Management Team

Berta Colón,  President

Berta has 16 years of experience working in the philanthropic sector with an expertise in organization management and operations.  In 2002, Berta joined Public Interest Projects as the program officer for the Racial Justice Collaborative, which was the organization’s first collaborative fund.  She went on to work on the launch of Public Interest Projects’ next two funds which focused on immigrant rights and affirmative action respectively.  In 2006, Berta was promoted to Deputy Director and helped to grow the organization from a staff of four and a budget of $10 million into the current 36 plus staff, $36 million operation it is to date.  In January 2011, Berta transitioned into a co-leadership model with Public Interest Projects’ Executive Director – both becoming President of the organization.  From 1997 to 2002, Berta worked at the Ms. Foundation for Women, a national public charity that supports efforts designed to improve the lives of women and girls.  Berta served as the Economic Security program officer, working on the Economic Justice and Rapid Response Policy grants and coordinating the work of the Institute for Women’s Economic EmPOWERment. Prior to her work in the philanthropic sector, Berta worked at several nonprofit organizations focusing primarily on women’s issues and childcare including Sanctuary for Families which provides advocacy and direct service support to survivors of domestic violence and Child Care, Inc. which ensures safe and affordable child care services to parents in NYC. Berta is currently the Board Chair of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, an organization that works to ensure the fundamental human right to reproductive health and justice for Latinas.  She holds an undergraduate degree from Barnard College and a master’s in public administration from Columbia University.

Michele LordMichele LordPresident

Michele Lord has worked in the philanthropic sector since 1993. During the past decade, she has led Public Interest Projects through a period of dramatic growth in its program offerings. She has helped create and manage Public Interest Projects’ ten signature collaborative and partner funds that together have raised more than $100 million in new money and engaged more than 100 national, state and local foundations, family foundations and individual donors. In January 2011, Michele transitioned into a co-leadership model – with the organization’s Deputy Director – both becoming President of the organization.  She is also director of the Ottinger Foundation, a small New York-based family foundation that supports work in the areas of economic justice, civic participation and environmental justice. Prior to joining Public Interest Projects, Michele served as director of the Norman Foundation from 1993 to 1999 and has served as chair of the Funders’ Committee on Civic Participation. She has also overseen program evaluations on behalf of the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and the Open Society Institute. Before shifting to the philanthropic sector Michele worked in city and national government. From 1990 to 1993 she was deputy director of Health and Human Services in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations under Mayor David Dinkins. She served in the U.S. Congress from 1984 to 1988 as director of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. Michele began her career as a legal services lawyer in Houston specializing in immigration and welfare law. She holds an undergraduate degree from Brown University and a law degree from the University of Florida.

Laurie Alemian-Derian
Laurie Alemian-DerianChief Financial Officer
Laurie’s career spans almost three decades in not-for-profit financial administration and includes such organizations as the Whitney Museum of American Art, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Baruch College School of Public Affairs.  Laurie was at NRDC for more than 22 years where she held senior level financial positions.  In 2007 she joined Baruch College School of Public Affairs as Director of Finance and Administration.  Most recently, she was a financial management consultant in the not-for-profit field.  Originally from Massachusetts, Laurie is a graduate of Bridgewater State University.

Robert Bray
Director, Communications

Robert’s career spans more than two decades in the field of strategic communications and social justice. As director of Public Interest Projects’ Four Freedoms Fund Strategic Communications Initiative, Robert helps create and fund strategies designed to shape the immigration debate locally and nationally. Prior to joining Public Interest Projects, he was director of communications for the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund in San Francisco. In 1997 Robert founded the SPIN Project, a media training, coaching and strategizing nonprofit for social change organizations. In the late 80′s and 90′s he played a central role in increasing the media visibility of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, serving as the first director of communications for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, and later as director of communications for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Robert is the author of several publications on communications including “SPIN Works” and “Winning Wages: A Guide to Living Wage Communications Campaigns.” Prior to his social justice career he was a public relations executive for the IBM Corporation. Robert is a graduate in journalism and public relations from the University of Florida.

Don Cipriani
Director, Just and Fair Schools Fund

Don’s background spans immigration legal aid, classroom teaching, state education and juvenile justice policy reform, and international research, evaluation, advocacy, and technical assistance on children’s rights. As a teacher, Don has taught from pre-K through high school, bilingual classes, Special Education classes, and classes inside high-security juvenile detention and correction centers. He worked as a consultant for 10 years with international organizations on a wide range of child protection issues in Asia, the Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, and the United States, including as UNICEF’s interim global focal point on justice for children. Don is the author of “Children’s Rights and the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility: A Global Perspective” (Ashgate, 2009). He holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, and earned a Ph.D. in Law from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Melinda Fine, Ed.D.
Director of EducationDr. Melinda Fine’s career in education, civic engagement, and social justice spans three decades. As Director of Education at Public Interest Projects, Melinda directs Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER), a national funders collaborative that supports grassroots community-driven efforts working to guarantee educational excellence, equity and opportunity for every child in low-income communities of color.  Before joining Public Interest Projects, Melinda led Fine Consulting, where she provided strategic planning, program development, and strategic learning and evaluation services to private foundations, national nonprofits, and government agencies in the fields of education, youth development, and civic engagement.  Prior to founding Fine Consulting, Melinda was Assistant Research Director at Sesame Workshop, where she led studies that informed the development of Ghostwriter, a television series to promote children’s literacy skills. In the 1980s, Melinda founded and led the International Program of the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, where she coordinated peace movement activism between US-based organizations and NGOs internationally.  Melinda is a Senior Fellow at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service’s Research Center for Leadership and Action and on the Scholars Board of Facing History and Ourselves.  A former NYC Community Education Council member, her publications include two books, scholarly articles, and white papers. Melinda holds a doctorate in education from Harvard University and a bachelors degree from Dartmouth College.

Maritza Guzman 
Director, Fiscal Sponsorship and Project Management

Maritza has more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit and public sector and a track record of designing strategic responses to unmet community needs. She brings more than 12 years of experience in providing technical assistance to nonprofits to improve outcomes and enhance programmatic and organizational capacity. Maritza spent nine years working in philanthropy, where she oversaw the design and implementation of several initiatives addressing unequal access in areas such as community and economic development, education, youth services and housing. At the Wallace Funds she managed a $20 million grantmaking portfolio focused on education and youth development. Maritza earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s in public administration from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

Kung Li
Kung LiDirector, Sunrise Initiative

Prior to joining the Sunrise Initiative, Kung Li litigated class actions challenging conditions of confinement in prisons and jails, institutionalized police abuses, and deficiencies in public defender systems; investigated community resilience as an Open Society Fellow; was a staff attorney at the Law Center for the Homeless; served as the Southern Center for Human Rights’ executive director in Atlanta; and consulted with various organizations regarding immigration enforcement and criminal justice. Kung Li is a graduate of Emory College and New York University School of Law, and the recipient of a Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowship, the Soros Justice Fellowship in criminal justice, and an American Lawyer Top 50 Litigators under 40 award. Kung Li is an enthusiastic cook and reader, and an aspiring writer of fiction. Raised in an immigrant family in Tallahassee, Florida, Kung Li speaks Mandarin Chinese and Southern American English.

Deb Ross
Executive Director, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation

Prior to joining Public Interest Projects in 2006, Deb worked for six years as National Field Director for Public Campaign, an organization dedicated to advancing the public financing of elections. In the 1990s she did regional social- and economic-justice work with the Western States Center, where she developed its signature leadership training programs and provided strategic support, training and technical assistance to community organizations. Deb founded and directed one of Oregon’s early battered women’s shelters in the 1980s and was co-director of the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation. She also chaired the board of the Funding Exchange and served as interim director of the Women’s Foundation of Oregon.