Panelists and Facilitators


Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla, MPA ’19

Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla is a left-wing strategist from Hyderabad, India. She currently serves on the Cabinet of the Progressive International, founded in May 2020 to unite, organize, and mobilize progressive forces around the world. Her work is focused on public policy for internationalism. Previously, Varsha worked on a reproductive justice campaign at Women Deliver in New York, served as a policy fellow on the Economic Development Board of the Government of Andhra Pradesh in India, and was a strategy consultant in Hong Kong. At Princeton University, her interests were comparative political economy, critical theory, and feminist policy, and she graduated the MPA program with Distinction in International Development. Her writing has been featured in the Jacobin, Boston Review, Salon, Wire among others.

Session 1: Decolonization and Global Justice

Rochelle Haynes, MPA ’06

Rochelle Haynes, MPA ’06

Rochelle’s multi-sector career has a common thread of focusing on policies and programs that seek to identify solutions to ending the cycle of poverty in vulnerable communities. She has had the privilege to serve individuals, families, and children through work in government, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors with an expertise in anti-poverty programs that span from birth to adulthood.

Rochelle began her career at the United Spinal Association working on legislation in the areas of affordable, accessible housing for people with disabilities. While her career in New York City government extends from affordable housing to social services where she worked to guide policies and improve operations for public benefit programs including a tenure as Chief of Staff at NYC’s Department of Homeless Services. After 10 years in municipal government, Rochelle joined 100 Resilient Cities-Rockefeller Foundation, where she led operations and strategy for the City Practice Management team and was responsible for the global delivery of the 100RC core program which included leveraging global partnerships to ensure successful implementation. In her most recent role, she served as Vice President of the US Social Impact team at Sesame Workshop, where she led the strategic expansion of the Sesame Street in Communities initiative from 3 to 13 cities and regions serving 75,000 vulnerable kids and families with resources to foster healthy development.

Rochelle is currently working as an independent consultant for the Sadie Collective, focused on designing an inclusive economic curriculum with Pearson Education and leading research for JP Morgan Chase in the Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia Metropolitan area on BIPOC women to determine policy and investment opportunities. Rochelle earned dual Masters’ degrees in Public Affairs and Urban Planning from Princeton University as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University at Albany. She currently resides as a Board Member of the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy and as an Advisory Council Member of the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Kidus Asfaw, MPA ’14

Kidus Asfaw, MPA ’14

Kidus is the co-founder and CEO of Kubik - an environmental tech company turning plastic waste into low-carbon buildings. Kubik’s focus on building environmental and economic dignity has made Africa’s Startup of the Year.

Previously, Kidus led on technology and innovation initiatives for UNICEF. As the organization’s first global product manager, he led UNICEF's open source projects, with over 40 country deployments to support some of the largest and most critical programs improving the lives of children. Kidus has also worked for the World Bank, Accenture, and Google.

He is an SPIA alum, and a Biomedical Engineer from Duke. He lives in Nairobi.

James Kiawoin, MPA ’19

James Kiawoin, MPA ’19

James Earl Kiawoin is the Country Manager for the Luminos Fund in Liberia where he manages day-to-day operations, overall program delivery, government and stakeholder engagement, and supports staff development. Previously, James worked as a Strategy Consultant at Dalberg Advisors in Rwanda where he completed projects on higher education financing and digital ecosystem development.

James began his career at Last Mile Health in a strategic advisory role with the Liberian Ministry of Health. There, he worked to develop, finance, and scale a national community health workers program that delivered health care to 1.2 million people in rural, hard-to-reach areas. James has vast experience leading initiatives in Liberia and previously held leadership roles at the Khana group, LEAD Monrovia Football Academy, and SMART Liberia, which he co-founded.

James holds an MPA with a focus on international development from the school of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 2019, a BA in Political Science from Colorado College, and was part of the inaugural class of the African Leadership Academy.

Summer Lopez, MPA ’08

Summer Lopez, MPA ’08

Summer Lopez has served as PEN America’s Senior Director of Free Expression Programs since November 2017. As a member of PEN America's senior organizational leadership, she oversees domestic and international advocacy, research, and programming portfolios on a broad range of contemporary free expression issues, including digital rights, academic freedom, online abuse, disinformation, press freedom, and defending writers at risk. Lopez has worked to advance democracy and human rights in the nonprofit and government sectors, including most recently as deputy director of the Office of Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance at the USAID Mission in Zimbabwe, and prior to that in USAID's Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance in Washington, D.C. She holds a BA from Harvard University and a Master in Public Affairs from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Qazi Rashid, MPA ’18

Qazi Rashid, MPA ’18

Qazi is an Associate Principal on the Responsible Innovation team at Google. He advises product teams on building responsible and fair AI technologies by evaluating the impact of technology on society. Prior to Google, Qazi worked at several social startups focusing on financial inclusion, entrepreneurship, education, and employment. He has worked at Omidyar Network building strategy for the launch of a new team; at Mission Asset Fund mining data to integrate metrics and features into its mobile app; and with USAID assessing coordination and management gaps with diverse stakeholders. Qazi also co-founded a boutique consulting firm providing advisory services to socially conscious businesses. As a development practitioner, Qazi conducted field research in behavioral economics, and provided data-driven financial and product development advisory services to microfinance institutions in MENA. Qazi received a BS in International Politics from Georgetown, and an MPA in Economics and Public Policy from Princeton. He was born and raised just outside of Chittagong, Bangladesh, and lived in Qatar for over a decade.

Suman Sureshbabu, MPA ’07

Suman Sureshbabu, MPA ’07

Suman is a Managing Director at the Rockefeller Foundation leading the jobs and livelihoods portfolio for the newly created Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP). GEAPP is a $1.5 billion grant funded initiative aimed at ending energy poverty, reducing carbon emissions, and improving and enabling new jobs. She has grown this work from its inception and currently focuses on promoting economic development through energy access, with a particular focus on promoting gender equity. Suman’s previous work at the Foundation included a focus on agriculture and community based urban movements. Prior to joining the Foundation Suman was a Fulbright Scholar in Northern Ghana and has worked on microfinance and gender equity interventions through various consultancies.

Ms. Sureshbabu received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the Johns Hopkins University and a Master’s in Public Affairs at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Session 2: Storytelling Workshop

Mayor Eric Johnson, MPA/JD ’03

Mayor Eric Johnson, MPA/JD ’03

Eric Johnson is the 60th Mayor of Dallas, Texas, elected in June 2019. Prior to becoming mayor, Johnson served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives where he represented the City of Dallas from April 2010 to June 2019. During his tenure in the Texas Legislature, Johnson served on several legislative committees, including Appropriations, Ways and Means, Higher Education and Natural Resources. He also served as chairman of the Dallas Area Legislative Delegation. In addition to his service as Mayor of Dallas, Johnson is also a partner with the international law firm of Locke Lord LLP.

Johnson was born in Dallas and attended Dallas Independent School District schools through first grade before earning a scholarship to Greenhill School through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas. He attended Harvard College, where he graduated cum laude with a degree in History. Johnson also holds a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a masters degree in Public Affairs from the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is an alumnus of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mayor Johnson lives in Dallas with his wife, Nikki, their three children, William, George, and Lela, and their dog, Penny. He is a member of the Mountain View Church of Christ.

Denise Kumani Gantt (Facilitator from StoryCenter)

Denise Kumani Gantt

Denise Kumani Gantt is currently the director of education at the Lyric Baltimore. Her plays and performance pieces include meditations/from the ash, winner of the Artscape Best Play Contest and voted Best New Play by The Baltimore Alternative and CityPaper;Three Stories to the Ground, written with Gabriel Shanks and winner of the Theatre Project Outstanding Vision in Theatre award and anatomy/lessons selected as part of Penumbra Theater’s Cornerstone Project (MN). Her play, The Gift, a brief history of everything we have ever known, received staged readings at A Contemporary Theater (ACT-Seattle), The Drama League (New York), and Cape May Stage (NJ). Her poetry collection, conjuring the dead, was awarded the Maryland Emerging Writers Award by poet Afaa Michael Weaver. Denise has vocally trained with Richard Armstrong, Rhiannon, and Bobby McFerrin, and she was a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow at the MacDowell Colony (NH). She has also received numerous fellowships including Hedgebrook (WA), Sangam House (India), Fiskars Village (Finland), and the Santa Fe Art Institute (NM). She is currently an advisory member of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance’s Urban Arts Leadership program and is a member of the Baltimore Arts Education Initiative. Denise received her undergraduate degree from Goucher College and her MFA in Theater from Towson University. She is currently an adjunct professor in theater at Coppin State University and facilitates digital story workshops with the StoryCenter and StoryCentre, CA.

Session 3: Decolonization & Reimagination - Indigenous-led Workshop

Akaxe Yotzin Gómez (Facilitator from Indigenous Roots)

Akaxe Yotzin Gómez

Akaxe Yotzin Gómez, comes from a long line of Nahua tradition. As a child he received instruction in the fundamental disciplines of Nahua traditions from his father which also included numerous traditional Indigenous ceremonies in Sierra Norte de Puebla. His journey as a Mazehual began from birth in which he dedicated his time for half of each year under the direction of his teachers Xiuhmitzin and Alfredo Huitzilmazatzin.

Since 1999 to today, Akaxe has been profoundly committed to researching, preserving, applying, and sharing the ancestral knowledge of the Toltekatl. Having taught the ancient arts, sciences, philosophies and disciplines throughout the globe in Mexico, various countries in Europe and throughout the United States.

In 2013, Akaxe launched Nahua Lessons / Machtia Toltekatl as Founder and Head Teacher with his duality Ixpahuatzin in which he continues to build upon the foundations in various cities and countries, with a network of individuals, groups, schools, businesses and organizations committed to preserving and applying the vast and profound knowledge of the natives of Anahuak and indigenous Toltekayot of all lands.

Mary Anne Quiroz (Facilitator from Indigenous Roots)

Mary Anne Quiroz

Mary Anne Quiroz is an Islander Mama, Dancer, Artist Organizer and Community Activator. She was born in the Philippines and immigrated with her family to the Dakota Lands of Imniza Ska (East Side Saint Paul, Mni Sota). Together with her life partner and duality, they co-founded Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli, a traditional Mexican/Nahua/Aztec dance and community group in 2006 as well as Indigenous Roots in 2015.

Quiroz is also a Co-Founder/Co-Director of Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center where she and a coalition of artists, organizers and cultural groups provide accessible space and programming opportunities through arts, culture and activism. Guided by ancestral knowledge, Quiroz believes that arts and culture is an ecosystem in fostering well-being and generational wealth. Today, Quiroz continues to build collective power with and for Brown, Black, Native and Indigenous artists, organizers and community members in the Twin Cities and beyond.