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Who We Are

The GCNF team is a high-caliber group of engaged domestic and international leaders with public and private sector experience in child nutrition and related fields. GCNF’s Board of Directors, US Team, and Global Team work closely together to support school meal programs that help children and communities thrive globally.

Board of Directors

Ronald E. Kleinman, MD
Physician-in-Chief, Massachusetts General Hospital for Children
Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital
Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Gene White, MS, SNS
Vice President
Gene White & Associates
Past President, School Nutrition Association
Penny E. McConnell, MS, RD, SNS
Former Director, Food and Nutrition Services
Fairfax County Public Schools
Trish Ault
Communications Consultant
Valerie Nkamgang Bemo
Deputy Director
Global Development
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Ashleigh Black
Former Director of Congressional Relations
Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Rafael Fábrega
Food for Development Office
Tetra Laval AB
Michele Fite

Chief Commercial Officer
Motif Ingredients

Krysta Harden
President and CEO
U.S. Dairy Export Council
Kate J. Houston
Former Global Head of Public Policy & Issues Management
Cargill, Inc.
Susan Neely
President and CEO
American Council of Life Insurers
Barbara E. Noseworthy
Global BT
Janey Thornton, Ph.D, SNS
Former Deputy Under Secretary
USDA Food Nutrition and Consumer Services
Dr. Ronald Kleinman, President of the Board

Ronald E. Kleinman, MD is Physician in Chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Kleinman’s major areas of research interest include gastrointestinal immunology, nutrition support of infants and children, and nutrition and public health policy.

Dr. Kleinman’s professional affiliations include the American Gastroenterological Association, American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN), and American Pediatric Society/Society for Pediatric Research. He is the author of more than 150 peer-reviewed publications, chapters, monographs and 4 textbooks.

Dr. Kleinman was a founder and past president of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. He has been a member of the Medical Advisory Group on Diet and Nutrition Guidelines in Cancer for the American Cancer Society, the National Cholesterol Advisory Committee of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a member of the Institute of Medicine committees on Standards for School Meals and Obesity Prevention for young Children, member of the Board of Directors for the David Ortiz Childrens’ Fund, the Global Child Nutrition Foundation, the ILSI Research Foundation, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF New England Regional Board, the Massachusetts General Hospital Physician Organization and Chair of the Board for Project Bread. He was the Chair of the NIH/NICHD Workshop Planning Committee for the Dietary Guidelines: Birth to 24 Months. Dr. Kleinman is a member of the External Advisory Board (EAB) for the Obesity Research Center at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Kleinman served as Chair of the Committee on Nutrition for the American Academy of Pediatrics and is the author of the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh editions of the Academy’s textbook, Pediatric Nutrition, and served as the Editor-in-Chief for Current Pediatrics Reports.

US Team

Arlene Mitchell, Executive Director

Arlene was appointed Executive Director by the Board of Directors of Global Child Nutrition Foundation in April 2014. Prior to that, Arlene served for nearly six years at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she was Deputy Director for Access and Markets in the Agricultural Development Program.

Earlier in her career, she served as an executive in the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) where she led the global school feeding effort; managed international technical assistance and training activities for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and was both a volunteer and staff member with the U.S. Peace Corps. Arlene’s varied experience also includes running a restaurant and a snack machine business, invalid care, and a variety of other gambits.

Heidi Kessler, MS, SNS, Senior Program and Operations Officer

Heidi joined the GCNF team in December 2019 and provides valuable leadership, management, and guidance to GCNF programs and operations.  

Heidi is a passionate school food advocate who believes that school meals are essential in raising a healthier generation of children. As a well-known trainer, speaker, and expert in environmental, policy, and systems changes that support healthy eating, Heidi has created innovative models and tools for school wellness that are used across the United States. Heidi provides training, facilitation, technical assistance, grant writing, program development and evaluation services to school districts, universities, state agencies, non-profits, and industry partners on school nutrition. 

Heidi’s previous roles include Chief Programs Officer at Chef Ann Foundation and Executive Director of the Smarter Lunchrooms National Office at Cornell University. As a senior leader of the childhood obesity prevention program, Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0, Heidi was a key member in the development, implementation, and evaluation of a multi-sector childhood obesity prevention program, now used across the globe. 

Heidi earned a BA in Psychology from Guilford College in North Carolina and later an MS in Nutrition from Northeastern University in Boston. She is a master gardener, herbalist, and forager.

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Ayala Wineman, PhDResearch Coordinator

Ayala began working with the Global Child Nutrition Foundation in 2018. She holds a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics from Michigan State University and has worked as a Research Associate at both Michigan State University and the University of Washington. She is also a Senior Research Fellow at the MwAPATA Institute in Malawi. Her research relates broadly to rural development and food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Milica NovakovicFinance & Administration Coordinator
Milica joined GCNF in June 2021. Her focus is on financial reporting, expense processing, and budget forecasting. She also facilitates other financial and administrative processes to support GCNF’s operations and ensure legal compliance.
Prior to GCNF, Milica was a business consultant and worked primarily in domains of finance and marketing. She advised numerous companies on setting up operations in the U.S, launching new products, and selling their businesses. Milica earned a B.Sc. in Economics from Bocconi University, Italy and an M.Sc. in Strategic Management from University of Lausanne – HEC, Switzerland.

Global Team

Senior Advisors

Alice Martin-Daihirou, Senior Advisor for Africa

Alice is a school feeding expert currently based in Cameroon.  Alice has long been a friend and supporter of GCNF and is a regular participant and presenter at the Global Child Nutrition Forum. Presently, Alice serves as Senior Advisor for Africa, providing technical assistance and outreach on behalf of GCNF.  Alice holds a Bachelors of Science – BS focused in Human Ecology/ Early Childhood Development from Howard University.

Languages: French, English and African creole 

Rita Bhatia, Senior Advisor for Nutrition

Rita is a nutrition expert currently based in India. Rita brings extensive experience in managing public health nutrition programmes working with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and UN agencies dedicated to protection, food security, nutrition, food fortification, education and HIV and AIDS. Her career emphasis has been on conceptualization, planning, management and evaluation of programmes. Rita believes in coaching and mentoring young public health professionals. She acts as a resource person for public health nutrition training and workshops around the world. She has been the course director for nutrition in emergency training in Asia and the resource person in the middle-east.

During her positions with the United Nations and NGOs, Rita provided leadership in public nutrition and health program. Rita is currently a freelance consultant involved in country portfolio evaluations, capacity development, and board member of local and international NGOs and on technical advisory panel. Rita has Master’s degrees in Nutrition from India and Social Development from University of Wales, Department of Development Studies, United Kingdom.

Languages: Hindi, English

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Liliane Bigayimpunzi, Survey Coordinator: Africa

Liliane is a school feeding expert currently based in Burundi. Liliane has worked with GCNF both as a consultant and as a volunteer and attended a couple of fora. In January 2019 she served as the Deputy Coordinator for Africa in the 2019 Global Survey of School Meal Programs.

Liliane has extensively worked in the safety net and social protection domain and has served as a Programme Policy Officer, Education, Gender and Protection and as a Health, Nutrition and Education Programme Officer at the World Food Programme. In that position, she greatly contributed to the transitioning towards home grown school feeding and the introduction of milk in the food basket. Liliane has held project management positions with both UNESCO and UNICEF before joining WFP.

Before joining the United Nation organisations, Liliane served in various senior positions as Civil servant in her country. 

Liliane holds a Degree in Communication from the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Communications Sociales, Bruxelles (Belgium) and a Masters in Gender Studies from Université Lumière de Bujumbura.

Liliane is passionate about arts (literature, music, sculpture) and has a particular interest in questions relating to the protection of the environment.

Languages: French, English, Kirundi

Liliane Bigayimpunzi photo GCNF
Priscilia Etuge, Survey Associate: Africa

Priscilia is a consultant in socio-economic assessments and sustainable natural resource management. She is currently a Global Survey Associate. She joined GCNF’s Global Survey of School Meal Programs in January 2019.

Priscilia holds a Bachelors degree in Agriculture and a Masters degree in Animal Breeding and Genetics, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria. She is currently carrying out research for her doctorate degree in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Buea, Cameroon, with a focus on food security.

She has over 25 years of working experience as a socio-economist and has headed several teams in conducting household and nutrition surveys, market surveys, farm and farming systems surveys, natural resource use surveys, as well as other sociological surveys. She also has a wide experience working with multi-stakeholders in development, including local communities, traditional authorities, officials in the private and public sectors as well as international donor-organizations.

She has worked as a Socio-economist in ODA/DfID and World Bank funded conservation and development projects in Cameroon and also headed two Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) engaged in sustainable natural resource management. She is a trainer, facilitator and a health and wellness educator.

Currently based in Cameroon
Languages: English, French

Priscilia Photo
Eth Ludmilla de Gois Vieira Nunes Rodrigues, Survey Associate: Africa
Ludmilla is an international development professional with master’s in international Relations from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and in European and International Governance from the University of Geneva and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. In her professional experience, she has worked with several UN organizations and NGOs on agribusiness enterprise development for value chain inclusion, livelihoods for migrants and refugees through value chain analysis, the Mozambican enabling environment for sustainable enterprises. Currently, she works as an international consultant with research on impact evaluation and as a Survey Associate with GCNF
Currently based in Mozambique
Languages: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Moses Collins Ekwueme, Survey Associate: Africa

Moses is a public health specialist with extensive experience in nutrition programme implementation, health financing, sexual and reproductive health, and research.

He has worked as a nutrition specialist in the World Bank-financed Accelerating Nutrition Results in Nigeria Project. Prior to this, Moses has managed and successfully rounded-up an RMNCAH program (funded by Nutrition International) that provided nutrition education and sexual and reproductive health services to women of reproductive age in Abuja, Nigeria.

Moses has substantive survey experience— he played a key role in the data collection and analysis exercise of the Lagos State Household Survey on Health Expenditure and the 2019 National Health Account of Nigeria, while working with the Health Financing Unit of the Federal Ministry of Health.

He holds a Masters in Global Health (Nutrition) from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and is an incoming PhD student of Nutrition and Health Sciences at Emory University.

Currently based in Nigeria

Languages: English
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The Americas and China

Heidi Kessler, MS, SNS, Survey Coordinator: The Americas and China

See staff biography above for more information.

Currently based in the United States
Languages: English

Maria Martinez, Survey Associate: Latin America & Caribbean and North America

Maria Alejandra Martinez, professional background in Communications and Journalism with a Master’s degree in International affairs. Maria has always shown interested in addressing poverty, hunger, and nutritional security issues.  She feels passionate about nutritional education in children, school meals, and biotechnology on seeds.

As an international consultant, she has worked in several international development organizations to eradicate hunger and other topics such as immigration policies, international correspondent for radio stations and newspapers, and diplomacy. She currently works on nutrition, social marketing, and other topics regarding food systems and public health for the Latin American Region.

Maria has other expertise and knowledge in evaluating, managing, and developing the Sustainable Development Global Goals at the United Nations (SDGs). She has also volunteered for World Food Prize Laureate Award and Global Child Nutrition Foundation.

Currently based in the United States
Languages: Spanish, English

Maria Photo
Yvonne Yiru Xu , RD, CDE, MSPH, Survey Associate: China

Yvonne is a Registered Dietitian and public health consultant currently based in US. She brings her passion and knowledge for school meal programs to her role as a survey associate at GCNF. She recently published a paper on integrating nutrition programs into the education sector and is excited to be contributing to the Global School Meal Survey and the global database.

She is particularly interested in the double burden of malnutrition and non-communicable disease prevention and management in low- and middle-income countries. She has experience working on population surveys;  health policies; health system evaluation; data analytics and visualization; nutrition quality of care; and epidemiology. Currently, she also works as a consultant for the World Health Organization South-East Asia Regional Office and Nutritional International. She holds a MSPH degree from Johns Hopkins University in International Health and is an experienced Clinical Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. In her spare time, she enjoys doing photography and furniture up-cycling.

Currently based in the United States
Languages: English, French, German, Mandarin


Asia, The Pacific, & The Middle East

Mamta Gurung Nyangmi, Program Coordinator: Asia Pacific

Mamta is a development strategy consultant currently based in Nepal. She has over 15 years of experience in international and community development specializing in policy, advocacy, program design and project management.

Presently, Mamta is the Asia Pacific Coordinator for Global Child Nutrition Foundation leading its government engagement in over 60 countries, fostering partnerships, facilitating regional networks and managing its Learning Exchange project in India.

Prior to this Mamta was the Head of Education Support at the World Food Programme in Nepal where she spearheaded a holistic school health and nutrition operations, creating convergence of school meals programs with literacy, health and hygiene initiatives to enhance learning in rural public schools.  She has worked extensively in safety net and social protection field including as Program Director at Chhaya Community Development Corporation in New York. Mamta has served in several leadership roles most recently as Board Chair at Asha for Sexual Violence Survivors and as Board of Director at Adhikaar for Human Right among others. Mamta has worked in the private sector and in the media covering print, radio, television and films.

With a passion for social and gender justice Mamta is deliberate about ensuring equality and inclusivity lens through her work. Mamta holds Bachelors in International Development from City University of New York and Masters in International Development from Cornell University.

Mary Bachaspatimayum PhD, Senior Program Associate, Learning Exchange and Global Survey of School Meal Programs

Mary has been with GCNF since 2019 starting as associate for Asia-Pacific region for the Global Survey of School Meal Programs. She has been facilitating and coordinating partners and stakeholders interactions for the India Learning Exchange Program-Phase I and II.

A social anthropologist with more than 10 years of research experience in academic, professional and civil society organization settings. She has been associated with studies on nutrition, school education, rights and entitlements and maternal health. Her primary expertise is in mixed-method research and ethnographies. Her skill set includes devising online/remote data collection systems using open source platforms. Mary has significant experience in design and organization of learning events including trainings, conferences, round-tables. She has also been managing editor of the Journal of Contemporary Thoughts-an interdisciplinary journal advancing theory in humanities.

An avid reader and traveller Mary loves cooking and experimenting with regional cuisines.

Currently based in India
Languages: English, Hindi, Meiteilon

Mary Bachaspatimayum
Kholood Alabdullatif, Survey Associate: Asia, The Pacific, & The Middle East

Currently based in Saudi Arabia
Languages: Arabic, English

Melissa Pradhan, Survey Associate: Asia, The Pacific, & The Middle East

Currently based in Thailand
Languages: English

Zhanna Abzaltynova, Survey Associate: Asia, The Pacific, & The Middle East

Zhanna is a Global Survey Associate and has worked for GCNF Global Survey of School Meals Programs since March 2019. Zhanna is currently based in Kazakhstan. She has over 10 years of administrative experience working for international businesses. She holds Bachelors in English Language Teaching from Kazakh University of International Relations & World Languages (Kazakhstan), Bachelors in Management from Almaty Management University (Kazakhstan) and Masters in Business Administration from Blekinge Institute of Technology (Sweden). Currently, Zhanna is working on gaining a new specialization in the field of Digital Marketing & Media from Duke University Continuing Studies.

Zhanna is a life-long learner and always focuses on her self-growth. Her interests are photography, yoga, travelling, zumba and languages.

Currently based in Kazakhstan
Languages: Russian, English

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Nicole Jacquet, Survey Coordinator: Europe

Nicole, a former Senior Programme Advisor first with the Food and Agriculture Organization and then with the World Food Programme, is currently based in France and Italy. She holds a Masters in International Relations from the University of York (UK). She is new with GCNF but has extensively collaborated with GCNF when working with WFP where she has served in various capacities in Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mauritania, Burundi and Rome. Her last position until the end of 2017 was WFP Country Director a.i. in Burundi where she managed two major operations: a Country Programme and a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation of a value of approximately USD250 million over four years. School meals was the major programme implemented in the country. 

Currently based in Italy and France

Languages: English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish
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Yale Warner, Survey Associate: Europe
Yale has worked with GCNF since July 2019. He first assisted with the production of country-specific reports and the following year he aided the data cleaning process. Yale recently completed his undergraduate degree from the University of St Andrews with a First Class MA (Scottish equivalent to a Bachelor’s) degree in International Relations and Social Anthropology. He is now pursuing a MSc International Development at St Andrews and is writing his dissertation on how home-grown school meal programmes can contribute to “decolonial development” and adaptation to climate change.  
Currently based in Scotland
Languages: English