Introducing Firelight's new board members and board chair


Firelight is thrilled to announce the addition of three new members to our Board of Directors – Paru Yusuf, Jimmy Kolker, and Elisa de Martel.  All three of these professionals come to Firelight with a history of extensive accomplishments in politics, international development, philanthropy, and technology.  Their expertise is invaluable to Firelight, and we are truly humbled that they have joined us in our mission of investing in communities to improve the health, education, well-being, and resilience of children and youth in Africa.

Paru Yusuf

Paru Desai Yusuf is a strategist and consultant to global non-profits and international organizations. For over 20 years her work has focused on education, youth development, economic empowerment and innovative social venture models. She is a co-director of a partnership between GOAL! and Mathare Youth Sports Association to design a Girls' Program focusing on education and economic empowerment for girls in the Mathare slums, Nairobi. She is a Board Member and Partner at SV2, a a network of professionals who fund and support social ventures to create greater impact.

Board_Paru"Two immediate observations are made when traveling in many parts of rural Africa.  One, despite so much development aid and work over the years, far too many areas are still underdeveloped and lacking the basic resources and infrastructure that people and communities need to thrive.  Second, there is tremendous energy and potential in the most remote of communities but they just need support to harness that energy and reach that potential.  I joined Firelight because of this recognition of these communities and local leaders' potential as the solution for fostering lasting, sustainable progress which will ultimately break the cycles of poverty and marginalization that decades of development aid could not."

Jimmy Kolker

Jimmy Kolker retired as the Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) January 20, 2017. In that role, Ambassador Kolker was the Department’s chief health diplomat, representing the United States at World Health Organization meetings and as alternate Board Member of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He advised Secretaries Sebelius and Burwell and HHS’s operating and staff divisions on health security and HHS' international engagement. Amb. Kolker had a 30 year diplomatic career with the U.S. Department of State where he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda (2002-2005) and to Burkina Faso (1999-2002).

Board_Kolker_Jimmy"I am honored to join the Board of the Firelight Foundation.  When I was head of AIDS at UNICEF (2007-2011), Firelight came to my attention because it was the organization taking on the key but toughest challenge in helping African children -- funding and championing grassroots, indigenous organizations which strengthened communities themselves to deal with the effects of AIDS on vulnerable children and families.

In the intervening years, Firelight has evolved to provide sustainable support to those grassroots champions and the people they serve.  I am excited to be part of the next chapter – stepping up to promote community-based organizations to the world as systemic change-makers for children in Africa.

Decades of national efforts aided by international development programs have made great progress toward the survival, health and education of African children. But these very gains mean that the number of children and young people in Africa is larger both proportionately and in actual numbers than it ever has been before.  Sustaining these advances depends on recognizing the role of communities and stepping up to give them the capacity they need for care and social protection for their own children.

Firelight has a commitment to evidence and evaluation to be sure that its model, which worked in the era of AIDS devastation in eastern and southern Africa, is still addressing priority needs and producing results today and in the future.  Having just retired from more than 40 years of public service, joining Firelight’s board was the first commitment I made.  I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to its outstanding work."

Elisa de Martel

 Elisa de Martel brings more than 20 years of experience in financial analysis and budget controls gained working in leadership positions in services, manufacturing and technology companies.  Elisa is currently a Director at Apple overseeing the financial aspects of manufacturing operations for all Apple products, including multi-billion supply chain budget allocations, return on investment analysis and tracking of actual spending against targets. Previously, Elisa was part of the Corporate finance team providing all forecast and analytical data needed by the CEO and CFO to support the Earnings Call.

Board_DeMartel_Elisa"The passion, involvement and kindness of the Board members as well as the dynamism of the executive team were key in my decision to join Firelight.  I believe Firelight’s mission to empower and support community based organizations is the right model to help development in Africa compared to imposing Western economic or sociological frameworks.  Helping less favored children is close to my heart, having four children myself who were lucky to have access to good education and no social or historical stigmas.  Finally, I am thrilled to join Firelight in such a critical phase of its development."

We are also pleased to announce that Gloria Johnson-Cusack, board member since 2014, has been elected as the new Chair of the Board.  Her leadership, background, and passion for the work of our grantee-partners inspires us every day.

Gloria Johnson-Cusack

Gloria Johnson-Cusack, adjunct faculty member at the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Firelight Foundation supporting communities in Africa, brings more than 25 years of expertise in executive management and training, advertising, communications, public policy and lobbying. Her work is informed by leadership positions in the private and philanthropic sectors, as well as significant time spent in the U.S. Congress, federal and municipal agencies, presidential campaigns, and the White House.

Board_Gloria"There is no substitute for trustworthy, Africa-based leadership. It is my honor to lead such a uniquely diverse and distinguished board which embraces this philosophy.

Rather than serving a large philanthropic organization, each of us has chosen the Firelight Foundation because we know our unique mix of capital and tailored mentoring of local community organizations will continue to yield lasting change.

Our board is cross-sector by design.  Each of our members - whether from Silicon Valley companies, international and U.S nongovernmental organizations, philanthropy, academia, or presidential administrations -  focuses on helping us make smart investments in African communities. Head and heart! It’s really what makes this service so gratifying."

To read more about all of Firelight’s board members, please visit our website here.