Start Empathy


Our Team


Greg Van Kirk

Greg Van Kirk is the leader of Ashoka’s Start Empathy initiative in North America. He is the Co-Founder of Community Empowerment Solutions and Social Entrepreneur Corps. He is an Ashoka Lemelson Fellow, Ashoka Globalizer and was recently recognized as Schwab Foundation “Social Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012 (Latin America)” at the World Economic Forum. Greg is the innovator who designed the MicroConsignment Model. What drew him to the subject of empathy was the realization that it was empathy that ultimately made his social innovation model successful, and he could observe the same pattern in other social entrepreneurs’ organizations. He has served as a consultant for organizations such as USAID, Chemonics, VisionSpring, Soros Foundation, Church World Service, Inter-American Development Bank, IFC, Water For People and Fundacion Paraguaya in the US, Latin America and Africa. Greg also contributes time as “Social Entrepreneur in Residence” and has recently worked with Columbia University, NYU, Marquette University, Indiana University, University of San Diego and Arizona State University. He is a senior advisor for AshokaU. He has taught social entrepreneurship at Columbia University and NYU Wagner. Greg began working in rural small business development as a Guatemala Peace Corps volunteer in 2001. He worked in investment banking for five years before arriving in Guatemala. Two deals he led at UBS during this time won “Deal of the Year” honors from Structured Finance International magazine. Greg is a graduate of Miami University and currently lives with his family in New York City.

Romina Laouri

Romina leads innovation for the Start Empathy initiative and joined Ashoka in 2005. Among her many roles at Ashoka, she has helped launch Youth Venture (YV) in Germany, strategized YV’s expansion in Latin America, has led YV’s social media strategy, and developed the YV Summits, and has led multiple media partnerships and youth campaigns. More recently, she has organized and hosted TEDxYSE and TEDxAshokaU.   She completed her undergraduate work at Macalester College and holds an MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago. She is an active member of the peace movement in Cyprus and is a co-founder of a youth group that promotes youth participation. She also serves as a Board Member to the Cyprus Neuroscience and Technology Institute (CNTI) and has done extensive work as well as published around the use of Structured Dialogic Design Process (SDDP) approach for a variety of co-laboratories in Cyprus.

Dana Mekler

Dana is the Global Program Manager for the Empathy Initiative at Ashoka, where she oversees the strategy and implementation of the organization’s education framework among a global team of 50+ employees and a constituency of over 200 Changemaker Schools from around the world. Dana was born and grew up in Mexico City and lived in Madrid and Paris before moving to the U.S. in 2009. She is passionate about innovation in education and believes in the power of youth leadership to solve global problems. Before joining Ashoka, Dana founded Sports for Sharing, the first international branch of the Mexican organization of the same name, to teach children ages 6 through 12 global citizenship and values through sports and games.

Valentina Raman

Valentina leads engagement of Start Empathy’s network of Changemaker Schools and Empathy Fellows in events, media, and other opportunities with the goal of catalyzing conversation and shifting mindsets in the field of education. Having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama in a cross-cultural, multi-religion household, Valentina has long been facilitating conversations across diverse perspectives within her family, schools, and communities. She now applies these personal experiences to her work, facilitating opportunities for the network’s leading educators and social entrepreneurs to share their stories on influential physical and digital platforms. In addition to her work at Ashoka, Valentina co-founded IMPACT Magazine, a student-run solutions journalism publication, which continues to elevate the stories of changemakers at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. She is now preparing for the launch of her newest venture, JournalUp: an educational program that seeks to empower student voices in their schools and communities via their practice of daily writing in an online journal.

Laura Hay

Laura leads Ashoka’s search and selection for the US Changemaker Schools Network. She was born in Madrid and has a BA in Linguistics and International Comparative Studies from Duke University. Bilingual in English and Spanish, fluent in Portuguese and French and having studied Hindi, Sanskrit, Latin and Ancient Greek, she loves working cross-culturally and discovering different ways of thinking, living and being in the world. As a Pre K-5th grade science, language, nutrition and garden educator at the Garden School Foundation’s main site, she advanced meaningful education initiatives for underserved youth in L.A. through hands-on learning in outdoor living classrooms. At Social Impact Media Awards she advanced global awareness of humanitarian issues by championing and exhibiting creative works of visual storytelling that inspire activism, compassion and positive social transformation. She aspires to improve how we engage people as responsible citizens of an interconnected world, to prepare and enable them to think critically, creatively and compassionately about the global social and environmental challenges of our present and future.

Tim Scheu

Tim is the Director of Engagement Management for Ashoka Changemakers, and has led day-to-day delivery of our Re-imagine Learning, Start Empathy and Children’s Wellbeing engagements, among others, during his tenure. Prior to arriving in Arlington, he served as Innovation Manager for International Bridges to Justice, where he conceptualized and managed collaborative competitions specific to the human rights sector. From 2001 to 2005, Tim served as Communications Manager for GlobalGiving, where he helped launch, publicize, and populate an online marketplace for international philanthropy. He has also worked as a Farber Intern for REDF, a leader for Overland’s rocky mountain service and backpacking summer program, and a consultant for AES Sonel investigating rural electrification opportunities in Cameroon. Tim has BAs in English Lit and Poli Sci from Bucknell University and an MBA from Duke University, where he was a CASE Social Sector Scholar.

Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers is a senior advisor to the Start Empathy initiative and has worked on a number of Ashoka initiatives since 2008. He is an Associate Professor of English and the Associate Chair of the English Department at George Mason University. Since 2011 he has also served as a Senior Scholar at George Mason’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. An innovative and interdisciplinary leader, Dr. Rogers has led a variety of initiatives focused on supporting teachers and advancing social entrepreneurship and well-being in higher education. Paul earned his PhD in education from UC Santa Barbara in 2008. His recent publications include the co-edited volumes: Writing Research from Multiple Perspectives (in press); International Advances in Writing Research: Cultures, Places, and Measures (2012); Writing Across the Curriculum: A Critical Sourcebook (2011); and, Traditions of Writing Research (2010). His most recent publications include book chapters on well-being in higher education; curricular advances in social entrepreneurship; and strengthening PhD programs across the disciplines. He was a 2008 recipient of the American Association of Colleges & Universities K. Patricia Cross Award for leadership in higher education, and was a co-recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English 2009 Janet Emig Award for research in English education. He is also the former Director of the Northern Virginia Writing Project. He recently gave a TEDx talk entitled “How to Live your Best Life” and was a featured expert on the Washington, D.C. PBS station WETA’s award-winning series “Reading Rockets“, which helps young children to read and write.

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