Since 2019, the McCain Fellowship for Freedom (MFF) has brought together a cohort of young political leaders from around the world to the United States for an exchange with policymakers, thought leaders, American entrepreneurs, and others to gain insights and build networks necessary to fostering resilient democracies rooted in economic freedom. MFF encourages peer-to-peer learning, provides targeted training, and cultivates a generation of political changemakers who are building more inclusive, transparent, and resilient democracies powered by free markets. The Fellowship honors the spirit and legacy of 25-year IRI Chairman Senator John McCain, a passionate advocate of democracy around the world and former Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, who believed that “free markets are not possible without free people.” In January 2024, IRI selected its third cohort of McCain Fellows.

About the Fellowship

IRI’s McCain Fellows are rising leaders between the ages of 21 and 40 who are committed to the promotion of political and economic freedom in their countries. They have a proven track record of leadership and accomplishment in challenging environments. They embody the potential for transformational impact in their organizations, institutions, communities, and countries. Through this program, these emerging leaders are brought into IRI’s global network across more than 100 countries, leveraging their training and contacts to catalyze their contributions to free societies.  

Throughout the year, IRI’s McCain Fellows will also participate in a virtual technical assistance program centered around adaptive, resilient, and character-driven leadership. Upon their return home, Fellows are incorporated into the alumni network and continue to be involved with IRI programs, engage with current MFF cohort members and alumni through online and in-person opportunities. Through this ongoing engagement, IRI’s McCain Fellows sustain their participation in IRI’s global network of transformational young leaders committed to democratic and economic openness in their countries.

Each year, the Fellowship culminates in an Exchange where IRI’s McCain Fellows participate in discussions designed to cultivate their skills and networks to create positive change and support democratic resiliency. Key sessions include workshops on national and local governance, meetings with business and tech leaders, and learning sessions on democratic practices, campaign management, and policymaking with leaders.

Meet the 2024 Cohort of IRI’s McCain Fellows

Abdirashid Ibrahim Abdirahman | Somaliland
Director-General, Ministry of Trade and Tourism of Somaliland

Abdirashid serves as the Director-General of the Ministry of Trade and Tourism. He first entered politics as a member of the United Peoples Democratic Party and spearheaded the party’s youth wing. Rising within the Kulmiye party, he served as the former Director-General of the Ministry of Planning and National Development and of the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs, and Family. In 2017, Abdirashid helped deliver and facilitate Somaliland’s first presidential debate. In his past government roles, he has facilitated numerous events for Somaliland’s youth, creating a space for them to be active in politics, and to champion causes for youth employment, community welfare, and the protection of workers’ rights.

Abdusamat Kadyrkulov | Kyrgyzstan
Deputy Assistant for Public Affairs

Abdusamat serves as the Deputy Assistant for Public Affairs within the Kyrgyz Republic while in his fourth year of his undergraduate education at the Academy of Public Administration. In this role, Abdusamat assists party officials in drafting legislation, organizing public debates, and maintaining relations with civil society organizations and other political structures. Abdusamat also works to create more favorable conditions for attracting both domestic and foreign investments, for example, by streamlining procedures for entrepreneurs that reduce tax burdens and improve the legal protection of businesses. Abdusamat is an alum of the IRI Mentorship Program in Kyrgyzstan, which enhanced his expertise in various subjects, including democratic transitions, public opinion research, political communication, and campaign techniques. He gained firsthand experience using these skills by interning with his political party, where he received mentorship from the party’s leader.

Andrea Bruna Barrientos Sahonero | Bolivia
Senator, Bolivia

Andrea entered the political sphere in 2015 while defending the “21 F” Referendum results, which opposed a constitutional reform allowing Evo Morales to seek reelection. Twice leading the Comunidad Ciudadana (CC) party’s bench in the Senatorial elections, Andrea currently serves as a secretary of the Human Rights, Electoral System and Social Equity Committee. As a Senator, Andrea has collaborated effectively with the private sector, recognizing the potential for government abuse against private investors, and has worked to create a collaborative environment that encourages foreign investment, economic growth, and individual prosperity. Additionally, as the co-founder of Andes Business Solutions, she champions innovative digital startups by providing a wide range of services in customer and administrative support to small and medium-sized businesses across Bolivia.

Erisa Xhixho | Albania
Member of Parliament, Albania

Erisa is a Member of Parliament and holds positions in the parliamentary committees of Legal Affairs, Public Administration, Human Rights, and European Integration. Within the Assembly, she serves as the Vice President of the group of deputies called ‘Friends of Children,’ the Secretary of the Alliance of Women Deputies, and a member of the Club of Young Deputies. She is also the Vice Chairperson of the Freedom Party (FP). Notable among her recent achievements is the passage of the “National Registry for Sexual Crimes,” which is legislation that provides resources to protect Albanian women and ensure safer communities. Prior to her current role, Erisa was part of her party’s Youth Forum from 2005 to 2011 and served as the Deputy Minister of Integration from 2014 to 2017.

Ibtissame Azzaoui | Morocco
City Councilor, Rabat City Council

Ibtissame is currently a city councilor in Morocco’s capital city and is a former parliamentarian. While in Parliament, she served as a Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Joint Parliamentary Commission between the Moroccan Parliament and the European Parliament. In 2023, She founded the international parliamentary network called Parliamentarians for Climate (P4C). P4C is a global network of current and former Parliamentarians motivated by taking action to reduce climate change. In addition to working in politics, she is an international consultant in public policies, digital transition, strategic governance, and parliamentary affairs. Ibtissame also served as the Regional President for the Middle East and North Africa region for the international parliamentary network for the fight against infectious diseases (the UNITE Network).

Mary James Gill | Pakistan
Executive Director, Center for Law and Justice

Mary James formerly served as a member of the Provincial Assembly in Punjab, where she introduced legislative changes for the welfare of marginalized communities in Pakistan. For example, she contributed to legislative reforms on the Hindu Marriage Act and promoted gender responsive strategies for economic growth. During her time in the Provincial Assembly, Mary James facilitated a campaign advocating for comprehensive labor rights for sanitation workers, entitled ‘sweepers are superheroes.’ She is currently the Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice, where she leverages qualitative social research and policy analysis expertise to foster advocacy and development initiatives for marginalized communities. In her current role, Mary James frequently presents key research findings at national and international forums to contribute to the discourse on social justice and policy reform

Muhammad Harris Idaham Abdul Rashid | Malaysia
Youth Wing Executive Councilor, Malaysian United Indigenous Party

Harris is the Youth Wing Executive Councilor for The Malaysian United Indigenous Party, where he serves as the wing’s representative in engagements with international organizations. Harris also served as the Special Functions Officer in both the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities. In 2022, Harris was a candidate for the Balik Pulau Parliamentary Seat in Malaysia’s 15th General Election under the Perikatan Nasional coalition. Additionally, Harris was conferred a state award (Neck Order) by the Honorable Governor of the State of Malacca in recognition of his contributions to the government and the public at large.

Yanique Tracy | Jamaica
Co-Chair, National Youth Advisory Council of Jamaica

As Jamaica’s Youth Advisory Council Co-Chair, Yanique advises Jamaican government ministries on youth issues. She is an IRI Caribbean Policy Youth Fellow and member of IRI’s flagship youth Network, Generation Democracy (GenDem). Yanique is a former Inductee in the National Youth Parliament of Jamaica, where she represented Jamaican in relevant forums across the Caribbean. She is also a member of the Global Jamaica Youth Diaspora Council where she helped mobilize the youth diaspora to connect and contribute to Jamaica’s development. Yanique has also served as a founding member of the Nannyville Uprising Youth Action Club since 2005, which aims to increase employability amongst Jamaican youth through standardized test preparation and tutoring.

Meet the 2023 Cohort of IRI’s McCain Fellows

Admir Čavalić | Bosnia and Herzegovina
Member of Parliament

Admir is a Member of Parliament and currently serves as the Chairman of the committee for economic and financial policy. He is also the founder and former Director of the first free-market association in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Tuzla Canton Privatization Agency, and has been recognized by the public as an economic analyst and regularly appears in the domestic and foreign media. Previously, he was a city councilor in Tuzla for two years. He also worked as a lecturer at the Faculty of Economics in Tuzla and now works as a lecturer at the IPI Academy in Tuzla. In 2011, Admir shot a documentary movie about the economy in BiH, promoting free market principles.

Agita Pasaribu | Indonesia
Founder and Executive Director, Bullyid Indonesia

Agita led the tech development and design of the Bullyid App (web-app) launched in the mid of 2020, which is intended to provide accessible mental health support and access to justice to victims of OGBV with a survivors-centered approach. To date, over 55,000+ people have received support. Based on her work at Bullyid Indonesia, she was invited by UNESCO to join the UNESCO Youth AI (Artificial Intelligence) Ethics Steering Committee. Previously, she was elected as Deputy Coordinator for Youth IGF Global Movement as part of the UN Internet Governance Forum. During that event, she led 35 youth representatives from around the world to develop sustainable digital literacy programs in their communities to strengthen children and youth capacity to keep themselves safe online. Agita is also an ITU Children Protection Online Expert Member, utilizing her expertise in Southeast Asia to solve and advocate the lack of digital sexual education in the area and assist the relevant Indonesian government with online child sexual exploitation.

Ana Laura Valenzuela Sánchez | Mexico
Member, Congress of Mexico

Ana is presently a member of Congress and serves as the Federal Deputy of the LXV Legislature for 2021 to 2024 where she is demonstrating her commitment to democracy by furthering the gender agenda in Congress. She also is the Secretary for the Northern (U.S.) Border Issues at the Chamber. In this role, she has been active in the defense of migrants, building on her previous experience in the private sector, which provided her with a unique view into the market economy in Mexico and the Central American region. In 2016, she was the coordinator for Young Women in the Secretariat of Mexico City for the National Action Party (PAN).

Christopher Mark Said | Kenya
Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Young Members of County Assemblies (KYMCA)

Christopher currently serves as the CEO of Kenya Young Members of County Assemblies (KYMCA), where he has worked with over 900 young people to promote political tolerance across parties, as well as to advocate for the strengthening of independent government institutions. For the last three years, he has taken a key role in mobilizing young legislatures to attend the People’s Dialogue Festival, which provides space for legislatures to engage with citizens to promote accountability and transparency. He has also previously served as a member of the Laikipia County Assembly. During his tenure, he was on the Tourism, Trade and Cooperatives Committee, where he lobbied for the removal of market caps for tourist destinations, since tourism is a key income generating activity in Laikipia and Kenya as a whole.

Claudia Benchescu | Romania
Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Internal Affairs

Claudia is the Undersecretary of State for the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Romania, in addition to serving as an advisor for the Secretary of the Senate and advisor for several other ministers in the Romania government. As a member of the team of former Prime Minister Florin Cîțu, Claudia worked on the development and implementation of economic initiatives which aimed to support entrepreneurship and socio-economic and regional development in Romania through investments. Additionally, she has run in both the European Parliament and Romanian general elections, and she was president of the Liberal Student Organization. While involved in several political campaigns, she has been an active member of the party at both the national and local levels. She has since been promoted within the party to International Officer where she represents the party at functions abroad and manages key engagements with international contacts.

Iryna Yarmolenko | Ukraine
Adviser to Mayor of Irpin

Iryna currently serves as a member of the public council of the Ukrainian parliament and representative of the Association of Cities of Ukraine and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions. She is concurrently serving as the Deputy of the Bucha City Council and is an adviser to the mayor Irpin. Through her role on the Association of Cities of Ukraine and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions, Iryna leads the project management for the reconstruction of Ukrainian cities, where she collaborates with leading architects and companies in Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Japan and the United States. She has also contributed to the adoption of the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life and presented in the Verkhovna Rada on best practices highlighted in the charter. She was an active participant in the Revolution of Dignity, after which she took part in local council elections.

Kemo Bojang | The Gambia
Councilor, Municipality of Kanifin

Kemo was elected to the Kanafing Municipal Council in 2018. In this role, he advises the mayor on youth affairs. Kemo is additionally the chair of the Foreign Affairs committee in his Council, and is tasked with managing its relationship with embassies, foreign NGOs and international cities. He is also the national secretary general of the United Democratic Party Youth Wing,and in the 2021 elections, he led communications efforts for the party’s engagement with youth.

Mohamed Ali Azaiez | Tunisia
Senior Coordinator, Ennahdha Party President’s Office

Mohammed is the senior coordinator of international affairs and advisor to the co-founder of the Ennahda Party. Previously, he served as the former policy advisor to the Minister of Economy, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of International Cooperation. He also co-founded the local and regional youth offices of Sahline and Monastir for the Ennahdha Party, including the regional and national Party’s Student Wing. He is a co-founder of several civil society organizations including the Maghreb Young Leaders Organization, Religions for Peace – Tunisia and the Tunisian Organization of Debates.

Meet the Inaugural Cohort of IRI’s McCain Fellows

Suresh Chand | Nepal

Suresh Chand Headshot

Suresh is a Programs Manager at the Accountability Lab in Nepal. He has more than seven years of experience working on youth entrepreneurship and public sector accountability. He manages two major programs at the Lab – the Accountability Incubator, an accelerated program supporting young accountability entrepreneurs, and the Civic Action Team (CivicAcTs), a platform that bridges the gap between citizens, local government, and the private sector. His key interests include youth entrepreneurship, financial inclusion, foreign labor migration, and government accountability. He holds a dual master’s degree in Conflict, Peace, & Development Studies and Political Science from Tribhuvan University.

Mustafa Dawood | Iraq

Mustafa Dawood Headshot

Mustafa has three years of experience working with NGOs, focusing on development, livelihood and entrepreneurship. He worked for two years in the Iraqi private sector and specialized in managing programs aimed at enhancing the Iraqi work private sector. He actively supports and promotes youth employment initiatives and is focused on helping a generation launch their own businesses. Mustafa is also launching his own startup, which is an education technology company, offering a platform for one-on-one online tutoring. Born in Baghdad during the war, Mustafa believes it is critical to promote youth civic engagement as the only way to create a prosperous and democratic Iraq.

Ojooluwa Ibiloye | Nigeria

Ojooluwa Ibiloye is a Research & Policy Analyst at Cerebral Hub, a content creation and policy advisory firm. He is a member of the Open Minds Young Voices Network, a group of young, motivated Nigerians advocating for democratic freedom and good governance. Ojooluwa received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Abuja and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Economy and Development Studies, focusing on poverty reduction and sustainable development. After the fellowship, Ojooluwa plans to continue his work with a focus on advocating for democratic practices rooted in economic freedom and inclusive political participation.

Yevheniya Kravchuck | Ukraine

Photo by: Вадим Сарахань

Yevheniya is currently a member of the Vehkhovna Rada of Ukraine and Deputy Chair of the Servant of the People’s Caucus in the Rada. As one of the parliamentary leaders in President Zelensky’s newly established political party, she is heavily engaged in implementing the reform agenda of the Servant of the People Party, specifically focusing on economic and land reform. Prior to her election, she served in communications roles with both political parties and private sector firms after receiving her journalism degree from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Journalism.

Kristelle Mardini | Lebanon

Kristelle Mardini Headshot

Kristelle is the director of the Lebanese Institute for Market Studies (LIMS), the first free market think tank in Lebanon, where she has pushed for economic reform by expanding the institute’s educational program and developing relationships with major political parties and media outlets. Prior to LIMS, she worked as a regional marketing specialist at iAXCESS, and with Al-Jadeed TV, a leading TV station in Lebanon. She holds a master’s degree in communication and information from Saint Joseph University in Lebanon.

Olive Namazzi | Uganda

Olive Namazzi Headshot

Olive currently serves in the Kampala Capital City Authority as the LC. Woman Councilor for Kyambago Institutions. She is also the Executive Secretary for Health, Environment, Education and Sports for Kampala Capital City Authority and the secretary to the Forum for Democratic Change political party caucus. Olive is passionate about the rule of law, democracy, and public accountability. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, technology and management.

Jatzel Roman | Dominican Republic

Jatzel Roman Headshot

Jatzel Román currently serves as Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic in charge of Consular and Migratory Affairs. In his position, he leads the Venezuelan Normalization Program which aims to grant regular status to over 110,000 displaced people of Venezuela under the Maduro regime. In the past, he has been Chief Coordinator of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy (JuventudLAC) which brings together over 100 organizations committed to freedom, democracy and human rights. Locally, Vice Minister Roman was Executive Director at the Centre for Public Policy Analysis (CAPP) free market think tank, Chief of Staff in the Dominican Congress and news contributor to various media outlets mostly focused on international matters, defense and economics.

Crystal Tu | Taiwan

Crystal Tu Headshot

Chen-Yi (Crystal) Tu is a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Cyber Warfare and Information Security at INDSR. Her expertise includes cybersecurity and Internet governance, with research focus on building an open and secure digital economy. She is a multi-stakeholder steering group member of the Taiwan Internet Governance Forum, and, since2018, has been a consultant for the Taiwan Internet Transparency Report. She was also a founding member of Open Knowledge Taiwan, which advocated for using open data to improve transparency and accountability of government. She completed her PhD at the Institute of Oceanography at National Taiwan University.

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