Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Social Performance & Education Committee

Anna de la Cruz – Research and Evaluation Professional

Anna De La Cruz is an international development research and evaluation professional, with content expertise in global health, microfinance and innovative market solutions to poverty alleviation. Anna brings to our Social Performance Committee over a decade of experience evaluating international development programs in nonprofit and academic institutions, and has worked with organizations including the UCSF Global Health Group, Innovations for Poverty Action, and the Financial Access Initiative at New York University. She has published several articles and reports on social franchising for health and other global health interventions. Latin America holds a special place in Anna’s heart, having lived in Mexico City and worked throughout the region, but she has also enjoyed opportunities to work on projects throughout Africa and Asia. Anna received a Master’s in Public Administration with a focus on International Policy from New York University, and a Bachelor’s with distinction in International Studies from the University of Washington. She also completed the J-PAL Executive Education course on Randomized Controlled Trials at MIT.

Paula Farrell

Paula’s professional background includes over 35 years of experience leading and working with nonprofit and government organizations. Her experience has largely involved work with and in organizations that served underrepresented and disenfranchised individuals and families. She frequently worked as an advocate and organizational leader for people with developmental disabilities, individuals with severe mental illness, victims of domestic violence, people who were homeless as well as adults and teens who were unemployed. In the early 90s, she was Director of the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Planning Council under Governor Romer. Her mid-career focus was on the deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities and mental health concerns. She also worked in organizations focused on reducing racial disparities in income and access to healthcare. During the recession between 2007 and 2010, she was the Director of the Division of Workforce Development under Mayor John Hickenlooper. In 2015 she became a Social Entrepreneur when she opened an art gallery to benefit local artists and nonprofit organizations. Paula ran the gallery for two years.

Cara Forster – Independent Consultant and SPTF Secretariat Member

Cara S. Forster works as an independent consultant on the topics of client protection and social performance in microfinance, with clients that include ACCION International, the Social Performance Task Force, and the Grameen Foundation.  From 2010 to 2012 Cara was the Program Manager for Network Development Services at The SEEP Network, where her work focused on capacity building for microfinance networks.  During this time she was also the Global Facilitator for the Social Performance Working Group for Networks, a platform for collective action among networks to advance social performance within their member MFIs and their regions.  From 2008 to 2010 Cara helped launch the Center for Financial Inclusion and the Smart Campaign in her capacity as Program Manager for the Double Bottom Line at ACCION International. Her work there centered on consumer protection in microfinance, coordinating the Beyond Codes project, and managing tool creation for the The Smart Campaign. Prior to her work with ACCION, she spent 4 years in environmental consulting, designing performance measures and conducting project evaluations for several EPA programs.  Her interest in microfinance began 12 years ago with her Peace Corps service in Nicaragua where she coordinated a small savings and loan cooperative for single mothers. She has a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science from Harvard College and a Masters in Sustainable Development from Duke University.

Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones is an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Her career merges research, teaching, and service at the intersection of poverty, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement. Specifically, her research has a special interest in connecting the entrepreneurial process to societal outcomes, such as social entrepreneurship and impact investing. Jones has taught courses in Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management at the University of Colorado and Miami University. She holds a PhD in Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Operations from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Prior to receiving her PhD, she worked for a social enterprise in Guatemala, where she lived in both Nebaj and Quetzaltenango, serving both local communities and university students with experiential entrepreneurship education.  She has also served as an Assistant Director of an academic entrepreneurship center at Miami University.

Meryle Melnicoff – Board Member and Committee Chair

Meryle’s involvement with Friendship Bridge builds on her longstanding work to empower women entrepreneurs. Meryle was a co-founder of the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs of Philadelphia and has published two guidebooks on funding for start-up businesses. Currently, she is a member of WIL of Greater Philadelphia, which supports selected microfinance institutions, including Friendship Bridge. Previously, Meryle was the Director of Business Development at The Wistar Institute, where she established multiple collaborations that led to the commercial development of Wistar’s technologies for new vaccines and cancer treatments. Her work at Wistar brought substantial funding to the institute and enabled it to double the endowment. Meryle received an M.S. in Clinical Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel University College of Medicine) and has been involved with multiple projects to develop new diagnostic tests. Meryle resides with her family in New Jersey where she is on the board of the Delanco, NJ public library.

Francy S. Milner – Professor at the Leeds School of Business

Francy is a retired Instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who taught business ethics and corporate social responsibility at the Leeds School of Business She also taught graduate and undergraduate courses in social entrepreneurship at Leeds and across campus, with a focus on business solutions to global poverty. Francy is an experienced employment lawyer and corporate trainer who served as the Assistant General Counsel for Legal Compliance at Coors Brewing Company. She has provided consulting services to companies on corporate ethics and compliance programs, compliance risk management, and corporate governance. Francy is fluent in Spanish and has served on the boards of directors of Friendship Bridge and two other nonprofit organizations, The Conflict Center and the Colorado Judicial Institute.

Fatima Moir

Maria Matilde Olazabal – Director of Alcance, Freedom from Hunger in Mexico 

Maria Matilde has more than 14 years of institutional development experience in the nonprofit sector and eight years of experience in microfinance. As Director of Freedom from Hunger’s office in México she has been supporting innovation, the improvement of complementary services for microfinance institutions, the development of training of trainer services and the development of educational products on relevant topics for people living in poverty; she has also been developing business, negotiating strategic partnerships between Alcance and other international and national development organizations. Prior to joining Freedom from Hunger, Maria Matilde was part of the development of Fundación ASUMO, an NGO, to offer other organizations working for the poor pro bono consultant services to build in house capacity to professionalize their services and achieve impact. Ms. Olazabal has supported many microfinance strategic teams in institutional analysis and optimization of their development methodologies, has designed and developed educational and training programs for NGOs, and contributed to the formation of self-help groups to promote social development in impoverished communities. Maria Matilde holds a Master’s degree in Education from Anahuac University, a Specialization in Social Development and Social Policy from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Anahuac University.

Carolina Roca – Board Member, Friendship Bridge and Partner of IDC

Carolina Roca is an Economist with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration (Harvard University) and has extensive experience working with the public as well as the private sector. She is at present leading a project to establish UCEN, a new private, non- profit and non-denominational university. She was the Commissioner of the Guatemalan Tax and Customs Administration 2005-2008, serving two different government administrations. During her term, SAT credibility was regain, revenue collection increased in more than 1% of GDP with no increase in tax rates –an important achievement for a country with a tax burden of less than 11% of GDP- In previous governments she served as Vice Minister of Energy and Mines, Vice Minister of Public Finance, Technical Secretary of the Economic Cabinet and Director of External Financing.    

As a senior partner at IDC, a Guatemala small consultancy firm, Carolina has consulted in the areas of finance, institutional development and innovation, and Public Sector Reform for more than 10 years. As an independent consultant she has worked for the World Bank, IMF, IDB, US-TREAS-OTA, and PNUD in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Bolivia Honduras, Pakistan, and Guatemala. She was part of the Research Faculty of the Central American Institute for Business Administration –INCAE- and recently a Research Fellow of the Weatherhead Center of Harvard University. She served as President of the Foundation for Women’s Development, small NGO granting credits and training to women´s micro-business projects, is presently a board member of FUNDASISTEMAS, Entrepreneurs for Education and Vital Voices Guatemala.

Caroline Rodriguez

Sarah Sterling – Program Catalyst

Sarah Sterling has years of experience working with entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations on developing effective impact metrics, program development and management, social media outreach, fundraising, and team leadership skills and training. Sarah has over 5 years of experience working with and training international organizations such as Mercy Corps, Oxfam International, SOCAP, and Agora Partnerships, as well as impact investment funds, and social entrepreneurs in Latin America in areas of organizational sustainability and impact metrics development.

She has a Master’s in Public Administration from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey where one focus of her studies was how to work with organizations to develop their strategies around fundraising and building core competencies and confidence in the leadership/management team in grant writing – both to governmental organizations and non-profit grant agencies.

Carmen Velasco – Co-Founder of Pro Mujer and Co-Chair of Executive Committee for Truelift 

Carmen is Bolivian and lives in Lima Peru.  She has studied Education in the University of Chile, and has post-graduate studies in Microfinance (University of Boulder) and Project Management (Harvard University). She worked for 15 years as Professor at the Catholic University in Bolivia. In 1990, she has co-founded Pro Mujer, an international institution for the socio-economic inclusion of women through integrated services, and worked in the institution for 22 years. As Project Director, she has co-designed and implemented the training program and the Communal Association Program, and the integrated model that combines microfinance and health services to further empower woman and their families.

She was the Executive Director for Pro Mujer Bolivia from 1995 to 2007. She was the Executive Director for Pro Mujer Inc. and participated in the expansion of Pro Mujer to four Latin American countries. She was part of the Board of PMI and the local boards of Pro Mujer Peru, Pro Mujer Mexico, and Pro Mujer Argentina. She has represented Pro Mujer in local and international Forums and Conferences. Today she is part of the Board of Social Performance Task Force. She is the Co-chair of the Executive Committee for TRUELIFT and participates in the Global Advisory Committee for the Micro Credit Summit. She serves in the Board of Directors of Microfinance institutions.

Carmen currently participates in developing new initiatives and services with different entities to promote the socio-economic inclusion of the people living in poverty and actively participates in conferences and seminars to promote the role of Microfinance as a powerful tool to fight against poverty. She was named a CNN Hero in recognition of being “Community advocate”; recognized by Veuve Clicquot for “The initiative for Economic Development”; and invited to the White House “Conference on the Americas”, Washington DC, 2007. In October 2012 Washington DC, she received The International Alliance for Women “Award for 100 men and women in the world, for contributing to make difference in the world in the economic empowerment of women, a world of difference.”