adolescents and young people helped inform Nigeria’s first national HIV strategy for adolescents and young people as well as guidelines on the age of consent for access to SRH services and participation in research. She has led research that examined the shift from traditional to medicalized female genital mutilation/cutting and assessed the health sector’s response to the practice. Additionally, she has also served in various advisory capacities including being a member of Astraea and Mama Cash’s LBQ Women’s Funding Project’s Activist Advisory Committee, and FRIDA the Young Feminist Fund’s Change Team.

Otibho holds an MD from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and an MPH from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

 

Agnes Mestrich| Director of Finance and Operations

Agnes (Aggie) Mestrich is the Director of Finance and Operations at UAF. As DFO, Aggie will provide leadership in the finance, accounting, and administrative functions. In addition to this, she will oversee the human resources and operations functions. Aggie brings with her over twenty years of experience. Before joining UAF, she worked at Amref Health Africa as Director of Finance and Administration and at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) as Finance Manager where she oversaw the Asia portfolio.

Aggie has volunteered with various organizations such as Bridges to Community, where she traveled to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and participated in community building and the construction of homes and schools for impoverished communities. On her to do list, she wishes to continue a project that she started a while ago where she was training women in community-based organizations in simple bookkeeping practices and community savings toward a communal activity.

Aggie was born and brought up in Nairobi, Kenya. She has two daughters in college. She is athletic and enjoys a game of tennis and has recently taken to playing pickleball. She has a math degree as well as ACCA (the equivalent of CPA) from the UK.

 

Celia Turner | Partnerships Managing Officer

Celia (they/them) is a queer feminist philanthropic advocate with 10+ years of experience intentionally shifting resources to social justice organizations and gender, racial and economic justice movements in the U.S. and globally. As the Partnerships Managing Officer for the Urgent Action Sister Funds, Celia raises the visibility of feminist rapid response and nurtures partnerships for the Sister Funds’ collective support of women and LBTQI+ human rights defenders across the world.

Prior to joining the Urgent Action Sister Funds, Celia was the Acting Director of Philanthropic Partnerships for the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. Celia loves being outdoors and enjoys hiking, running, camping and cycling. They are an avid reader (some of their favorite authors are N.K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler and Louise Erdrich) and have volunteered for many years walking dogs at the Animal Care Center of NYC.

 

Nathalie.Margie.bioNathalie Margi | Senior Advocacy Officer

Born in France of Lebanese and Polish parents, Nathalie is passionate about supporting the leadership of intersectional feminist movements worldwide. Prior to leading UAF’s advocacy work, she engaged in feminist advocacy for reproductive and economic justice, managed projects on LGBTQI rights and gender justice in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and in Lebanon in the context of the Syrian crisis, worked with UN Special Procedures, taught a course on the UN, and helped organize workshops in the DRC to implement UN Security Council Resolutions. She earned an LLM in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from the University of Essex and an MA in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University. Nathalie often reflects on how to practice social justice values as the parent of two young boys and she manages an online community for feminist parents and caregivers.

 

Huong.bioHuong Nguyen | Senior Learning & Impact Officer

Huong brings over 15 years of experience in community economic development, sexual and reproductive health, gender and philanthropy. Deeply influenced by her bi-cultural upbringing in the suburbs of New Orleans, Huong’s passion for social, economic and gender equality was shaped through the lens of growing up as a political refugee and immigrant from Vietnam within the complexities of local Louisiana politics. From experiencing first-hand the difficulties in a new country as a refugee to tutoring female prisoners in New Orleans as an undergrad student volunteer, these experiences inflamed her desire to work on gender and social justice issues. Huong has worked with different communities in the US and globally, including supporting Vietnamese refugees and immigrants in Boston to achieve economic self-sufficiency, partnering with grantees in South Asia to increase access to reproductive health and family planning and providing access to funding to local women’s groups to advance women’s rights. She has worked at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation as a Research Associate and Global Fund for Women as a Program Officer. Huong holds two graduate degrees from Boston University School of Public Health and the London School of Economics.

 

Raisa Borshchigova | Senior Program Officer

Raisa, a Chechen born and raised human rights activist is hugely passionate, dedicated, and committed to working towards women’s safety, security, empowerment, and liberation from violence, persecution, and harm. Prior to joining UAF, Raisa worked for the North Caucasus’s largest civil society project, the Young Women’s Development Group,  providing education to teenage girls. In 2016, she was awarded the Galina Starovoitova Fellowship at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington, DC, where she took residence. There, she began to synthesize years of work on women’s and girl’s rights and LGBT rights as she embarked on transforming her first-hand experiences into academic research

Her teenage years coincided with two devastating wars that hit the Chechen region in 1994 and 1999. She studied French language and literature at the Chechen State University. As a student, she helped coordinate foreign journalists’ news coverage throughout Chechnya. In 2009, Raisa obtained her Master’s degree in Journalism from the Centre de Formation des Journalistes ( Center for Journalism Studies) in Paris, France. In 2010 Raisa campaigned to stop attacks on women who were shot with rubber bullets and paintball guns by local armed men in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, for not wearing headscarves, falling victim to such attacks herself. During this time, she also wrote articles about women’s rights in the North Caucasus for the publication Open Democracy, a UK-based online media outlet.

Raisa has conducted various training sessions on integrated security for activists in the Northern Caucasus covering all aspects of defender security, devising strategies, and emergency grant application. She is focused on fighting for adolescent girls’ protection and empowerment; international advocacy on violence against women and girls and providing direct assistance as it pertains to women’s safety and security.

 

Alex Grossman | Senior Communications Officer

Alex comes to Urgent Action Fund with nearly a decade of experience managing communications in the social justice and philanthropic spaces. She has a background in indigenous rights, women’s rights, and environmental policy. Alex previously developed communications content and strategy for Global Greengrants Fund, The Center of Effective Global Action at U.C. Berkeley, and The Climate Reality Project. Alex has a M.A. in Latin American Studies from Boston University and a B.A. in International Relations and Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

 

Michelle R. | Senior Finance Officer

Michelle has spent her career working in organizations whose missions are dedicated to social justice and equality. She has over ten years of experience in the creation and expansion of financial systems, and infrastructure in non-profit organizations, specializing in systemic analysis and process improvement. She studied business, finance and women’s studies at Stockton University. She lives in South Jersey.

 

Somer Nowak | Senior Collective Care Officer

Somer Nowak (she/her) joins UAF with nearly ten years of experience working alongside global feminist movements and within feminist philanthropy and has served as a grantmaker, an educator, and birthworker. Prior to joining UAF, Somer worked with Foundation for a Just Society and Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, where she managed grantmaking to feminist and LGBTQ-led organizations working to advance gender, racial, and economic justice in the US and Global South. During her time in philanthropy, Somer has co-led and designed efforts to center care and healing as a strategic grantmaking priority and mobilized new resources toward Black feminist organizations and movements in the US and Latin America.
Trained as a full spectrum doula with Ancient Song Doula Services and a certified reiki practitioner with MINKA, Somer’s lived experience informs her belief that personal transformation and collective care are critical for the sustainability of social justice movements, our communities and the planet. Somer’s feminist vision is deeply rooted in a Black feminist and abolitionist lens, whereby social change must move our society away from carcerality and toward collective healing, accountability, and transformation.
Somer is from Milwaukee, WI, and currently based in Phoenix, AZ. She is a Fulbright Scholar and holds a B.A. in International Affairs, Spanish and Africana Studies from Marquette University.

Elsa Saade | Program Officer

Elsa Saade is a Lebanese cultural and social activist, aspiring historian, political artist, and mobilizer based in New York City.

She holds a Masters’ Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, focused on the concept of silenced histories and the case of the disappeared in post civil war Beirut. In parallel to her day to day work, Elsa’s interests and skills surround the fields of feminist Human Rights, Digital Security, Advocacy, Middle Eastern History Politics and Activism, Artivism, Philanthropy and Justice.

Elsa grew up in Lebanon, and moved to New York to pursue her studies, all the while holding her dream for strategic and collective change in her region by and through local communities.

 

 Maylott Mulugeta | Program Officer US/Canada

Maylott Mulugeta (she/her) is a first-generation East African who has spent the entirety of her educational and professional life learning and building in the US South. She comes to UAF with a deep commitment to grassroots organizing, racial and gender justice, and feminist ideology and praxis. She has 10 years of experience developing social justice aligned curricula, community-led programming, teaching and organizing as well as resource mobilizing at public philanthropic institutions. Prior to joining UAF, Maylott served as the Manager of Networks & Movement Building at Black Feminist Future, a role in which she worked to advance, amplify, and support the work of Black feminist leadership and movements in the US and across the diaspora. She has extensive experience with innovative, strategic, and community-driven grantmaking as she spent over 4 years reimagining, designing, and managing the women’s health grantmaking portfolio at United Way of Greater Atlanta. In this role, she developed mechanisms and advocated for greater investments to grassroots organizations led and in service to Black women, queer young people, and immigrant and refugee communities throughout Georgia. 

Maylott holds a graduate degree in public health from Georgia State University and an undergraduate degree in health policy and management from Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a proud board member of Access Reproductive Care (ARC) Southeast and on the advisory committee for the Black Mecca Project. She currently resides in her hometown of Atlanta, GA where she finds new reasons to fall more deeply in love with the South everyday. 

 

Belguun “Bella” Bat-Erdene | Grants Officer

Belguun’s passion for human rights and feminism is deeply influenced by the strong women in her life. From a young age, she learned great life lessons from her grandmother’s and her single mother’s experience and became committed to advocating for economic, political, and social equality for women all over the world.  Belguun’s immigrant and minority women identity drives her to create sustainable social change where women and girls have the right to self-determination. She dreams of creating a safe space for women in Mongolia and advancing gender equality.

Prior to joining the UAF, Belguun worked as a program manager for the largest ethnic chamber of commerce in California, the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce. She advocated for policies and legislation that support the minority communities and women-owned enterprises. She interned at the Consulate General of Mongolia, San Francisco researching strategies of economic and political development.

Belguun earned her M.A. in International Studies, focusing on Human Development from the University of San Francisco and B.A. in International Relations, focusing on Peace Keeping and Security from the University of California, Davis.

 

Keishla Gonzalez-Quiles | Communication Coordinator

Keishla is the Communication Coordinator that brings over 7 years of experience in developing communication strategies and inspiring others by identifying compelling stories, facts, and outcomes. She follows her passion to activate and engage groups and individuals towards empowerment and solidarity with social justice holding a special place in her heart.

While at St. John’s University completing her Master’s Degree in International Communication, Keishla worked in Cuba and India strengthening and fostering interdisciplinary relationships on a global scale. In Cuba, Keishla was a lecturer at Centro Cultural Padre Felix Varela in Havana, Cuba leading workshops on entrepreneurship, marketing & communication strategies, leadership, and networking. Keishla spent time in Goa, India co-collaborating with fellows from St. Xavier College on Sustainable Development and Economic Growth in the region of Divar. After completing her degree, Keishla worked at La Casa de Don Pedro in Newark, NJ to engage residents, stakeholders, and other local organizations in the area towards the self-sufficiency and empowerment of the community.

Keishla enjoys exploring and escaping the hectic city every chance she gets, snowboarding at the first sights of snow, and archery when she’s not sharing the incredible stories of Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights’ brave defenders of social justice.

 

Samaria Johnson | Development Coordinator 

Samaria’s lifelong passion for feminism and social justice, especially for Black women and the LGBTQ community, has led her on a winding road that includes grassroots organizing and student activism. In preschool, she noticed how the teachers kept the girls away from the books, puzzles, and art supplies, which were reserved for the boys during play, and from that point on, speaking up for gender justice has featured heavily in her life. As a student at the University of Alabama, Samaria fashioned her history studies and campus involvement to accommodate her growth as a queer Black feminist. She completed her capstone history project on reproductive health care in early modern England and served West Alabama Women’s Center as a clinic escort while in college. Samaria’s faith also influences her feminism, taking cues from leaders in the Civil Rights Movement and womanist scholars.

Prior to joining UAF, Samaria worked in community engagement, development, and external affairs at Planned Parenthood in both Utah and DC, National Women’s Law Center in DC, and West Alabama Women’s Center. 

Samaria grew up in Maryland and Boston. She holds a BA in History from the University of Alabama and a Master of Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University. Samaria’s greatest loves are Alabama and Patriots football, her younger sister and three godchildren, and traveling to all the places she read about as a kid.

 

Grace Yuen | Finance Coordinator 

Grace began her professional career in public accounting as well as for-profit organizations.  She then found her calling to serve when an opportunity arose to work for a YWCA, with the mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, and stayed there for almost two decades.  In addition to day-to-day accounting functions, Grace taught conversation and citizenship classes in its ESL Program.  She found it most gratifying to use her accounting skills to assess and award financial assistance to program participants.  Throughout this part of her non-profit career, Grace worked closely with the Development team as the finance lead in various fundraising events and system implementation projects. She is excited to join UAF to be a part of the efforts to promote women’s empowerment and rights.

Grace holds a B.Sc. in Accounting from New York University, as well as an MBA degree in Finance and Marketing from Rutgers Business School.  She is a CPA in the states of New York and New Jersey.  Grace enjoys visiting family in the Washington, D.C. area, as well as Boston and Toronto, Canada.  She plans to leave her footprints in all 50 states in the USA and to visit most of the national parks.

 

Danielle Pointdujour | Human Resources Officer

Danielle has spent over ten years working as a human resources professional at non-profits, where she happily served those dedicated to serving others and fighting the good fight. She holds an M.S. in Organizational Leadership from Mercy College in New York and joins Urgent Action Fund to continue supporting those who fight for social justice. When she’s not doing her part to make UAF an even more amazing place to work, you can find her off on a global adventure making international friends, taking culinary classes, and working on her tan.

 

Allison S. | Operations & Systems Officer

Allison is passionate about women’s human rights, digital privacy, and organizational efficiency.  She has 12 years of experience developing helpful and people-friendly systems that enable non-profits and teams to do their best work. She studied environmental science and has a master’s of business administration. Allison is a plant person and you will often find her in her garden harvesting herbs, tending to her succulents, or smiling in awe of her hummingbird friends.