Our Team in DRC

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Nancy and Bea

Nancy and Bea are our program team in the Congo. Their last names are withheld for safety reasons. They work directly with our clients, receiving grant proposals, making funding recommendations to our Board and supporting and monitoring projects in progress.


Board of Directors


Becky Jasper
Board Chair

Becky, a former Peace Corps volunteer, served in the DRC (then known as Zaire) during 1989-1991 developing sustainable funding projects at a hospital in Mushenge. Today she is Director of International Purchasing at Entrust Datacard. In her spare time she volunteers with nonprofits including Pro Player Foundation who has raised over a million dollars to find cure for MS and is still active, and spent 10 years on the board of Peace Corps Friends of the DR Congo.


Ellen Wolaner
Board member

Ellen is Director of Finance and Operations for Wallin Education Partners. Ellen has extensive international experience in Europe and North Africa and speaks French fluently. Ellen holds an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School and a BS in Agricultural Economics from Cornell University.


risha rathore
Board member

Risha is a Financial Analyst in the Finance Leadership Development Program at General Mills. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, with majors in Finance and Healthcare Management and earned her MBA from Olin School of Business. 


Lois Dirksen
Board Member

Lois is President and Partner of LEVEL Brand, a brand development and advertising agency based in Minneapolis.  She is a graduate of Arizona State University.  Lois has made many trips to East Africa on behalf Wellshare International and has spent time in Goma, DRC.


Caitlin Gokey
Board Member

Caitlin is a Senior Planning Analyst and Community Liaison for Hennepin County.  She holds an MPA form New York University and has many years of international experience in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Her commitment to advancing human rights and ensuring access to justice for vulnerable populations is evidenced by her work with Vera Institute of Justice.


Board Member

Albert was born in Lubudi (Katanga Province) and was a French teacher at L’Institut Technique de Mutoshi, Kolwezi in the Congo. He now teaches in the Districts of Minnesota and Anoka in Minneapolis. After graduating in 1974, from l’Institut Supérieur Pédagogique de Lubumbashi (Congo-Kinshasa), in the Department of French and Latin, he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Minnesota in 1999. Albert has also written a number books and dictionaries.


Board Member

Andrew is the Cost Accounting Manager at Entrust Datacard located in Shakopee, MN. He graduated from Creighton University in Omaha, NE with majors in Accounting, Economics, and Dance. He also holds additional accounting credentials with a Certified Management Accountant designation from the Institute of Management Accountants.


Pat Gaarder
FORMER Board Member

Pat recently retired after a long, public service career at the Minnesota Historical Society. Much of her experience was in human resources, providing her with deep experience in strategic planning, program administration and problem resolution. Her life-long commitment to social equity brought her to First Step Initiative and its work with the women of Lubumbashi. Pat holds a MA in women’s history from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA from Macalester College.