Diana Samarasan, Founding Executive Director
Diana Samarasan is the Founding Executive Director of the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. Diana is the primary liaison to donors to the Fund and oversees grantmaking and strategic development. She is also responsible for promoting inclusion of people with disabilities in the human rights and development funding arenas.
Diana has over two decades of experience in disability, international health, and human rights. Previously, Diana directed the Mental Disability Advocacy Center a legal advocacy organization in Budapest, Hungary, which litigates abuses of rights of persons with disabilities in institutions. She also worked with the American Refugee Committee and Doctors of the World, addressing issues such as access of vulnerable populations to reproductive health services, tuberculosis control, and deinstitutionalization. A graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Diana has advanced degrees in Public Administration and Psychology. Diana is Co-Chair of the Steering Committee of the Human Rights Funders Network, a member of the Steering Committee of Opportunity Collaboration, and a Board member of the United States International Council on Disability.
Yumi Sera, Director of Partnerships and Communications
Yumi Sera is the Director of Partnerships and Communications for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. She collaborates with philanthropic organizations, development agencies, and social justice and human rights networks to advance the rights of persons with disabilities.
She previously served as the Fund’s Operations Director and brings to this new position twenty plus years of experience in managing partnerships between diverse stakeholders, including structuring new collaboratives and co-designing strategic frameworks. She’s also managed global grants programs at the World Bank, focusing on civic engagement and Indigenous Peoples. She has authored reports, guides, and stories with an emphasis on social inclusion. Yumi has a Master’s from the Yale School of Management and is an alumni of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET), International Career Advancement Program (ICAP), and is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. She is the board co-chair of the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) and is a Trustee of the World Affairs Council of Northern California and Chair of World Affairs Sacramento.
Lisa Adams, Program Director
Lisa Adams is the Program Director for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. In this role, she oversees Program Officers and the grant review process and works with the Executive Director on monitoring & evaluation of the impact of the Funds.
Lisa has over ten years of experience in international disability inclusion and rights work. Most recently, Lisa oversaw international implementation of the Handicap International Making it Work initiative – an initiative supporting documentation of good practices to promote changes in line with the CRPD. Prior to that, Lisa managed a three-year inclusive development project funded by USAID for Mobility International USA (MIUSA) where she coordinated and led technical assistance and training on inclusion to USAID missions in Jordan, Mali, Ethiopia and Colombia. She also led a regional Disability Monitor Initiative in Southeast Europe for Handicap International. She has expertise on inclusive employment, social protection reform, deinstitutionalization, access to media, inclusive education and accessibility. Lisa has a Master’s degree in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics.
Christina Parasyn, Technical Assistance Coordinator
Christina Parasyn is the Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Disability Rights Fund (DRF) and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund (DRAF). Her role is to coordinate and provide technical assistance to DRF and DRAF grantees globally and to contribute to refining Fund strategies. She also focuses on incorporating best practices in supporting organizations of people with disabilities to advance disability rights throughout the Fund’s work.
Christina has 19 years work experience in international development and disability. Most recently, she was a disability inclusive development consultant working with DPOs, governments, donors, service providers, international NGOs and the UN to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Her technical consultancy supported CRPD-focused research; situational analyses; development of disability policies, strategies and guidelines; capacity development; and disability inclusive development evaluations and research. Prior to consultancy, Christina played a key role in developing and implementing the Australian Government’s first ever disability strategy for the aid program ‘Development for All’. In her roles as Policy Officer and Regional Disability Specialist (Pacific), she worked to strengthen dialogue with, and technical capacity of, Australian aid program staff and partners in line with CRPD Article 32 on international cooperation. She has worked in Maldives, Fiji, India, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Vietnam and Australia. She has a Masters of Social Science (International Development), a Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) and is a qualified outdoor educator.
Paul Deany, Program Officer, Pacific and Asia Regions
Paul Deany is the Program Officer for the Pacific and Asia for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. He is responsible for grantmaking, grants oversight, and technical support to disabled persons organizations in ASEAN, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Pacific.
Paul has twenty years of international development experience on disability advocacy, HIV/AIDS, public health, and community development. Prior to joining DRF, he was Advocacy Officer at CBM (Christian Blind Mission) Australia and was the founding Coordinator of the Australian Disability and Development Consortium (ADDC), a regional rights-based network focusing attention, expertise and action on disability in developing countries. Additional work experiences includes World Vision, UNDP, UNAIDS, the Burnet Institute, and various community-based organizations. Paul himself has bi-polar disorder and has been involved in advocacy for people with psycho-social disabilities. Paul has a Masters’ of Primary Health Care and Bachelor of Social Work.
Jorge Manhique, Program Officer, Africa Region (Malawi and Rwanda)
Jorge Manhique is the Program Officer for Africa (Malawi and Rwanda) for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. He is responsible for grantmaking, grants oversight, and technical support to disabled persons organizations in Malawi and Rwanda.
Jorge has over five years of experience working with persons with disabilities in Mozambique. In the last three years, he served as Project Manager at Forum of Mozambican Association of Disabled People (FAMOD), where he was responsible for managing projects addressing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Jorge established the first monitoring unit within FAMOD with the mandate to advocate for law reform in critical areas, such as education, health, accessibility and mental health. Jorge represented FAMOD in the technical committee responsible for drafting the Disability Act and drafted the position document submitted to the ad-hoc commission responsible for the Constitutional review process in Mozambique. Jorge led a DFID-funded project on inclusive education. He also coordinated a project on violation of the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities and led the establishment of the first organization of persons with psychosocial disabilities in Mozambique. Jorge has Master of Laws (LLM) degree in International and Comparative Disability Law and Policy from the National University of Ireland.
Medi Ssengooba, Program Officer, Africa Region (Ghana and Uganda)
Medi Ssengooba is the Program Officer for Africa (Ghana and Uganda) for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. He is responsible for grantmaking, grants oversight, and technical support to disabled persons organizations in Ghana and Uganda.
Medi has over ten years of experience in disability, legal aid, and human rights. Medi co-founded the Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities Uganda, a DPO which offers legal aid services to persons with disabilities. He was a Finberg Fellow at Human Rights Watch, where he documented human rights abuses against persons with psychosocial disabilities in public psychiatric hospitals and in private religious institutions, commonly known as prayer camps, in Ghana. Medi was an advisory board member of the Open Society Foundation Youth Initiative. With a Ford Foundation scholarship, Medi has a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from American University Washington College of Law where he specialized in international human rights law; he holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Makerere University Kampala, Uganda, and was iadmitted to the Uganda Bar after obtaining a Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Center in Kampala. Medi is a polio survivor.
Melanie Kawano-Chiu, Project Officer
Melanie Kawano-Chiu is the Project Officer for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. She is responsible for supporting and monitoring a multi-year partnership project.
Melanie’s 16-year career has included creating a global monitoring and evaluation consortium; building multi-stakeholder partnerships; teaching at international and domestic higher education institutions; and designing qualitative and quantitative research and evaluations. Prior to this position, she was the Director of Learning and Evaluation at the Alliance for Peacebuilding, where she led an international consortium to improve evaluation practices and policies. She also cultivated and managed relationships with over 300 private and institutional donors and led communication efforts to gain new audiences. Earlier in her career, she oversaw grants for Fortune 20 companies at the American Red Cross. She has authored publications on evaluation and impact of peacebuilding, as well as on post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan. Melanie developed curriculum for the first monitoring and evaluation online certificate course for New York University. She is currently an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University Department of Global Studies. She has a Master’s in Political Theory and Conflict Resolution and a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Psychology and International and Intercultural Studies.
Arlene Wilson-Grant, Grants Manager
Arlene Wilson-Grant is the Grants Manager for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. She is responsible for managing all aspects of the administration and for legal compliance of the organization’s grantmaking policies and procedures.
Arlene brings a strong background from diverse experiences in grants management and program roles. Arlene joined the Disability Rights Fund from the Skoll Foundation, where she served as the key liaison between grantees, program, and finance staff for three entities. She joined the Skoll Foundation from the Public Health Institute, where she managed federal and state contracts with for-profit companies, community-based organizations, and government entities. Prior to that, she spent nearly seven years as a Program Officer at the Sacramento Region Community Foundation where she helped donors identify effective funding strategies and developed and implemented regional grantmaking programs, coalition-building amongst key stakeholders, and communications and public relations efforts. She began her career at the Tides Foundation, working in the areas of youth development, economic development, and international grantmaking. Arlene participates in the Grants Managers Network, the nation’s leading association dedicated to advancing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of grants management professionals to benefit the philanthropic community. From 2011-2012, she co-chaired a Grants Managers Network committee that produced a comprehensive online publication on best practices in grants management. Arlene received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of California, Davis.
Alice Phinizy, Finance & Operations Manager
Alice Phinizy is the Finance & Operations Manager for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. In this role, she oversees the finances and operations of the organizations, working closely with the Founding Executive Director to ensure value for money.
Alice has many years of experience overseeing finance and operations for a variety of nonprofit and for-profit companies. She has worked in the affordable housing and social innovation fields, and most recently managed the business side of a world renowned brewery in Boston. While at the nascent (at the time) Third Sector Capital Partners, Alice built financial and operational procedures from the ground up. She also became a resource for compliance administration, offering assistance to nonprofit and government organizations. At the Women’s Institute for Housing & Economic Development, Alice worked closely with funders, oversaw the audit process, and supported housing projects for low-income and disabled individuals and families. Alice holds a Masters of Business Administration in International Business and a Bachelors of Science in Computer Information Systems, both from Bentley University in Massachusetts.
Kerry Thompson, Information and Program Coordinator
Kerry Thompson is the Information and Program Coordinator for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. In this role, she manages day-to-day activities for the operation, provides program support, coordinates biannual meetings, and maintains DRF’s website and social media presence.
Kerry brings more than ten years of combined experiences in business, finance, and grants management in both academic and healthcare settings, including working for Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the National Institute of Health. She is an active advocate for the disability community with an emphasis on making medical care more accessible. She holds a Master’s in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education with an academic focus on disability rights in the broader context of international human rights. Her academic experience included human rights courses at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School. She is a 2014 Marshall Memorial Fellow with the German Marshall Fund for the United States and a 2016 – 2017 White House Fellowship National Finalist. She serves as the Executive Director for Silent Rhythms, a non-profit that promotes access to the arts for people with disabilities. Kerry also serves on the Massachusetts Statewide Advisory Council, the Board of Directors for DEAF, Inc. and as a liaison representative for the Deafblind Community Access Network Advisory Council.
Dwi Ariyani, Indonesia Grants Consultant
Dwi Ariyani is the Indonesia Grants Consultant for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. She works closely with the program team and serves as a liaison between the Funds and grantees in Indonesia.
Dwi has ten years of experience working in Indonesia on disability rights and movement building, especially around the areas of economic empowerment and disaster risk reduction. She has worked with grassroots and national disabled persons organizations to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as providing capacity development aid to DPOs. As the Inclusion Programme Advisor and Deputy Project Manager Disability Rights Project for Handicap International-Indonesia, Dwi has on-the-ground experience in conducting field surveys, focus groups, and assessments to collect data for evidence-based research for the rights of persons with disabilities. This research was used to advocate for better laws and to produce and advocacy handbook for DPOs and community based organizations. Dwi also coordinated awareness raising campaigns with DPO partners in ten provinces to advocate to local and provincial authorities and education service providers. With InterAksi, a DPO in Central Java, Dwi worked in an earthquake affected area to establish an inclusive children’s center to provide psychosocial support to children with disabilities and to promote access to relief services by humanitarian NGOs working in disaster relief. With a diploma in computer technology, she wrote articles for an accessible news website for blind people. As a woman with disability, Dwi has also advocated for the empowerment of women with disabilities.
Jo-Ann Garnier Lafontant, Haiti Grants Consultant
Jo-Ann Garnier Lafontant is the Haiti Grants Consultant for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. She works closely with the program team and serves as a liaison between the Funds and grantees in Haiti.
Jo-Ann brings over a decade of experience supporting Haitian civil society to promote the rights of children, including children with disabilities, and to provide technical support to civil society and the government on rights and inclusion of marginalized groups. Prior to DRF, as Executive Director for enpaK, a Haitian NGO promoting the rights of children, she worked with multi-stakeholders on strategies realizing the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to ensure all children are included in education and social development programs. She also worked with the Secretary of State’s office on a communication strategy to popularize the Law on the Integration of Persons with Disabilities, including a child friendly version in French and Creole. As Plan International’s Country Director, she built strong relationships with civil society, government, and donor agencies. She is on several national platforms for rights and development issues in Haiti and has travelled extensively throughout the country meeting with rural, grassroots community groups. Jo-Ann has a law degree from the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She is fluent in French, Creole, English and Spanish.