Technical Advisory Group (TAG)

The TAG consists of technical experts across various sectors and disciplines that contribute to early childhood development outcomes. The TAG meets quarterly and support the ELC and the Secretariat by providing guidance on what ECDAN’s priorities should be as well as how its strategy should be implemented effectively. TAG members are specifically selected to ensure diversity of regional representation as well as gender and discipline.

Aisha Yousafzai, PhD

Role: Associate Professor of Global Health, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Bio: Dr. Aisha Yousafzai completed her doctoral degree at the Institute of Child Health, University College London with a focus on international child health, nutrition, and development. Her research has focused on understanding integrated early childhood interventions. She has 20 years of field research experience in low- and middle-income countries having lived and worked in South Asia and East Africa and led programme evaluations in Central and Eastern Europe. The goal of her research is to promote early childhood development and to support capacity in order to develop, evaluate and improve early childhood interventions. Her work primarily focuses on:

  • Developing new interventions and approaches to promote early child development with a particular interest in how to strengthen child and caregiving-related outcomes through existing health, nutrition, and education systems.
  • Analyzing for whom early childhood interventions work, how they work, in which contexts, and for how long.
  • Understanding the implementation structures and processes for early childhood interventions to achieve sustainable impact at scale.
  • Promoting capacity development in local communities, services, and systems for the effective delivery of interventions to promote early child development.

Dr. Yousafzai also serves on a number of global advisory groups on ECD for agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, and the World Bank.

Bernadette Daelmans, PhD

Role: Head of Child Health and Development Unit in the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Aging, World Health Organization


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Boniface Kakhobwe, PhD

Role:  ECD Specialist, UNICEF Headquarters

Bio: Boniface Kakhobwe is professional with over 20 years’ work experience in leading and managing program development and implementation. An expert in national policy development and implementation, systems development and strengthening, resource mobilization and partnerships development. An acknowledged advocate for early childhood development and education, health, child protection, social protection and human rights. Extensive experience working in and with a range of institutions including the United Nations, governments, national and international non-governmental organisations, donors, private foundations, the private sector and communities. A strong team player with problem solving and multi-tasking skills, highly motivated with outstanding drive for results and with high moral and ethical standards.

Claudia Cappa, PhD

Role: Senior Adviser for Statistics and Monitoring in the Data and Analytics Section, UNICEF

Bio: Claudia Cappa is the focal point for data collection, data analysis, and methodological work on Early Childhood Development, Child Disability, and Child Protection from Violence, Exploitation, and Abuse. The support for these activities includes elaboration of survey questionnaires and data collection tools, estimations, development of methodologies, indicators, tools, and normative guidelines, capacity building, data analysis, production of reports, as well as delivery and dissemination of final results. In this capacity, she has led the preparation of a number of data-driven publications and is responsible for interagency collaborations and partnerships.

Prior to joining UNICEF, she was working at the University of Geneva and at the Institute for Social Studies of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Claudia Cappa holds a MA and a doctorate in Development Studies from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland.

George Evans Owino, PhD

Role: Programme Manager, Knowledge Generation and Dissemination, Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN)

Bio: George Owino leads AfECN initiated studies and participates in collaborative studies co-designed with partners. He also provides technical support to the Knowledge Generation Working Group of the African Union CESA ECED Cluster. Dr. Owino holds a PhD from the School of Public Health, University of Bielefeld, Germany and prior to joining AfECN, he spent over 10 years teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the Department of Sociology, Gender and Development Studies at Kenyatta University. Besides teaching, he also engaged in other administrative duties including being chair of the Departmental Postgraduate Studies Committee. In addition to his experience from academia, Dr. Owino has accumulated a wealth of experience in evaluation research where he consulted for several organizations as an external evaluation consultant. Additionally, he is also a program implementation specialist, having worked as a Behaviour Change Officer implementing an HIV prevention project at the community level in rural Kenya. Furthermore, he has extensive experience and excellent mastery of the social science and behavioural research processes with special strength in qualitative research methodology.

James Radner, MPhil

Role: Senior Fellow, Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child

Bio: James Radner is Assistant Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto; Senior Fellow at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University; and Research Director and Senior Fellow at the TruePoint Center.  His teaching and action research engage with challenges in social and economic development policy and practice, domestically and, especially, internationally. This work includes applications of quantitative and qualitative tools to improve the effectiveness of social innovations at local, national and international levels, with a particular emphasis on impact at scale. Over the past decade, James Radner’s work has focused primarily on policies and programs that work with families to improve the life prospects of vulnerable young children, applying both scientific and community-based knowledge in fruitful collaborations based on human equality.  Since 2012 he has worked with Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Brains portfolio of innovations in early childhood development in low- and middle-income countries.

Javier Curcio, MA

Role: International Consultant, Director of the Economics Department FCE / UBA, Professor FCE / UBA, Researcher IIPE BAIRES-UBA CONICET

Bio: Javier Curcio is an international consultant and researcher at Instituo Interdicilinario de Economica Politica (IIPE). He previously worked as an official for UNICEF, specializing in Social Investment between 2004 and 2008 and is a consultant for international organizations such as UNICEF, CEPAL, UNAIDS, UNPD, UNESCO, the World Bank and BID among others.

In addition to his role as Director of the Economics Department, he teaches for a variety of Masters programs including the Masters of Economics at UBA, Masters of Administration and Public Policy at the Universidad de San Andrés and the Masters in Design and Management of Policy and Social Programs at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLASCO) among other programs. He previously was also an advisor for the Secretary of Finance, Secretary of Economic Policy and the Ministries of Education, Science and Technology of Argentina. He is the author of numerous works on public policy, social investment, economics of education and protection and social security.

Javier has a degree in economics from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) with a concentration in the monitoring and evaluation of public policy, economic social policy and fiscal policy.

Jill Popp, PhD

Role: Senior Researcher, LEGO Foundation

Bio: Jill Popp is currently a Senior Researcher at the LEGO Foundation focusing on building evidence on learning through play, whole child development, and lifelong learning. She is particularly interested in understanding ways to support positive play experiences between parents and children within the home environment. In addition, she is involved in a research project looking at cultural variations in young children’s perceptions of play and learning. Dr. Popp has a Doctorate in Child Development and Family Studies from the University of Connecticut. Her previous research focused on young children with chronic illness and the impact of stress on young children’s narratives and parent-child relationship quality. Along with this, she has worked as a researcher on several large-scale community intervention programs in the United States.

Katie Murphy, PhD, MPH, MEd

Role: Senior Technical Advisor for ECD, International Rescue Committee

Bio: Katie Murphy  has over fifteen years experience working in the field of early childhood development, education and sustainable development. Katie began her career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador, where she lived in a rural community for two years teaching and designing health education and income generation projects. She began working with the IRC in 2005 as the education manager in Chad, supporting Darfurian refugees to build and improve educational and recreational programs for children and youth.  Katie served as the Deputy Director of the Global Master’s in Development Practice Secretariat at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and returned to work at the IRC in 2015, and served as the technical lead for the design of the Ahlan Simsim program, which received the inaugural 100&Change award from the MacArthur Foundation.  She is currently the co-chair of the ECD Task Team for the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). 

Katie holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University, an MEd from Harvard Graduate School of Education in International Education Policy and an MPH from University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Katie is currently a PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development at the University of Pennsylvania focusing on the implementation, quality measurement, and developmental outcomes for early childhood programs in crisis and conflict settings.  She has also conducted research in early childhood development in Central America, Ecuador, India, Lebanon, Kenya, Mexico and Thailand.  

Lara Aoudeh, MA

Role: Senior Programmes and Operations Manager, The Arab Resource Collective (ARC) and the Arab Network for Early Childhood (ANECD)

Bio: Lara Aoudeh holds a BA in ECE from the Lebanese University, and a Masters degree in Socio-cultural engineering from Saint-Joseph University. She is an advocate of early childhood in the Arab world as well as an ECD expert and regional trainer. Lara participated in the development of several resources for caregivers, educators, and ECD practitioners in Arabic. She is also a creative writer who developed scripts for more than 80 ECD videos directed at caregivers, and wrote ECD articles that resonate in the Arab context. Lara has designed several ECD interventions and contributed to the ARC and ANECD internal structuring and strategic planning processes.

Lisa Bohmer, MPH

Role: Global Early Childhood Development Director, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Bio: Lisa Bohmer directs the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Global Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiative, working with governments and civil society organizations in East and Southern Africa as well as the U.S. Bohmer is trained in public health with over 30 years of experience in supporting children and families and in technical areas including HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, reproductive rights and the empowerment of women and girls. Her experience includes leadership roles with UNICEF, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Nike Foundation, Ipas, and the Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS.

Mahmuda Akhter, MSc

Role: Executive Director, Institute of Child and Human Development (ICHD)

Bio: Mahmuda Akhter is the Executive Director of the Institute of Child and Human Development (ICHD). She is also the Vice-Chair of Bangladesh ECD Network (BEN) and the Convener of South Asia Forum of Early Childhood Development Professionals (SAFECDP). She is a member of the National ECCD Technical Committee under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. She is a Member of the Management Board of Bangladesh Shishu Academy which is the National Academy for Children. She was the founding Head of the ECD Resource Centre at BRAC Institute of Educational Development, BRAC University from 2005 to 2011. She was also a member of the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) Steering Committee (2008-2016). Under the guidance of Ms. Mahmuda Akhter, a significant number of research studies were conducted in the field of Early Childhood Development. She had a lead role in designing and developing the Post Graduate Certificate, Diploma, and Master Degree Program in Early Childhood Development at BRAC IED jointly with Columbia University USA and Open Society Institute London. She has been working as a faculty in this program of BRAC IED, BRAC University since 2008.

Mark Tomlinson, PhD (TAG Chair)

Role: Professor of Maternal and Child Health, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queens University, Belfast UK and Co-Director Institute for Life Course Health Research, Stellenbosch University

Bio: Professor Mark Tomlinson is the Co-Director of the Institute for Life Course Health Research in the Department of Global Health at Stellenbosch University. He is also Professor of Maternal and Child Health in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queens University, Belfast, UK. His scholarly work has involved a diverse range of topics that have in common an interest in factors that contribute to compromised maternal health, to understanding child and adolescent development in contexts of high adversity, to understand the impact of maternal depression on child health and development, and how to develop community-based interventions to improve health and development across the life course. He is currently a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic and Technical Advisory Group of Experts (STAGE) for Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health & Nutrition. He was elected as a member of the Academy of Science in South Africa in 2017. He received the Chancellors Award for Research at Stellenbosch University in 2015. He has published over 310 papers in peer-reviewed journals, edited two books, and published numerous chapters.

Maureen Samms-Vaughan, CD, MBBS, DM, PhD

Role: Professor of Child Health, Child Development and Behaviour, University of the West Indies

Bio: Maureen Samms-Vaughan is known internationally for her seminal research, clinical work and policy development in the field of child health and development. She is an advocate for the well-being of all children, but particularly those at the early childhood level and those with developmental disabilities. She works very closely with families of children with autism spectrum disorder. Maureen Samms-Vaughan is Professor of Child Health, Child Development and Behaviour at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. She is known locally, regionally and internationally for her clinical work as a developmental paediatrician, as a policymaker for children’s matters, and as a researcher in child development, particularly in Jamaica and the Caribbean, in the areas of early child development, developmental disabilities, and birth cohort studies. She has been an academic at the University of the West Indies (UWI) since 1993, and was appointed UWI’s first Professor of Child Health, Child Development and Behaviour in 2006.

She has published over 120 papers and other works. Prof. Samms-Vaughan has over 150 publications, including three books, several book chapters and peer reviewed papers, on a range of child development and developmental disabilities. She has also completed numerous consultancies in child development for the IDB, the World Bank, UNICEF and PAHO. She has received numerous research grants for child development research from the CDB, UNICEF, the IDB, the World Bank and the National Institutes of Health. Her research has influenced public policy in the areas of parenting, early childhood development, mitigation of childhood exposure to violence and the development of early childhood Indicators. She has received a number of local and international awards, including, the Commander of the Order of Distinction (CD) by the Government of Jamaica in 2007 for pioneering work in early childhood development and child health care.

Melanie Swan, MA, MBA

Role: Global Technical Lead for Early Childhood Development, Plan International

Bio: Melanie Swan focuses on supporting Plan International’s teams working across four regions (Americas and the Caribbean/Middle East and Eastern and Southern Africa/West and Central Africa/Asia and Pacific) and development and humanitarian settings to progress gender-transformative ECD programming, with particular emphasis on play-based early learning and parenting/caregiver education and support programs, including male engagement.  Prior to joining Plan in 2001, she worked as a physician (in the UK and with DFID in the Solomon Islands, and obtained a Masters (Hon) in Health Policy, Planning, and Financing in Developing Countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine/London School of Economics. Prior to her current role, Melanie worked as the health/ECD advisor at the country level (Brazil), regional level (Latin America) at Plan.

Melissa Kelly, MA

Role: Engaging Policymakers in Early Childhood and Early Years Fellowship Programs Lead, World Bank Group

Bio: Melissa Kelly has over 15 years of experience in early childhood focused on design, implementation and workforce strengthening of parent education, early learning and community engagement programming across education, social protection, child protection and health sectors in Central America, East and Southern Africa, Eastern Europe, and South and Southeast Asia. She served on the Executive Group of the ECD Action Network (ECDAN) from 2017-2020,  was the chair of the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) from 2016-2019 and co-leads the Nurturing Care Framework Monitoring and Evaluation Working Group with UNICEF and WHO partners. Melissa’s previous roles include Director of Program Strategy and ECD Senior Advisor at ChildFund International; ECD Specialist at Save the Children US; ECD Program Manager for Save the Children Mozambique; Project Director at the New York City Department of Education and Program Assistant at the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). Melissa holds a master’s degree in International Educational Development from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Muideen Bakare, MBBS

Role: Chairman, Childhood Neuropsychiatric Disorders Initiatives (CNDI)

Bio: Muideen Bakare is presently the Chairman of CNDI, a Non-Profit Organization registered in Nigeria that is committed to the objective of promoting physical, social and mental well-being of children and adolescents in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Dr. Bakare is a trained Psychiatrist practicing in Nigeria. He is a Chief Consultant Psychiatrist and Head of the Child and Adolescent Unit of Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria. He has participated in impact conferences like World Psychiatrists Association (WPA) World Congress, International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), International Association for Child and Adolescents Psychiatry and Allied Professions (IACAPAP) on various subjects relating to Childhood Neuropsychiatric Disorders in Africa. He has contributed impactful research in the subject area of Childhood Neurodevelopmental Disabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Dr. Bakare was a Member of the WHO Extended Peer-Review Group for classification of Intellectual Developmental Disorders (IDD) for the proposed ICD-11. Dr. Bakare was also part of the Delphi Panelists that contributed to the rounds of Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health initiative. He is the Secretary, WPA Section for Psychiatry of Intellectual Disability (SPID).

Nathaniel Foote, JD, MBA

Role: Senior Fellow, Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child; Director, TruePoint Center for Higher Ambition Leadership

Bio: Nathaniel Foote is co-author of the recent book, Higher Ambition: How Great Leaders Create Economic and Social Value. He he has helped clients in a wide range of settings to build more effective institutions that achieve objectives for accelerated growth, increased innovation, and improved performance for all stakeholders. Since 2009, Nathaniel has worked closely with the Center on the Developing Child as part of the Frontiers of Innovation Initiative. Nathaniel was with McKinsey & Company for 19 years, where he was a partner and leader of McKinsey’s Organization Design practice, and had global responsibility for the effectiveness of McKinsey’s communities of practice. He received an MBA degree from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar, and a J.D. degree from Harvard Law School, magna cum laude. He attended the University of Cambridge as the Fiske Scholar, after receiving his B.A. degree from Harvard.

Robert Hughes, BSc, MPH

Role: Clinical Research Fellow, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Bio: Robert Hughes initially trained and practiced clinical medicine at Bristol University. After that, he completed his Masters in Public Health at Harvard School of Public Health as a Kennedy Scholar. From there, he joined the UK Department for International Development (DFID – now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) as a Health/Nutrition Adviser, in a series of roles working in Pakistan, Yemen, Whitehall and then leading the UKaid human development programme in Zambia.

He subsequently joined the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) in London as a Senior Fellow to lead development of their Early Childhood Development strategy and programming and supporting work to build linkages between global health and climate portfolios. In addition to my role at LSHTM he works/has worked as a consultant to the Clean Air Fund (a philanthropic initiative with a mission to tackle air pollution around the world), Google X, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, WHO, and DFID.

Romilla Karnati, PhD

Role: Director in Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD), Save the Children US

Bio: Romilla Karnati provides strategic leadership to the ECCD team and technical assistance to countries in Africa and Asia. Romilla is the focal point on programming for children 0-3 years and co-developed the Building Brains Common Approach. Romilla provides ECCD technical assistance to USAID’s flagship nutrition project called Advancing Nutrition, USAID Momentum and Country Global Leadership, Save the Children’s global Sponsorship programming as well as private donor-funded early childhood projects. She is a member of the Nurturing Care working group and a mentor on the World Bank’s Early Years Fellowship Program. Prior to joining Save the Children, Romilla worked as an ECCD Consultant at UNICEF Headquarters and provided technical guidance on parenting programs; research on linking women’s empowerment and child care as well as global advocacy efforts. Her earlier work experience included being Director of educational content at Sesame Workshop. She also managed a team researching transition initiatives in early childhood in the US and internationally at Teachers College, National Center for Children and Families, New York. As a Research Specialist at the International Literacy Institute in Philadelphia, she helped to design a literacy and numeracy curriculum for multimedia software. While completing her PhD in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania, she acquired teaching experience in the early grades. Her dissertation research focused on the impact of computer-aided education for out-of-school children in India

Sanjana Janardhanan, MSc

Role: Portfolio Manager, Grand Challenges Canada

Bio: Sanjana Janardhanan is part of the Saving Brains team, where she manages a portfolio of investments that improve early childhood and brain development outcomes for children across the world.

Prior to this, Sanjana worked at the ELMA Philanthropies, as Program Officer for Early Childhood Development in Southern Africa. In this role, she was instrumental in supporting work that built the national early childhood ecosystem, the sector’s pandemic response, as well as built new portfolios of work in gender-based violence and refugee-support.

Sanjana has had several years of experience working with early-stage innovation in Southern Africa and India. She has an MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Sonja Giese, BSc

Role: Executive Director and Founder, DataDrive2030

Bio: Sonja Giese’s most recent venture, in a career spanning almost 30 years, has been founding DataDrive203. Established in 2022, DataDrive2030 is a South African based social enterprise that supports the collection and use of high quality data to drive improved child outcomes in the first 6 years of life.

Prior too this, in 2014, Sonja founded Innovation Edge, an impact first investment focused on solving early childhood challenges in South Africa. She led the organisation for eight years, demonstrating the ability to take ideas from source to scale. Prior to Innovation Edge, Sonja held senior leadership positions within the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute, international NGO Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) and the ECD donor consortium, Ilifa Labantwana. Sonja has also initiated and led local community-based programmes and large-scale research initiatives, and has consulted extensively to policy makers and philanthropists. She has a degree in science from the University of Cape Town, a passion for systems change and a commitment to closing the opportunity gaps in early childhood.

Vidya Putcha, MA

Role: Senior Program Officer, Results for Development

Bio: Vidya Putcha leads projects on early childhood development related to supporting and strengthening the early childhood workforce, and increasing financing for early childhood development services. This often involves strategic guidance for policymakers, funders, and implementers on topics such as tracking investments, standards, and training and professional development. Ms. Putcha holds a master’s in international relations and international economics from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a BA in development studies from Brown University. She speaks English and Telugu.

Wanjiku Kuria, MPH

Role: Advisor- Sanitation and Hygiene, World Vision Kenya

Bio: Wamjiku Kuria has over 18 years experience in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector having worked in both refugee and development setups in various non-profit organizations. Masters in public health and a post-graduate certificate in global health from Drexel University.

Zorica Trikic, MEd

Role: Senior Program Manager, International Step by Step Association (ISSA)

Bio: Zorica Trikic leads different ISSA initiatives, including the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative, Embracing Diversity, Quality in ECEC, Supporting Families for Nurturing Care, and Playful Parenting. Zorica has over 30 years of international experience in the early years sector, working on programs and policy development focusing on accessibility of high-quality early childhood experiences for all children, especially the most marginalized ones – Roma and refugee and migrant children. She has extensive experience working on policy development and capacity building on different levels of early childhood systems and across sectors, with a particular focus on bridging educational, health, child protection, and welfare systems and services. In various capacities (author, co-author, editor, peer reviewer), she contributed to developing some of the foundational ECD guidance and knowledge products in the ISSA region. Zorica holds a Master’s degree in Education and Human Resources Development.