Who We Are

The Leadership Now Project was incubated by a group of Harvard Business School alumni as an innovative model for sustained and strategic engagement to fix democracy. It now has member groups in five cities.


Steering Group


Daniella Ballou-Aares | Founder and CEO

Daniella Ballou-Aares is CEO of the Leadership Now Project.  She was previously a Partner and Director for the Americas at Dalberg. She joined Dalberg in 2004 and helped grow it from a start-up to a leading global group of social impact businesses, with 25 offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the US. 

Daniella returned to Dalberg after serving for five years as the Senior Advisor for Development to the Secretary of State, serving under Secretaries Clinton and Kerry. She started her career at Bain & Company, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, where she serves on the Advisory Council.

She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MPA from the Kennedy School and a BS in Operations Research and Engineering from Cornell.


Lisa Blau | Founding Member

Lisa Blau is a partner at __able, an investment partnership focused on supporting visionary, early stage brands in the positive, healthy living space. Lisa has spent the last decade as an active angel investor with a particular interest in supporting women-led entrepreneurial ventures. She is a Board Member of The New York Public Library, KIPP New York, and The Mount Sinai Parenting Center.

Lisa has a BA from Duke and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


Katherine Cousins | Founding Member

Katherine Cousins currently serves as Vice President and General Manager of Kodiak Group Holdings, Co., where she leads the global Kodiak, Terra, and Dickies footwear brands as well as Work Authority. Previously, she has served as Vice President of Global Strategy, Licensing and Accessories for the Timberland brand, served as a Senior Associate at Dalberg Global Development Advisors and led efforts on behalf of Teledesic LLC to license global satellite service in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Katherine received a Bachelor of Science degree in International Politics from Georgetown University, a Certificate of Political Studies from the Institut d‘études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) and a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School.


Nilmini Rubin | Founding Member

Nilmini is Executive Vice President at Tetra Tech, a leading provider of infrastructure consulting and engineering services globally. She is co-Author of United Shapes of America. Previously, Nilmini served as the Senior Advisor for Global Economic Competitiveness at the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Director at the National Security Council and worked on international economic policy at Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Nilmini holds a BA and MBA from UC Berkeley


Mariam Alsikafi, Founding Member | National Meeting Co-Chair

Mariam Alsikafi is a co-Founder of The Citizens Archive, a cultural organization focused on cultural preservation and educational outreach. She brings with her a unique perspective from time spent in finance and investment management.

Mariam attended Dartmouth College and the Harvard Business School. She has served on the Alumni Board of Directors at the Harvard Business School, the Silk Road Theater Project and the Women's Steering Committee for CARE USA.


Craig Robinson | Founding Member

Craig Robinson is the Global Head of Enterprise Services at WeWork. Most recently, Craig was the CEO of Global Corporate Services at Newmark Knight Frank. Previously, Craig was president for the U.S. region for Colliers International Group Inc., where he was responsible for more than $1 billion in annual revenue, 5,600 real estate professionals and 150 offices.

Craig earned his MBA from Harvard Business School and his Bachelor of Science degree from MIT.


John F. Pleasants | Founding Member

John is a long-time Silicon Valley executive and a veteran of the consumer technology and media industries. He serves as CEO of Brava, an IoT food company seeking to revolutionize how people cook at home. Prior to Brava, he was EVP of media solutions at Samsung and Co-President of Disney Interactive. He is a YPO and active angel investor and philanthropist.

John earned a BA in Political Science from Yale University and MBA from Harvard Business School.


Sarah Amico | Founding Member

Sarah is the Executive Chairperson of Jack Cooper Holdings Corp., North America’s largest car haul company and a certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise. Prior to joining Jack Cooper, she worked as the Head of Strategic Planning at APA Talent and Literary Agency in Beverly Hills.

Sarah received her BA in Politics from Washington & Lee University and her MBA from Harvard Business School.


Gisel Kordestani | Founding Member

Gisel is a tech entrepreneur who has worked in early stage startups, management consulting and at Google in senior global roles. Gisel co-founded Crowdpac, in 2013 and serves as its COO.

She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA in international affairs from the American University in Paris. She is Vice-Chair of the Mercy Corps Board.

Charles Ledley | Founding Member

Charlie is an investor previously with Highfields Capital Management and Cornwall Capital, a private investment firm focusing on special situations across a wide array of asset classes.

He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and serves on the Board of the Tobin Project.


Vicky Hausman | Founding Member

Vicky is a Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Forward Majority. Vicky spent the past ten years as a partner with Dalberg, a purpose-driven business that brings the best of strategy, data and analytics to help leaders maximize the impact of their investments. Prior to Dalberg, Vicky was a consultant with BCG, and started her career as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Vicky holds a BA from Harvard and an MA from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.


Irina Zavina | Founding Member

Irina Zavina has extensive experience in partnerships, finance, marketing and business development with in the hospitality sector. She is a co-founder of Arcadia Mountain Holdings. Irina began her career as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch.

Irina has a BA in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Chicago and
an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Leadership Now Project Education Fund


Vineeta Vijayaraghavan | Chair

Vineeta is an advisor on innovation working with leading healthcare companies, startups and faculty at Harvard. She has published in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Reuters, Washington Post online, and other media. She started her career at Morgan Stanley and Katzenbach Partners (now part of PwC).

Vineeta attended Harvard Business School and Harvard College. She is a co-founder and leader of Families Organizing for Racial Justice, engaging parents in increasing equity in schools.




MEGHANN CURTIS | INVESTMENTS, finance, and operations

Meghann Curtis joins the Leadership Now Project after two decades working in senior positions in US politics, foreign policy, and international business. Most recently, Meghann served as the Executive Vice President at CIEE - the Council on International Educational Exchange - supporting over 40,000 young people on exchanges across 130 countries. Prior to that, she served in the State Department as a Senior Advisor to Secretary Clinton and as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, where she led the Fulbright Program and other public diplomacy initiatives.

Meghann holds a BA from Vassar College and a MPA from Princeton University.


james dunham | data science

James is a data scientist with a background in computational social science. He specializes in statistical methods for natural language processing and information extraction from unstructured data. James comes to Leadership Now from doctoral research that examined the activity of organized interests in state politics. He has also worked on open civic data at the MIT Election Lab; developed survey methods at MIT's Political Experiments Research Lab; and built digital campaigns for non-profits. James holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.P.A. from New York University, and a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin.


maia pelleg | operations, growth, and STRATEGIC INITIATIVES

Maia joins the Leadership Now Project after working on recent congressional and presidential campaigns. Prior to that, Maia practiced corporate law at Weil, Gotshal & Manges.  She has extensive experience advising executives, financial institutions, and growth-stage businesses, and has won several pro-bono awards.  Maia’s work with mental health courts served as the basis of her research and criminal justice reform advocacy.

Maia started her career as a management consultant before working in microfinance for Kiva.org in Kenya and Ghana. She sits on the steering committee of NYDLC. Maia holds a JD, MS in Global Health, and BA from Duke University.   



Lexi is the Project Manager for Leadership Now. She cares deeply about reforming government and comes from a background in politics including in the US House of Representatives, on campaigns on the state and federal level, and at the Democratic National Committee. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.



Ellen Stiefvater is an experienced social science researcher and program manager who will always remain a community organizer at heart. Prior to joining Leadership Now Project, Ellen directed global health training and research programs for Harvard University in China and served as an NIH International Research Scholar in South Africa and a Teaching Fellow in International Politics at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

She holds an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School, an MPhil in Political Science and Public Health from Columbia University, and a BA in International Relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.