Starting an organization is by no means an easy feat, even when someone is passionate about a topic. The aim of this webinar is to support others with ideas and interests to start social justice-oriented organization. Founders from across the VALOR LEAP Cohorts will come together for a webinar discussion on what led them to found the organization and the lessons (both challenges and successes) that they have encountered along the way.


  • To hear the stories of founders of various organizations and what motivated them
  • To connect founders in the gender-based violence space with one another
  • To develop lessons learned and key takeaways in terms of what to know and or be aware of when considering founding an organization


Mariya Taher (she/her) was named one of six experts to watch on the issue of female genital cutting (FGC) by NewsDeeply, Mariya has worked in gender-based violence for over a decade in the areas of teaching, research, policy, program development, and direct service. In 2015, she co founded Sahiyo, an award-winning, transnational organization with the mission to empower Asian communities to end FGC. The Manhattan Young Democrats honored her as a 2017 Engendering Progress honoree and ABC news did a special feature on her, entitled: Underground: American Woman Underwent Female Genital Mutilation Comes Forward. In 2018, Mariya received the Human Rights Storytellers Award from the Muslim American Leadership Alliance. In 2020, she was recognized as one of the six inaugural grant recipients for the Crave Foundation for Women. Since 2015, she has collaborated with the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association to pass legislation to protect girls from FGC. After starting a petition and gathering over 400,000 signatures, Massachusetts became the 39th state in the U.S. to do so.

Sanjana Khan (she/they) is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Laal, and comes from a diverse background in the nonprofit sector, service, and fashion industries. Khan has been in the nonprofit sector for over 9 years before they co-founded Laal in 2018 with Ayesha Akhtar. Khan has worked in clinical research, community-led research, cooperative development, program development, and data analysis at an array of international and locally-based organizations including FIVDB in Sylhet, Bangladesh; Rahab’s Sisters in Portland, Oregon; Sapna NYC and Green Worker Cooperatives in the Bronx, NYC; and BRAC in Mymensingh, Bangladesh. They worked closely with The Cuban Ministry of Economics and The University of Havana when they were the Cooperative Developer at GWC, where she collaborated in creating the process of transition from government-owned businesses to worker cooperatives. Khan has supported the development of over 45+ worker cooperatives throughout NYC. Khan holds a Bachelor of Arts in Feminism from The Evergreen State College, a Post Baccalaureate in Business Development from the University of Vermont, and a Masters in Public Policy and Administration from Baruch College, City University of New York.

Strong Oak Lefebvre, MSSA: Executive Director and co-founder of the Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition INC. Strong Oak was the first Board President of VBCIC and is currently Co-Chair of the VBCIC Board. She co-authors the Walking in Balance with All Our Relations teaching curriculum. This violence prevention approach is based on transformative/restorative Circle practices and traditional values of indigenous people before colonization. Strong Oak served on Massachusetts's statutory Governor’s Restorative Justice Advisory Committee from 2018 to 2022. She teaches the Circle process to communities, agencies, and providers working with those who are survivors of homicide victims, domestic and sexual violence, and those who are working to return to their communities violence-free after having hurt others. VBCIC is one of ten organizations and eight fellows comprising the Just Beginnings Collaborative that seeks to end childhood sexual abuse through the leadership of survivors from a cross-section of marginalized communities. She served on the Advisory Council of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center from 2010 to 2016 and has had a continuing relationship with the NSVRC, serving most recently on the SV- Disasters Relief Guide Advisory Group. While on the Advisory Council of the NSVRC, Strong Oak served as a voting member of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape Board of Directors.

Tonjie Reese is a Detroit native, creative, advocate, preventionist, and founder of eleven24, a program dedicated to reimagining gender based violence prevention through a lens of liberation and community. In her many years of youth-serving and gender-based violence work, she has held roles as a prevention program director, national community initiatives coordinator, and senior program officer – always centering the experiences of Black youth. Tonjie has educated communities at the local, state, and national level. She is a member of the National Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Prevention Council, a coach for ValorUS LEAP program, and an advisor for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. She holds a BS in Behavioral Science and a MA in Education, Leadership, and Change.

April Barbosa is a dedicated advocate and leader in the field of violence prevention. As the Executive Director and Founder of Rosaura’s Legacy, an organization born from the tragic loss of her daughter, Rosaura, April tirelessly works to prevent similar tragedies. She also serves as the Ending the Silence Program Manager for NAMI Southern AZ, where she raises awareness about mental health. With a resilient marriage of 22 years, April is a loving parent to three adult children and a proud grandmother of one. Her educational journey includes a bachelor’s degree in correction program management and ongoing pursuit of a master’s in counseling. April’s commitment to her community is further exemplified by her involvement as a LEAP cohort member, striving to make a lasting impact in the lives of others. In addition to her advocacy work, April is a published author, using her words to inspire and educate on matters close to her heart, further amplifying her impact on her community and beyond.