Spring 2015 … The Africa Action Transition Board is pleased to introduce three new board members: Melaura Homan-Smith, Solome Lemma and Sarah Pray. Each brings a strong commitment to progressive Africa policy and a track record of accomplishments.
Send your welcome message to: AfricaActionTransition@gmail.com
Melaura Homan-Smith is the Program Coordinator for Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN). Pan-African in focus, she has investigated and advocated around issues of conflict mineral law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and fostered dialogue and outreach after a corporate land grab in the Volta Region of Ghana.
Melaura also leads communications for a small non-profit foundation in DC which builds schools and clinics around the world. Her Quaker spirit of service led her to teach English with an international team in rural China in 2005 and in 2009 volunteer with various human rights groups in Argentina which work toward justice for victims of the Guerra Sucia (Dirty War).
Melaura holds Bachelor’s degrees in International Political Economy and Comparative Literature from the Pennsylvania State University.
Solome Lemma is a philanthropist. activist. and organizer. She cofounded and directs the innovative Africans in the Diaspora platform that aims to unleash the philanthropic and intellectual capital of the Diaspora to advance sustainable development in Africa. Currently, she is one of the leading forces behind Africa Responds, including #UnitedAgainstEbola.
Previously, she served as a Global Fund for Children’s Senior Program Officer for Africa for over five years, managing a large portfolio that included work with over 100 grassroots organizations in about 25 countries. Solome is also co-founder and coordinator of Hornlight, an online platform that promotes diverse, nuanced, and dignified narratives on the Horn of Africa.
Solome has also worked with the IIN Development Programme in Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch in New York City, and International Rescue Committee in Liberia. She received a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and an undergraduate degree in international relations from Stanford University.
Solome was recently recognized as a White House Champion of Change for her work with Diaspora communities and featured in both Forbes and Washington Post. She was also named as one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s “100 women to follow on twitter” at @innovateafrica .
Sarah Pray is a Senior Policy Analyst for Africa in the Open Society Foundations’ Washington DC office. Sarah focuses on bringing the advocacy priorities of the four OSF African foundations to the Washington D.C. policymaker community, focusing on a diverse range of issues, including elections, human rights, rule of law and corruption. Since 2010, Sarah has been a lecturer at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs teaching graduate skills courses on advocacy.
Prior to joining OSF, Sarah was the coordinator of the Publish What You Pay United States coalition, advocating for transparency and accountability in the oil, gas and mining industries. Sarah has also worked at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights as a human rights attorney promoting corporate responsibility and government accountability around the extraction of oil in Chad.
Sarah serves on the Board of Directors of EG Justice, a human rights organization focusing on Equatorial Guinea. She received a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Boston College Law School.
Continuing Board Members
Adotei Akwei, Board Chair
Adotei Akwei is Managing Director, Government Relations for Amnesty International USA. He rejoined AIUSA in September 2010 after serving as the Senior Policy Advisor for CARE USA. In this capacity, Mr. Akwei helped develop and implement advocacy on CARE USA’s priority issues towards the US government.
Prior to joining the Government Relations team in Washington DC, he served as the Regional Advocacy Advisor for CARE’s Asia Regional Management Unit. As an RAA, He supported CARE Country Offices in Asia in the development and implementation of national level advocacy strategies as well as with regional advocacy priorities. Before joining CARE, Mr. Akwei worked with Amnesty International USA for 11 years, first as the senior Advocacy Director for Africa and then later as Director of Campaigns. From 1992 to 1994, he served as Africa Director for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, now Human Rights First. Prior to that, he served as the Research and Human Rights Director for the American Committee on Africa and the Africa Fund.
Mr. Akwei received his Master’s degree in International Relations from the College of William and Mary and his Bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York College at Purchase. He was born in Ghana.
Imani Countess, Board Member
Imani Countess is the Regional Program Director for Africa at American Center for International Labor Solidarity AFL-CIO. Before taking up this position, she was Zimbabwe country director for National Democratic Institute, with responsibility for program development, oversight and implementation of democracy strengthening programs, donor relations and representation. Ms. Countess is a veteran of the U.S.-based Africa advocacy community. A respected political strategist and analyst, she is frequently requested to make presentations regarding U.S.-policy toward Africa, including congressional and expert witness testimony. She has extensive knowledge of African politics, particularly Southern Africa.
Previously, Ms. Countess was the senior director for public affairs at TransAfrica Forum where she functioned as an advisor to the president, conceptualized and implemented the organization’s Zimbabwe program, maintained expert knowledge on U.S. policy toward Africa, maintained the organizations external relations, and worked with staff and the board of directors on issue-framing.
Prior to joining TransAfrica, Ms. Countess was the national Africa coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, where she re-vamped a dormant program through the creation of innovative educational, training and outreach activities. Ms. Countess’ other professional positions in the non-profit sector include: outreach director at Shared Interest, a New York-based loan guarantee fund; senior outreach fellow with the Africa Policy Information Center; executive director of the Washington office on Africa/Africa Policy Information Center, Washington, D.C.-based legislative and research organizations; program associate with the Namibia Information Service, a U.N.-sponsored news agency; and the Southern Africa program coordinator for the Coalition for a New Foreign Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization.
In addition to her work in the non-profit sector, Ms. Countess also worked as the congressional liaison for the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF). Ms. Countess is a board member of the African Studies Association, board member of the Association of the Concerned Africa Scholars and former co-chair of the Jubilee USA Network Board of Directors. She is the 2007 recipient of the Bud Day Award for Activist Scholarship on Africa.
Advisor to the Board
Marcia Thomas. The Africa Action Transition Board is pleased to announce that Marcia Thomas, after completing her one year appointment to the Transition Board, will continue to support Africa Action’s development as an “advisor.” We thank her for her continuing service.
Marcia Thomas has been an Executive Director, Manager, Consultant and organizer for efforts located on both the East and West Cost of the United States. She presently serves as the Executive Director of USA for Africa and previously worked for Oxfam America, which is where most of her international and Africa related experience was developed. She has also been associated with several big project events such as Hands Across America and 1984 Olympic Games. Ms. Thomas also served as a consultant on the Jubilee 2000 Debt Relief Campaign. She provided networking and outreach services for the campaign’s UK office.
She has served on a number of Boards and Advisory Committees for Africa focused, women and youth organizations. Ms. Thomas was a Founding Board member of the National Summit on Africa (Africa Society) and is presently on UCLA’s James S. Coleman African Studies Center Advisory Board and is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, Los Angeles. Through membership via USA for Africa, Ms Thomas is a current member of several Donor organizations; Africa Grantmakers Affinity Group, EDGE Funders Alliance and Africa Grantmakers Network.
Ms. Thomas has a Masters Degree in Education and worked for a number of years for the Boston Schools, in various capacities during the 1970s when the system was under a federally mandated desegregation order.
Special Thank You to Folabi Olagbaju
The Africa Action Transition Board sends a special “thank you” to Folabi Olagbaju who served as Treasurer during his volunteer, one-year term. Thank you for a year of dedicated service.
View our Board Members’ Duty of Care Pledge