Jihad Hajjouji ’14, Cofounder and Director of Rabat Entrepreneurial Challenge
The 23-year old Moroccan is a product of a truly international education. Her global journey started in 2007 when she was granted the Kennedy Lugar grant to spend a year in the US as a YES scholar, a program that aims to bridge the gap between the US and the Muslim world. During this period, she earned the President’s Volunteer Service Award in recognition of her commitment to positive change in her host community. After her exchange year, she joined the inaugural class of the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa where she became deeply passionate about entrepreneurship. Upon her graduation from the Academy, she co-founded Rabat Entrepreneurial Challenge—a non-profit organization that aims to create a generation of Moroccan entrepreneurs through training.
In 2012, she was granted the Davis Project for Peace to scale her program to a full national camp. This project was recently shortlisted as one of 45 UNESCO-endorsed projects selected from 1530 projects worldwide. Jihad is currently pursuing a BA in International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College, and recently returned from a semester abroad in China where she continued her Mandarin training and pursued research on Sino-Africa relations.
Elsa Palanza ’01; Director of Commitments, Clinton Global Initiative
Elsa Palanza is responsible for leading the team that guides CGI members in developing their Commitments to Action. After graduating from Middlebury College with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies, Palanza worked for several years in Washington, D.C. delivering geopolitical and industry risk analysis to large international energy companies. She then moved to Istanbul, Turkey to lead business and marketing operations for an education company’s pilot program, and subsequently directed operations and development for a start-up cultural diplomacy project focused on Iran. Palanza attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she concentrated on International Security Studies and Southwest Asia & Islamic Civilization. She speaks Italian, Spanish, and elementary Turkish, and has traveled extensively in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East—hiking, skiing, and enjoying local food every step of the way.
Jeff Digel ’78; co-founder of Covenant Preparatory School
Jeff’s professional career has been focused on sourcing and overseeing commercial real estate debt investments. He currently serves as a partner in the Simons Real Estate Group based in West Hartford, CT. Jeff was directly responsible for producing debt and equity investments covering every asset class as a founding member of the Starwood Financial (now iStar) management team and was Co-Head of its Investment Commitment Committee. Previously, Mr. Digel managed a commercial real estate portfolio of over $5 billion in mortgage investments and $750 million in equity investments at Aetna.
Jeff is the co-founder of Covenant Preparatory School, an independent, tuition free middle school for underserved Hartford boys. He currently serves on the Board’s of Covenant Prep and the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford. Mr. Digel has a M.M. from Northwestern University and a B.A. from Middlebury College. He resides in West Hartford, CT with his wife Jane.
Laura White; Manager, Changemaker Schools Network, Ashoka’s Empathy
Laura White has been dedicated to creating an “everyone a changemaker” world since high school, when she started an organization to provide free swimming lessons to low-income children with the support of Ashoka’s Youth Venture. As an undergraduate at Tulane University, Laura worked with the university’s Ashoka U team to start a social venture incubator, build the university’s social innovation minor, and incorporate social entrepreneurship into the introductory teacher certification class. Laura has researched changemaker education and is passionate about ensuring every child masters empathy – the most fundamental of changemaker skills. Watch a video on Laura and learn about her Youth Venture here.