From left to right, the 2016 SEERS Fellows: Josefina Alvarado Mena, Tomás Alvarez, Rajasvini Bhansali, and Jered Lawson.
Josefina Alvarado Mena
Josefina Alvarado Mena is an education rights attorney. For the past twelve years, she has been the Chief Executive Officer for Safe Passages
, a 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Oakland, California. Safe Passages works to disrupt the cycle of poverty by engaging youth and families to build and drive a continuum of services that supports student success and community development. Currently, Safe Passages serves over 4,000 children and youth across 21 school communities.
A native of Oakland flatlands, Josefina has dedicated her professional life to issues of social equity. Prior to Safe Passages, she founded the Educational Empowerment Program to provide free legal education and services to low income students in Oakland. She was also the Director of the Oakland Unified School District Department of Student, Family, and Community Services.
Josefina holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She is a recipient of: The Echoing Green Global Fellowship, California Latino Civil Rights Network, and James Irvine Foundation California Leadership Award.
Tomás Alvarez III is a social worker and social entrepreneur whose work focuses on developing culturally relevant mental health programs for youth, in particular boys and young men of color. At present, Tomás serves as CEO of Beats Rhymes and Life, Inc
., a nonprofit organization based in Oakland (California) that provides “Hip-Hop Therapy”, an innovative therapeutic approach that uses popular youth expression in combination with proven therapeutic techniques to engage trouble teens in services. As an early pioneer of Hip-Hop Therapy, Tomás’ work has inspired others in his field to follow in his footsteps giving birth to a new field of study and practice. In 2014 Tomás was awarded a lifetime fellowship through Ashoka
, a global organization that supports social entrepreneurs whose bold ideas have the power to transform patterns in society. More recently CNN named Tomás among their 2015 CNN Heroes. Tomás completed a BA in social work from San Francisco State University (2004) and master of social work from Smith College School for Social Work (2006).
Rajasvini Bhansali is the Executive Director of International Development Exchange (IDEX)
and a passionate advocate for participatory grassroots-led social change and movement building. In a wide-ranging career devoted to social and economic justice, she has led a national social enterprise, managed a public telecommunications infrastructure fund addressing digital divide issues and worked as a researcher, planner, policy analyst and strategy consultant. Vini also worked alongside community leaders as a capacity builder for youth polytechnics in rural Kenya for over two years.
Born and raised in India, Vini earned a Master′s in Public Affairs (MPA) with a focus on technology and telecommunications policy from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and Bachelor′s degrees in Astrophysics and Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities & Social Sciences from UC Berkeley. Vini has been involved in community organizing and volunteer board roles for the last two decades. She is currently active on the Board of Directors for Greenpeace USA and the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Inspired by the potential of social justice philanthropy to support movements and community based organizations, Vini has also served on the steering committee for the Bay Area Justice Funders Network (BAJFN) and on the advisory board for the Agroecology Fund.
She currently serves on the Planning Committee for the 2016 Association of Women in Development (AWID) International Forum on Women’s Rights and Development on cross-movement dialogues, solidarity and strategies. Vini lectures in the University of California at Berkeley Master’s Program in Development Practice; the University of Vermont Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources new Master’s Program in Ecological Sustainability as well as the Social Entrepreneurship program at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.This year she was honored with a Leaders in Action award by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP). Vini is also a published poet, essayist, storyteller and popular educator. When not engaged with community organizations, Vini can be found hiking, cooking and dancing with friends.
Jered is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Pie Ranch, which began in 2004 on a 14-acre pie-slice-shaped piece of land with the goal of providing nourishment and education for community level social change. The ranch is located on the southern coast of San Mateo County, California and now comprises 100 acres of production, has over 30 staff and a volunteer board of directors. Their three program areas include youth education, farmer training, and regional partnerships -- all with the goal of cultivating a more healthy, just, and climate-friendly food system. Pie Ranch’s core values include integrated crop and livestock rotations, building soil health to sequester carbon, social and agricultural justice, and producing high-quality organic produce.
Jered recently helped initiate the development of a county-based Food & Farm Bill with the San Mateo Food Systems Alliance and is building committed procurement partnerships with large organization food service such as Google Food & Stanford Dining with the goal to scale this model with other companies, universities, hospitals, and public school cafeterias.