We are an incubator of grass-root CleanTech in developing and least developed places because we all need more sustainable ways to grow the food we eat, generate the power we rely on, protect the water we cannot do without, and manage all the ways these intersect in an era of climate change. We bet on the youth, the grass-roots, and technology to show the way.
— R. Bong Vergara, Director





Allen Braswell, RN -- Mr. Braswell is the founder of Tecdonor, a tech firm poised to revolutionize how the world rewards volunteers. He is a registered nurse with a track record of advancing the mission of many nonprofits in the healthcare industry. Mr. Braswell is passionate about the role of technology in promoting human health, education, the environment, and economic empowerment. He is a recognized leader in the humanitarian technology field. 


Cris Liban, D.Env., P.E. -- Dr. Liban currently serves as Executive Officer for the Environmental Compliance and Sustainability
Program Management
department for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro), known internationally for its cutting edge leadership in promoting sustainability. Dr. Liban is a recognized leader in the transportation sector on issues of energy management, climate change adaptation, and innovation.  


Mariah Lichtenstern -- Ms. Lichtenstern is a serial entrepreneur, investor, and an advocate of social justice. Formerly FNRA licensed (Series 6, 63, & 65), she has a keen understanding of investing and fundraising under the JOBS Act. She is a member of the UCLA VC Fund, a Female Founder Fellow of the Founder Institute Silicon Valley, and a Kauffman Fellows Finalist. She previously served as a mentor with Draper University, Startup Weekend, Unusual Suspects, and ArtsBridge. She founded CINESHARES and DiverseCity Ventures.


Glenn Omatsu -- Professor Omatsu teaches Asian American Studies and serves as coordinator of the Faculty Mentor Program and the College of Humanities Peer Mentor Project at CSU Northridge. He is active with community and labor groups and solidarity networks. On April 29, 2014, CSUN dedicated its Asian American Studies department, campus, and community center as The Glenn Omatsu House to honor Professor Omatsu for his dedication to student and community empowerment.


Larry Palinkas, PhD -- Dr. Palinkas is the Albert G. and Frances Lomas Feldman Professor of Social Policy in the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California; he also holds secondary appointments as professor in the departments of Anthropology and Preventive Medicine at USC. Dr. Palinkas is a co-lead for the "Create Social Responses to a Changing Environment" grand challenge of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and a key author of the white paper on the grand challenge of climate change, titled Strengthening the Social Response to the Human Impacts of Environmental Change.


Leo Pandac, PhD -- Dr. Pandac is the Director of the SSG Pacific Asian Alcohol and Drug Program, and serves as a Member of the Veterans Advisory Committee on Rehabilitation at the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Pandac is an expert in applied science and technology for economic development and quality of life enhancement. He runs a private consulting firm that addresses the link among behavioral health, community development, and technology in the era of climate change.


Monica Nunez, MSW -- Ms. Nunez is a professional social worker and an MSW graduate of the USC School of Social Work. She belongs to a new breed of social workers active in advancing the role of technology and disruptive innovation in the field of social work. Ms. Nunez is a long-standing supporter for the Sustainable Earth Decathlon.  


Keith Wright -- Mr. Wright is the Territory Account Manager for California and Oregon at Studica, a distributor of software and technology products for educational institutions. He is passionate about promoting STEM education, particularly the role of robotics as an experiential and project-based learning approach, inside and outside the classroom. Mr. Wright serves as a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee for the Sustainable Earth Decathlon.

executive TEAM


R. Bong Vergara -- Prof. Vergara is the founder and Director of CYPHER. He is an adjunct assistant professor at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. He is a Health Equity Ambassador for the American Psychological Association and a member of the Climate Leadership Corps for the Climate Reality Project. He works on the integration of social innovation and social entrepreneurship in social work to develop tech-enabled social work (digitalSOWK) and link tech innovation with health and social equity. 


Jeff McKenzie -- Mr. McKenzie serves as Director of Investor Relations, and is a recognized community and business leader in the African American community. He is passionate about social justice and community development, and the link that culture and arts play in engaging the youth. Mr. McKenzie is the founder and CEO for McKenzie Systems Engineering,  an engineering firm that provides a full spectrum of project management, system engineering, test and evaluation services from concept definition through life cycle support across the defense establishment. He is a key member of the founding executive team for CYPHER. 


Jim Gilmer -- Prof. Gilmer serves as Director of Government Relations. He recently joined Camdia Holdings LLC/Global Genetics Corporation.  He is an Adjunct Professor at Springfield College of Southern California School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Prof. Gilmer serves on the Board of Directors of the California Pan Ethnic Health Network and as the President of Mental Health America of California. He is the former Co-Chair of the California Mental Health Services Act Multicultural Coalition, and the former Co-Coordinator of the African American Strategic Planning Work Group of the California Reducing Disparities Project by the Department of Public Health Office of Health Equity. He is a key member of the founding executive team for CYPHER.

cypher fellows


Eugene Suh -- Eugene is an Innovator-in-Residence. He is a natural citizen-scientist, a serial tinkerer, who sees the value of pairing wealth generation with social justice. He is engaged in a few special projects related to robotics and energy storage. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California School of Social Work. 


Jessica Lynn Kimble, aka 'J-Lynn' -- J-Lynn is an Artist-in-Residence. She is an independent hip-hop artist based in Ventura County, California who co-wrote and performed CYPHER's theme song, "My Knowledge Counts." She was the lead for The Droughtinadors, which won 1st place at SED2014. J-Lynn works to establish 'climate hip-hop', conscious hip-hop focused on the human impacts of climate change and innovation. For a taste of 'climate hip-hop', check out our theme song on our home page. 


Joseph Owoundo -- Joseph is an Innovator-in-Residence for CYPHER-Africa. Born and raised in the village of Nyahera, Kenya, he has first-hand experience with the inaccessibility of safe drinking water, food inadequacy, and lack of clean energy. He is a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, with twin combat and expeditionary tours in the Middle East and North Africa. His academic training is in African international and developmental affairs, has managed a Community Peace Project in Kenya in partnership with the European Union, and is currently working on a water solution project for farming communities in Kenya.  


Dorsy Frances -- Dorsy is an Innovator-in-Residence for CYPHER-Africa. She is a Schools Climate Change Actor from Kenya. As a PAKEMA Ambassador and the secretary to IDEAS Kenya, she mobilizes primary and high school students from Kisumu and Nairobi Counties to be environmental advocates. She works with Kisumu Green Projects to engage students in tree-planting and city clean-up projects. She is passionate about the role of the youth in climate change mitigation and adaptation.


Mark Okowa -- Prof. Okowa is an Innovator-in-Residence for CYPHER-Africa. He is governance and development consultant with over 10 years experience in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. He is a 2005 Global Knowledge Partnerships (GKP) Youth and ICT award winner, with expertise in community development research, right based policy advocacy, peace building and conflict mitigation. Currently an adjunct lecturer of Political Science and Sociology at Maseno University in Kenya, Prof. Okowa is a PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen (UK), holds a Masters degree in International Relations and Democratic Politics from the University of Westminster (UK) and a Bachelors’ degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Maseno University in Kenya.


Xiaoxia 'Kathy' Liu, PhD -- Prof. Liu is an Innovator-in-Residence for CYPHER-China. She is an Associate Professor at Shanghai Institute of Technology Department of Social Work. She is a scholar on the link between social work and social entrepreneurship, and recently completed a Visiting Professor appointment at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to explore models of social work based social enterprises. She is passionate in promoting the potential of urban and rural marginalized communities in China to use social entrepreneurship as a tool for human and social development.

MEANING of our logo

Our logo denotes how we correct the omission of local knowledge and youth input from solution design.  

Angle brackets: HTML code is punctuated by angle brackets. This symbol connotes technology, generally, highlighting the grand challenges of (a) harnessing technology for social good and (b) creating social solutions to climate change.

Innovation cog & light bulb: This combines the light bulb symbol for an idea with the gear symbol for innovation, highlighting the inextricable link between social innovation and social entrepreneurship, and the value of both social change and building wealth.

CYPHER: Acronym for Conscious Youth Promoting Health and Environmental Resilience, referencing the word 'cipher', a cryptograph--like the 'wicked problem' that is the overlap between human and planetary health, which we all "need to crack."