Skip to Content

Board of Directors

Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, FACP, FACPM

President & Co-founder

read more

Hope is president and CEO of Phoenix Zones Initiative. Over two decades, as a double-board certified internal medicine and preventive medicine physician, Hope has cared for individuals who have experienced displacement and violence, while she has also worked on policy to address structural inequities and human and animal exploitation. Her work across six continents has included collaboration with the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States and the development of medical, public health, and educational resources for nongovernmental organizations, national governments, and intergovernmental organizations such as the World Health Organization. As a result of her work in these areas, Hope was named a Humanitarian of the Year in the American College of Physicians in 2017.

Hope has authored highly cited publications and spoken at academic institutions and through media outlets across the globe. Many of her publications, including her critically acclaimed book Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives, focus on ethics, global public health, and the link between human and animal rights, health, and wellbeing. In 2019, she co-founded Phoenix Zones Initiative to translate insights in the book into a movement for systemic change.

Hope received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Southern California, a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, and a master’s degree in public health from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She completed a medical internship at Yale University-Griffin Hospital, a preventive medicine residency at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and an internal medicine residency at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She served as an assistant professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, an associate professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and she now serves as an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

Nik Kulkarni, MD

Vice President & Co-founder

read more

Nik is a board-certified anesthesiologist. He has served on several hospital committees throughout his career and has led anesthesiology teams for Operation Walk, a charitable organization that provides joint replacement surgeries for patients in the United States and abroad. He has staffed free back-to-school clinics for children in the northern Virginia area, and he has also volunteered with a national organization that helps military veterans.

Over the years, Nik has provided philanthropic support to a number of organizations focused on the promotion of human rights, animal protection, and compassionate conservation. As a result, he has become increasingly interested in the combination of grassroots action, systems-level change, and measurable impact.

Nik is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and he completed his physician anesthesiology training with an advanced clinical track in pediatrics at the State University of New York Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York. He is currently a partner at an independent anesthesiology practice.



Kavita Rajasekhar, MD, MPH


read more

Kavita is a board-certified preventive medicine physician. After completing medical school at the University of Florida College of Medicine, she worked in Washington, DC, where she was active in plant-based nutrition research and animal advocacy. Kavita later completed a preventive medicine residency at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and she also practiced occupational medicine for several years at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

After a fellowship in public health practice at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Kavita joined the Barry Commoner Center for Health and the Environment. She works with the Worker Health Protection Program, joining several other Commoner Center physicians in reviewing medical screening results from former and current workers at US Department of Energy nuclear facilities.

Kavita first became aware of the interdependence of animal-human-planetary health as an undergraduate student, and she carried her interest in this area into her medical studies. She has also completed the chef training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, which specializes in plant-based, health-supportive cooking.

Sonia Silva, MPA


read more

Sonia is director of International Students and Programs at California State University Bakersfield, where she is also on the faculty in the Department of Biology. Her responsibilities include international student and scholar services, cultivation of community partnerships, leadership on campus immigration policies and procedures, and coordination with the US Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security; she also collaborates with the university’s Title IX Coordinator. In addition, Sonia oversees the university’s National Student Exchange Program, and she fosters partnerships around the globe as the institutional liaison for accepting Fulbright scholars.

Prior to her current role, Sonia served as a student programs advisor at the University of Southern California, and as an adult school teacher and substitute teacher for elementary, junior high, and high school students in the Compton Unified School District.

Sonia serves as a member of the Kern County Behavioral Health Board, a founding member and treasurer for the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society, Theta Theta Chapter (for international scholars), and as a board member for the California State University, Bakersfield, Center for Global Outreach, and the Alumni Association. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, and she received a master’s degree in public administration from the California State University Bakersfield.

Ayanna Buckner, MD, MPH, FACPM

Board Member

read more

Ayanna has committed her career to addressing the needs of underserved communities. Trained in preventive medicine, public health, and internal medicine, Ayanna’s professional time is divided between working in an outpatient clinic and serving as the principal of Community Health Cooperative, a consulting firm that assists organizations with program design, implementation, evaluation, and other activities associated with community-based health programming.

Ayanna previously served as chair of the Gulf Region Health Outreach Program Coordinating Committee, which coordinated a five-year, $105 million initiative developed as part of the Deepwater Horizon Medical Settlement and designed to strengthen primary and behavioral healthcare services in oil spill-impacted communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.

Ayanna received a bachelor of science degree from Xavier University of Louisiana and a doctor of medicine degree from Meharry Medical College. She completed a combined residency program in internal medicine and preventive medicine at Griffin Hospital in Connecticut, during which time she received a master’s degree in public health, with an emphasis in health management, from Yale University. Ayanna is a fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine and she was a Marshall Memorial Fellow.

Allan E. Kornberg, MD, MBA

Board Member

read more

Allan is a pediatrician who has practiced primary care and emergency pediatrics. He is medical director and executive director for Physicians Association for Nutrition USA, an international nongovernmental organization committed to educating health professionals and students, the general public, and policymakers about the value of whole-food, plant-based nutrition in promoting good health, and in preventing and treating disease.

Allan has held a number of healthcare leadership roles, including CEO of Network Health, a health plan in Massachusetts serving individuals living with poverty. Allan has also advocated on behalf of survivors of child abuse and sexual assault. He co-edited the textbook Child Abuse: A Medical Reference, and he has authored peer-reviewed articles on child abuse and on emergency pediatrics. Additionally, Allan has led animal protection organizations, serving as executive director for both World Animal Protection-USA and Farm Sanctuary. In addition to serving on the board of Phoenix Zones Initiative, Allan is a hands-on board member with Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries; Animal Defense Partnership, which provides pro bono legal consulting services to animal charities; and Dharma Voices for Animals.

Allan received a bachelor of science degree from MIT, a doctor of medicine degree from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and a master’s degree in business from the University of Rochester. He has served as vice chair of Pediatrics, associate professor of Pediatrics, and associate professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Buffalo, and as associate professor of Pediatrics at Brown University.

Senior Leadership

Elan Abrell, JD, PhD

Vice President, Community Planning & Partnerships

read more

Elan is a cultural anthropologist whose research, writing, and practice focus on human-animal-environment interactions, scientific knowledge production, and food-related technological innovation. His work has also explored the socially constructed and historically shifting dividing line between who does and does not count as human, and how economic processes have reinforced this dividing line to rationalize the exploitation and mistreatment of both people and animals.

Elan has written about systemic discrimination associated with the sanctioning of torture and other anti-civil rights policies, and his forthcoming book, Saving Animals: Practices of Care and Rescue in the US Animal Sanctuary Movement, examines how sanctuary caregivers respond to a range of ethical dilemmas and material constraints while attempting to meet the various and sometimes conflicting needs of rescued animals. The book examines animal sanctuaries as a model for creating a positive vision of the future for both people and animals.

Elan is currently a visiting assistant professor in the Animal Studies Program at Wesleyan University and an adjunct assistant professor in the Animals Studies MA Program and the Anthropology Department at New York University. He was formerly a 2017-18 Farmed Animal Law and Policy Fellow at the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard University, a visiting assistant professor in the Urban Studies Department at Queens College, CUNY, and a Senior Regulatory Specialist at the Good Food Institute.

Mike Anastario, PhD

Vice President, Research & Evaluation

read more

Mike is an independent researcher with expertise in mixed qualitative and quantitative methods. Much of his work centers on emerging intersections between epidemiology, medicine, the humanities, and public health. Mike was a 2018-19 US Fulbright scholar to El Salvador, and he has authored 40 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters concerning these topics. In his book Parcels: Memories of Salvadoran Migration, he explored social remembering and forgetting in one rural community affected by US migration policies.

Mike has served as a co-investigator and lead analyst for projects serving Indigenous populations in the United States and in Greenland, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and by the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Social Sciences Program. In addition to grant-funded research, Mike has more than 10 years’ experience directing health program evaluations for nonprofit organizations, including human rights programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Kenya, funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and by the US State Department.

Mike received his PhD in sociology from Boston College in 2007. During his studies, he served as a research associate at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Women’s Health at the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; he subsequently led research projects at RTI International. In addition to his role as a researcher, Mike now serves as an assistant professor in the Florida International University Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work Department of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and he also directs graduate student theses in the Master in Applied Research Statistics Program at the Central American University (Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas) in El Salvador.

Kyle Ash

Kyle Ash, MA, LLM

Vice President, Policy Strategy & Outreach

read more

Kyle has designed and led public policy campaigns for organizations that forward public health, environmental protection, and international cooperation. On food policy, Kyle’s campaign objectives have included mandatory plant-based options in hospitals and nutrition education for physicians. On forest policy, he has worked to ban the cutting of old-growth forest, and to establish long-term protection for intact forests. On climate, his objectives have included exposing obfuscation at UN negotiations, halting the expansion of oil drilling on the outer-continental shelf, and prohibiting public subsidies for coal-fired power plants. He has succeeded in achieving legislative and regulatory reform at the state, national, and international level.

Kyle has appeared on radio, television and in Politico, Greenwire, the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, DeutscheWelle, Outside Magazine, as well as many other media outlets. His published articles on environmental and legal issues include “Why ‘Managing’ Biodiversity Will Fail,” and “International Animal Rights: Speciesism and Exclusionary Human Dignity,” published in the Animal Law Review. He received a BA in International Affairs and Political Economy from Lewis and Clark College, an MA in Global Environmental Policy from American University, and an LLM in International Law from the University of Kent in Brussels.

Kris Weller, JD, PhD

Vice President, Legal Analysis & Operations

read more

After studying psychology as an undergraduate at the Johns Hopkins University, Kris spent several years working in direct care, administrative, and management positions with organizations serving children and adults diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, adults with cognitive differences, educationally-disadvantaged urban youth, and politically- and economically-neglected urban communities. Seeking to understand the systemic causes of the symptoms addressed by social service projects and to learn about more comprehensive solutions, she returned to school.

Kris completed a JD/MA program in Law and Women’s Studies at the University of Cincinnati, with an emphasis in Law and Psychiatry that included a specialized academic track and externships in legal services and rights defense work on behalf of individuals with diagnoses of psychiatric difference. She received a PhD in the history of consciousness with a parenthetical citation in feminist studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. Her dissertation examined the legal, cultural, and discursive barriers to full legal personhood for nonhuman animals and for humans with atypical psychiatric and cognitive abilities, and the barriers to full social equality for members of historically marginalized groups.

Kris has completed postdoctoral fellowships at Duke University and Penn State University, and she has taught undergraduate courses in animal studies and gender studies, focusing on the intersectionality of categorizations used to justify oppression and discrimination.

Speakers Bureau

We offer a variety of speakers to fit any budget or agenda. Phoenix Zones Initiative speakers deliver a depth and breadth of expertise and real-world experience working on issues concerning rights, health, and wellbeing.

Contact us for more information about our presenters, speaking topics, and further details about how to add a compelling and motivating message to your next event. We’d love to hear from you.

Email Us

Join Our Newsletter

Become part of a growing movement. Subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates.