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The FREE STEM Fund specifically focuses on narrowing the gender gap in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Optiver Foundation is committed to bringing greater diversity to the technology and finance industries around the world. We helped to launch the FREE STEM Fund to create equal opportunity through greater access to STEM education. Read more here.


FREE STEM leverages shared governance and participatory mechanisms to design a fund that is tailored to the needs and gaps within the STEM sector. We also leverage grassroots STEM expertise and voices by investing in projects that prioritise girls, women and other underrepresented groups' access to STEM opportunities. The Fund will use holistic approaches that take into account their enabling environment, with the objective of narrowing the gender STEM-gap and increasing the number of women, transgender and non-binary role models and STEM changemakers.



FREE STEM is making decisions using participatory grantmaking models where an Advisory Committee and Regional Peer Panels have the power over funding decisions. By creating a more equitable granting model, the Fund will be more likely to identify and choose the most effective programmes and support them in achieving maximum impact.


Between our Advisory Committee, who is making key decisions about eligibility criteria and grantmaking, and the Regional Review panels, the applications will go through an democratic screening process to ensure fairness in the selection process.

Governance structure
Advisory Committee


The Advisory Committee is comprised of women and non-binary STEM experts who are making key decisions about the FREE STEM Fund to ensure a fair process. The committee members were selected based on their expertise in grantmaking, gender justice, feminist principles, inclusion and STEM. The Advisory Committee has created and committed to a Conflict of Interest statement that will guide their decision-making process within their FREE Fund responsibilities.

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Rajina Shrestha (Nepal)

Rajina is a development worker with a brewing interest in the international funding ecosystem and the need to resource grassroots movements strategically. 

She co-founded Women Leaders in Technology (WLiT), an organisation that works with young women in tech. She believes that feminist leadership that is inclusive and intersectional will be the face of the next generation of institutional change.

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hanan khamis

Hanan is a co-founder and Board of Directors member at Arab Women in Science and Engineering (AWSc) NGO, founded in 2014, aiming at supporting Arab women's professional careers in STEM, in academia and industry. She is also a biomedical engineer by education, with PhD in medical imaging. 

Through her leading positions at globally recognised companies, she has a strong understanding of the technical and soft skills looked for in talents, and is exposed to female success programmes. Hanan advocates for female empowerment, leadership and equal growth opportunities.

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zanda desir
(st lucia)

Zanda is a feminist food chemist. Her work primarily focuses on SDG's 1, 2, 5 and 16. Zanda has served as the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN) Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean and the Americas.  

Zanda is a Women Deliver Young Leader alumni and serves on the advisory committee for the 2023 Women Deliver Conference. She hopes to further her studies in Food Innovation to create solutions to hunger, micronutrient deficiencies  and unemployment in her island, St.Lucia. 

Daria Kasmamytova

Daria is a Central Asian non-binary queer activist, who at the age of 15 co-initiated the girl-led group Girl Activists of Kyrgyzstan, and later co-founded the first queer and non-binary teenage youth zine in Central Asia -Boktudakorgonemessin. Their group received a Global Girl Award in 2015.


Daria has also been part of Bishkek Feminist Initiatives for five years as the media and communications lead. Today, they are the Digital Workspace and ICT director at FemAgora, where they identify strategies to maintain and improve collaboration across digital workplace applications. 

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Sheila Pamela Lopéz Cifuentes (mexico)

Sheila is a lesbian feminist, intercultural manager and philosopher of science. Her main themes focus on lesbian existence and science and women's studies from feminist epistemology.

She is also co-founder of CETREG, a Mexican feminist organisation that has its origins in 2016 and whose objective is to co-create spaces for feminist reflection for women in general and lesbians in particular.

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Hallima Nyota Ang’uria (kenya)

Hallima is passionate about young women empowerment, human rights advocacy, digital rights, peace and security, and meaningful youth engagement. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. Hallima also possesses certificates in multiple areas including Digital Journalism and Youth Peace and Security with a vast experience in community development.


She has had the privilege of working as a digital disruptor with Amnesty Kenya. Hallima currently sits at the National Steering Committee for the Social Justice Centres Working Group. She believes that where one comes from should not determine whether one's rights matter or not.

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Joyce Nwanochi

Joyce is a Pharmacist and Data Analyst with vast experience in the health and social impact sectors. She primarily advocates for the inclusion and participation of women and girls in spaces where they are traditionally excluded, and recently began focusing this passion to creating an inclusive and participatory tech ecosystem for women and girls in Africa. 

Joyce is a project lead at Nsonye, an organisation working to bridge the gender gap in the tech industry for women and girls. She also volunteers as a Partnership and Grants Lead with She Code Africa.

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Regional Peer Panels

The Regional Peer Panels are comprised of women and non-binary STEM experts who play a key role in selected and scoring the applications the fund receives. They were selected based on their expertise in grantmaking, gender justice, feminist principles, inclusion and STEM. The nineteen RPP members also committed to a Conflict of Interest statement that will guide their scoring process. There are four regions with four to five members in each: Africa; Asia & the Pacific; Latin America and the Caribbean; Middle East.

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Kabelo Kennybarel rapholo (South Africa)

 Kabelo  (Them/They) is from Pretoria in South Africa. They are an Industrial Engineering student from The Cape Peninsula University of technology. Kabelo led the student population for 2 terms (2019-2021) then elected as The Regional Executive. They have held multiple other positions while also experiencing a lot of marginalisation which led them to Champion and advance the rights of the LGBTQIA+ Community and  was appointed as the Provencial Organiser (2021 until now) for the LGBTQIA+ under the Women's League. Kabelo is also a part of the Committee which was reviewing and making submissions to the South African parliament About the Hate Crime speech Bill. They are a mental activist and took part in the formation of the data mental bank in the Mindgap through Higher health from the University of Washington in the United States of America. Was recently Appointed as officer of the Executive leading information and communication from the South African higher Education Queer Alliance. I lastly Believe in Development, Change, Access and Transformation

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Chimeremma amadi (nigeria)

Chimeremma (she/her) has over 5 years experience as an information management specialist who has managed teams on data processing and research, currently a lecturer at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, the founder and creative director of FemSTEM Africa. Her dedication and passion for work have gotten her several awards in the IEEE community and the Nigeria Women in Information Technology (NIWIIT). She has mentored thousands of students across Nigeria and has trained over 1500 girls from rural communities and low income families in stem-related courses such as data science, Cybersecurity and product design. Recently, Chimeremma has been involved in pushing the FemSTEM initiative, aimed at sensitizing young girls about digital literacy as well as providing them with skill-up opportunities where they can learn tech skills for free. She is a compassionate person and shows deep interest in improving the lives of the vulnerable and less privileged in her community.

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Ebenye Veronica Mbakwa (Cameroon)

Ebenye Veronica (she/her) is a Medical Doctor with experience providing healthcare in humanitarian-crisis affected areas in Cameroon with particular focus on adolescent sexual and reproductive health services.  She is a project lead at Health Education and Research Organization (HERO) Cameroon where she has organised several projects to promote menstrual hygiene awareness and management.  She is a member of the Commonwealth Youth Gender Equality Network (CYGEN) and YOUNGA Delegate where she has been able to work with UN Women during the 65th Commission On The Status of Women, the world’s largest annual gender equality event. She is the founder of Sexual Health Companion, a platform which provides digital comprehensive sexuality education and empowers adolescents to access youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services. She has recorded global impact in digital health promotion and was described as 2022 Techwomen emerging leader by the US department of state for Cultural Affairs. 

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Patricia humura (Uganda)

Patricia (she/her) is an African Feminist and a Human Rights Practitioner living and working in Uganda. She works with Irise Institute East Africa as a Programme Manager and Coordinates the Period Equality Network East Africa. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Ethics and Human Rights and is pursuing a Master of Health Sciences in Bioethics from Makerere University.


She has served in various advisory roles. Currently is a youth advisor of the Vibrant Voices Consortium hosted by the Global Network of People living with HIV. She has 5 years of experience in policy advocacy and program management with a keen interest in gender equality and health justice for youth and women. She loves blogging, creativity, and volunteering.

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mercy okera (kenya)

Mercy (she/her)  is an intersectional African feminist with a commitment to human rights, social and gender justice, girls and young women rights. She has an extensive experience in Participatory GrantMaking and Feminist Grants Management. She is a member of the Gender, Youth and Inclusion Working Group of the Love Alliance Consortium, a program that works to protect, promote and fulfill SRHR globally. The working group coordinates the program’s approach to gender mainstreaming and meaningful youth participation through bringing the gender and youth lenses into the grant making and advocacy processes. She sits on the Global Resilience Fund Activist Panel as an Advisor to the fund, as well as a Panelist. She also sits on the Global Advisory Network of Mama Cash as an Advisor. She’s passionate about purposefully and intentionally creating safe spaces for girls and young women, sexual and gender minorities, that encourage inter-generational learning and agency.

latin america and the caribbean
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Tameka Martin-Johnson (st Lucia)

A future Entrepreneur with a passion to help young people and provide efficient customer service. Tameka (she/her) is dedicated, reliable, creative, and has a keen eye for details. Currently, she works as a teacher with the mandate to help several young people in secondary schools.

In 2017, she graduated suma cum laude from Monroe College with a BBA Hospitality Management, and is currently writing an MBA with a concentration in accounting. Tameka's extracurricular activities include, playing netball, volunteering, and cooking. However, the most prestigious character about her is that she is a born-again daughter of God. She has great work ethics and never backs down from challenges once they are ethical. She is also dependable and trained as an international cadre leader. Finally, Tameka goes by the mantra ‘I care’.

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Janina nava ariza (mexico)

Janina (she/her) holds a degree in Industrial Chemical Engineering from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN) and a Master's degree in Environmental Sciences from the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP).  For 22 years she has been collaborating in the Astronomical Observatories: Gran Telescopio Milimétrico Alfonso Serrano (GTM) and High Altitude Cherenkov (HAWC), having under her responsibility the realization and release of environmental permits for the construction and operation of both observatories. In recent years, thanks to her collaboration in the Observatories, she has participated in the development and implementation of multiple science outreach projects; which has allowed her to lead, for more than nine years, the "Science Empowerment Camps" aimed at young women, with the objective of promoting scientific vocations and making visible the role of women in science and technology. She is part of the Environmental Sustainability Network of the Central-South Region of ANUIES and is a mentor of the international mentoring program "Women Leaders in STEAM" of the U.S. Mexico Leaders Network.

Kimberley Tjon Poen Gie (suriname)

Kimberley (she/her) is a STREAM specialist who likes to inspire and help people of all ages understand and apply STEM in their daily life, work and school. During her bachelor study (ICT in Education) she had a module on STEM and STEAM education given by Professor Padhu Seshaiyer which motivated her to become a strong advocate for STEM education. Serving as one of the two local coordinators for the BE-STREAMING project for the Ministry of Education which stands for Basic Education in Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics for Improving the Next Generation Kimberley impacted over 1000 teachers and thousands of students from over 100 schools in various districts all over Suriname by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, and educational activities. She co-developed STREAM-videos for a “school tv” project which was broadcasted on multiple television channels nationally for MINOWC during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kimberley also co-created the project STREAMING-Saturdays, physically bringing STEM to especially underprivileged neighborhoods and the interior within the COVID-19 protocols.

Mónica Andrea Lopez segovia (Mexico)

Mónica (she/her) is a mexican Energy Engineer, she also has a Master in Nuclear Science, with an orientation in Nuclear Engineering, she has experience in investigation about Nuclear Science in Space. Nowadays she is studying a Master in Education where she is developing her investigation about empowering women implementing perspective gender education in the STEM area. She believes that more women deserve to know how beautiful science is, and she is working to break glass ceilings in STEM

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fernanda krak (suriname)

Fernanda's (she/her) affinity for STEM is mostly related to the fact that she currently works as a reservoir engineer in the Oil & Gas sector and  is also a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers-Suriname Section. She is also pursuing an MBA in order to advance in her career.  As a proud JCI member (2020 JCI Unify Local President), her role as Regional Peer Panelist aids in fulfilling JCI's mission, which is: "To provide development opportunities that empower young people to create positive change".  She lives by the following philosophy: "Your mind must arrive at your destination before your body does"! 

asia and the pacific
sarila ngakhusi (nepal)

Sarila (she/her) is a recent university graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Information Technology, currently working as a Full Stack Software Engineer. She believes that everyone, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, belief, or race, should have equal opportunity to access, learn and work in tech. Sarila is also a core member of an NGO, Women Leaders in Technology (WLiT) which mainly focuses to address gender equality in tech, along with accessibility, inclusivity, and safety on the internet. In WLiT, she is involved with strategic decision-making, program planning, and resource management.

Kyzzhibek Batyrkanova (kyrgyzstan)

Kyzzhibek (she/her) is a director at the Kyrgyz Space Program (KSP), a girls-only team that has been actively working on the establishment of the aerospace industry and the launch of the first satellite of the Kyrgyz Republic. She is a feminist, STEM, and education enthusiast. Founder of TechCamp 2019 project, implemented by the KSP in partnership with UN Women in Kyrgyzstan. TechWomen 2019 alumna, hosted by Mozilla HQ in San Francisco Bay Area. Kyrgyz Space Program aims to contribute to the development of science, education, and gender equality in Kyrgyzstan and the whole Central Asian region. Besides its goal of assembling and launching the nano-satellite, the team conducts courses on the basics of aerospace engineering in order to popularize STEM education among young girls in Kyrgyzstan, where most females are still suffering from gender discrimination.

Hiền Bùi Thị (vietnam)

Hien is from Vietnam. As a Muong Ethnic Minority Woman from Hoa Binh Province (Vietnam), she grew up in a commune with low access to opportunities and services to develop. Therefore, she has always had a strong passion and commitment to improving the quality, equity, and coverage of social services for children, boys and girls, and young women in a similar situation to herself. From 2014-2016, she received the Australian Award Scholarship, which targets current and future leaders and earn a Master’s Degree in Economics at James Cook University, Australia. Since returning home, she has worked extensively for programmes focusing on advancing children’s rights and equality for all through education, skilling and empowerment. She is confident that the Regional Peer Panel for the Free Stem Fund team will have meaningful experience working together to find impactful projects to fund for.

middle east
daliah ibrahim ajweh (jordan)

Daliah (she/her) is a tree-hugger who spent the last ten years designing mental health and psychosocial support programs for youth, girls and women. She has a fierce passion for finding innovative ways to marry art with mental health interventions. Outside of work, Dalia can be found connecting with trees and trekking mountains and valleys, often without cell reception. 

Areen shtewe (Haifa)

Areen (she/her) is a biotechnology engineer and bioinformatician. She is also very passionate about promoting women in science and engineering. As a feminist, Areen is committed to working towards gender equality and empowering women in my community. Currently, she is working as a computational lab manager and also ss a volunteer with AWSc (Arab Women in Science and Engineering), where she serves as the junior team leader who is responsible for projects that inspire and support young girls to continue their study and pursue careers in STEM fields. She believes that dedication to promote diversity and inclusion of women in science and engineering can definitely take us many levels up toward to a better future. 

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taghrid qtaichat (jordan)

Taghrid (she/her) is s Programme Manager of the Justice programme in a Swiss organization that focuses on the Gender and Juvenile Justice. She brings a total of 8 years of work with women and children at risk of all types of violence. Her main area of focus is leading on building evidence on gender, child and youth needs and priorities in the Jordanian context for both the host communities and refugees, designing advocacy programs for enhancing the rights and protection of women, youth and children survivors of Sexual and Gender based Violence and children in conflict with the law in Jordan on a socio- ecological approach. This is done through the strategic planning of the organizational and institutional capacity enhancement of national stakeholders and local organizations that leads to improving practices in the law articles and enforcing positive social norms on the community level that are related to the prevention of violence and gender equity in Jordan.

Asia Pacific
Middle East
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