Meet Our Board
Vanessa Fajans-Turner — Board Chairperson
Vanessa Fajans-Turner is the Assistant Director of the Avatar Alliance Foundation, in which capacity she generates and manages a diverse portfolio of climate change and sustainable energy initiatives.
Proficient in five languages, she has worked as a researcher and analyst for the UN Development Program (UNDP) and UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, during which time she lived and worked in various parts of the US, South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Building on her background in international relations, her role with the Foundation has grown to include analysis of transnational programming and business opportunities in Brazil, China, Mongolia and Kenya.
She also developed the digital engagement and outreach strategy for DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, Avatar Alliance founder James Cameron’s historic expedition to conduct oceans research and explore the world’s deepest place, the Mariana Trench. In these roles, Vanessa worked with both national governments and community-based organizations to formulate policies to advance social and environmental objectives. Her interest in social media and online platforms for social change stems from past work for President Obama's campaigns and start-up NationalField.com.
She holds an MA degree in International Development and Economics from Johns Hopkins-SAIS and a BA in Social Studies from Harvard College. She also serves on the advisory board of The Resolution Project and loves playing ice hockey.
Ian Inaba is an accomplished filmmaker, organizer, and new media expert. As Executive Director of Citizen Engagement Lab, he helps the acceleration and growth of various new organizing efforts.
Ian directed the 2006 Sundance award-winning documentary American Blackout, chronicling voter suppression. He also directed Eminem's music video "Mosh" – which was viewed over 10 million times online and nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. In addition to his film work, he co-authored True Lies, published in 2004 by Penguin/Plume.
Ian was previously Director of Corporate Development for Checkpoint Software Technologies (NASD: CHKP) and an investment banker with Robertson, Stephens and Company. He is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business and the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
James Rucker is a technologist and software entrepreneur turned activist, who has spent the last 10 years seeking to use technology to strengthen the voice of everyday people in creating political and social change.
In addition to CEL, James co-founded ColorOfChange.org, an online community of nearly 1 million focused on amplifying the political voice of Black America. Prior to that, James served as Director of Grassroots Mobilization for MoveOn.org, where he played a lead role in technology and organizing strategy. He also co-founded the Secretary of State Project, an effort to elect progressive Secretaries of State at the state level. James also serves on the boards of ColorOfChange.org, Progressive Caucus Foundation, New Organizing Institute, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Jessy Tolkan works as the Global Director of Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Development for two multi-national automakers.
While currently focused on creating massive shifts in the auto-industry with an eye towards ensuring a more sustainable planet, Jessy has spent the last decade as an activist and movement leader working to build progressive change in the United States. Most recently Jessy served as CEL’s Co-Executive Director.
Prior to her leadership of Citizen Engagement lab she was a Senior Fellow with the New Organizing Institute where she focused on progressive infrastructure building, the 2012 youth vote, and the next steps for the climate & energy sector. Before switching her attention to the progressive movement at large, Jessy was the Executive Director for the Energy Action Coalition, a coalition of 50 leading youth organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2004, as state director for the New Voters Project, Jessy helped to register more than 130,000 young voters and produce one of the highest youth turnout rates in the country.
Jessy has worked with some of the nation’s leading advocacy and grassroots organizations including: United States Student Association, Young Democrats of America, and Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. She received a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Political Science. In 2008, Rolling Stone Magazine named her one of the 100 agents of change in America.
Farhad Ebrahimi is the founder and trustee chair of the Chorus Foundation, which works for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States.
The Chorus Foundation supports communities on the front lines of the old, extractive economy to build new bases of political, economic, and cultural power for systemic change.
Farhad is also a founding member of the Boston-based organizing collective Simorgh, and he serves on the boards of the New Economy Coalition and Citizen Engagement Lab. When not wrestling with the implications of such titles as “organizer” and “philanthropist,” he is a musician, lover of film and literature, and bicycle snob.
Farhad graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in Mathematics with Computer Science. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
Cheryl Contee, Partner at Fission Strategy, specializes in helping non-profit organizations and foundations use social media to create social good.
She is also the co-founder of Jack and Jill Politics writing as “Jill Tubman” on one of the top black blogs online. Cheryl was recently named as an Affiliate of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Cheryl is included in The Root 100 list of established and emerging African-American leaders. Huffington Post listed her as one of the Top 27 Female Founders in Tech to Follow on Twitter in 2011. Fast Company named her one of their 2010 Most Influential Women in Tech. She has over 15 years of award-winning interactive expertise and previously served as Vice President and lead digital strategist for Fleishman-Hillard’s West Coast region in San Francisco.
Cheryl has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, San Francisco Magazine, BBC, Current TV and CNN, among other media appearances. She is also proud to serve on several boards and advisory committees: Netroots Nation, BlogHer, Focus100/Digital Undivided, and Public Radio International. She received her B.A. from Yale University and has an International Executive M.B.A. from Georgetown University. In her spare time, Ms. Contee enjoys hiking, yoga, movies and tai chi sword.