Senior Management Team
SENIOR MANAGEMENT TEAM
Nikaj van Wees
Chief of Party
Nikaj Van Wees is an agri-business, market systems and rural development professional with 20 years’ experience in the for-profit and international development sector. He has held senior roles on multi-sectoral agriculture development programs across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and has led large, integrated agriculture projects in collaboration with donors, host-country institutions, international and local organizations. Nikaj began his career as a project manager with a Dutch engineering company, where he conducted research in collaboration with seed companies for turf production in Europe.
He continued working as a research manager at Wageningen University and Research, where he worked with planting materials of high value horticulture crops. His first international position was in Afghanistan in 2005 where he built a cheese factory, which is still productive today. In addition to his development portfolio, he served in Abu Dhabi as the Agriculture Investment Manager for a $163m investment fund project in greenhouses and hydroponic systems. Nikaj started with CRS in 2013 and worked in Nairobi as the regional technical adviser for Agriculture, and in Ethiopia as a chief of party for the USAID REAAP activity and he managed the Feed the Future Sierra Leone Entrepreneurial Agriculture for Improved Nutrition activity in Sierra Leone. Nik was most recently the acting senior advisor Livelihoods, Markets and Resilience for CRS in East Africa. He is now based in Maryland with his wife Miriam and their two sons, Saam Luka and Tiago Iorek.
Bhramar Dey, Ph.D.
Senior Technical Advisor, MEAL, Policy, Advocacy and Strategy
Dr. Dey brings a unique blend of project design, management, and analytical skills focusing on country-led interventions (often through negotiations with governments) in data, policy, monitoring and evaluation, and agricultural input systems. She has over 15 years of experience in data and regulatory reform analyses, and designing, managing large client and stakeholder-oriented projects. Prior to joining CRS, Dr. Dey worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) - Agriculture initiative, where she has been a key contributor to designing global data investments in the livestock sector, and spatial mapping programs in East Africa.
She co-led BMGF’s Tanzania agriculture strategy, the M&E program for Agriculture initiative (a $2.2b portfolio), and provided leadership support in designing the foundation’s partnership with the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA – PIATA). Passionate about turning data into information, Dr. Dey focuses on institution strengthening, and bridging gaps between evidence and impact. Born and raised in India, she speaks multiple languages including Arabic and Kiswahili. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, playing piano, and watching movies. Dr. Dey holds a Ph.D. in Applied Economics from Clark University.
Latha Nagarajan, Ph.D.
Formal Seed Systems Advisor
Latha Nagarajan is a senior economist at the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) based in Washington, DC. Latha works primarily on issues related to agricultural input markets, technology adoption and impact assessment. Latha has extensive field experience studying seed systems and markets in South Asia and Africa. She is part of the Rutgers Policy Impact Consortium with a research focus on seed policy. Previously Latha worked at Rutgers and IFPRI, and earned her Ph.D. in applied economics at the University of Minnesota.
Jean Claude Rubyogo
Informal Seed Systems Advisor
Jean Claude is the Leader of the Bean Programme and Director of the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. He is based in Nairobi –Kenya. The Bean Programme team is a multidisciplinary team aimed at increasing food and nutrition security, improved well-being and the alleviation of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America through exploiting the genetic diversity of the Phaseolus genus, the application of crop management practices, and improved market linkages. For more than 30 years, he has focused on impactful seed systems research and development, technology delivery systems and research product commercialization. He has contributed to and led several research and development projects in various agricultural research areas, including participatory crop research (both on station and on farm), testing agricultural technologies and partnerships to commercialize and scale up proven technologies.
For the last 20 years, he has been the PABRA seed systems specialist and he has led multi- country public private partnership initiatives and multi-disciplinary teams developing and deploying sustainable and impact oriented bean seed systems and complementary management to serve more than 27 million smallholder farmers (58% being women) across several member countries of PABRA. Jean Claude led several seed systems initiatives across other legumes (beyond beans). He is also contributing to the ongoing professional development of the current 300 plant breeders who form the Demand Led Breeding (DLB) Community of Practice. Jean Claude has extensively published several articles, books and book chapters on bean seed systems and technology delivery systems models.
Emergency and Resilience Seed Systems Advisor
Kate is a rural livelihoods and food security expert with over 25 years’ experience of applied research and development. Her research includes work on emergency seed systems, mostly in African countries affected by climate change and climatic shocks, civil conflict and the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, as well as relief-style seed interventions relating to national subsidy programs and social protection schemes. Kate has a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of London; her thesis provided an in-depth analysis of crop variability and farmer seed systems in Northern Sierra Leone.
Prior to joining CRS, Kate worked as an independent consultant, conducting evaluations and strategic reviews for various UN and USAID-funded programs and projects, encompassing seed systems, technology transfer, resilience, rural development, and research-for-development. She worked as a senior scientist for WorldFish in Zambia, where she served as country leader for a research-in-development program and conducted participatory action research on agricultural value chains. She previously worked as a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute, based in Nairobi under a partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Kate lives with her husband and son in a rural village on the southwestern coast of the UK, where she enjoys Cornish pilot gig rowing, gardening and country walks.
Director of Operations
Jason has over 23 years international and domestic development experience. He has lived and worked in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay and Zimbabwe for various international agencies. Jason began his career as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Paraguay, as well as a technical trainer for Peace Corps Paraguay. He began his career with CRS as an International Development Fellow in 2001 working on post-earthquake emergency reconstruction in El Salvador. He has extensive food security programming experience, having served as Deputy Chief of Party for a Food for Peace funded program in Honduras, and as the Emergency Program Manager for a Food for Peace project in Zimbabwe.
Jason comes to S34D as the Director of Operations for the 4Children project, a $68m USAID/PEPFAR award focused on orphans and vulnerable children. Jason holds an MA degree in social and public policy from Duquesne University with a concentration in conflict resolution and peace studies, as well as degrees in psychology and criminal justice. He is currently working on his doctor of public administration degree at the University of Baltimore. Jason speaks fluent Spanish and serves on the board of the Market Center Merchant’s Association in Baltimore.
Shaun Ferris, Ph.D.
Director Agricultural Livelihoods
Over the past 30 years, Dr. Ferris has been supporting the development, implementation and innovation of agricultural development programs for USAID, USDA, GFRAS, CTA, FAO, UNCTAD, DFID, IFAD, and the Work Bank. As the Global Director for CRS’ Agricultural Livelihoods programs, Dr. Ferris focuses on supporting smallholder farmers along the pathway to prosperity, to recover from economic or environmental shocks, build their agricultural practices and grow into agipreneurs fully engaged and empowered in their value chains.
In addition to overall technical leadership of CRS in this area, Shaun’s work also focuses on building the agro-enterprise capacity of field staff and creating opportunities to generate increased value at the farm level through new combinations of skills acquisition, technology, market opportunity identification, improve market information use, and improved trading relationships. Previous to working with CRS, Dr. Ferris spent 16 years with the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research. Shaun holds a Bachelor’s in Horticultural Science from Reading University, a Master’s in Tropical Agriculture from Nottingham University and a PhD in Plant Physiology from Cranfield University.
CRS HQ STAFF
Technical Advisor, MEAL
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Mike began work in international development as a Peace Corps agriculture volunteer in Ecuador. While completing his master’s degree, Mike continued working in rural development in Nicaragua. He then worked as a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Guatemala as part of several Feed the Future initiatives.
After working in city and regional planning in Cleveland, Mike returned to field work in Tamale, Ghana as a Leland Hunger Fellow with ACDI/VOCA. As a Leland Fellow, he provided short term technical assistance to Feed the Future projects in Bangladesh & Tanzania. Mike was most recently working in Mumbai, India as part of TechnoServe-India’s monitoring and evaluation team. Mike has a BA from The Ohio State University and an MA from the Heller School at Brandeis University.
Program & Operations Coordinator
Nate grew up in Ithaca, NY and shortly after undergrad he began work in international development, volunteering and teaching English for eighteen months in Guatemala. Nate then returned to New York and worked for three years at Cornell University, providing project support for agricultural research programs.
While completing his master’s degree, Nate consulted for the Project Management Unit at CIMMYT in Mexico, and completed a capstone project in Chile for a consortium of grape exporters in the Atacama Desert region. Prior to joining CRS, Nate worked as an associate at EcoAgriculture Partners in Washington, D.C. where he coordinated resource mobilization and provided program support for projects with FAO and CATIE. Nate holds BAs in English literature and history from SUNY New Paltz, and earned his M.P.A. in international development from Cornell University.
Global Grants Finance Officer
Sarah is joining the Global Grants Team after more than four years on the 4Children project as grant and compliance manager, and she will be supporting S34D in a limited capacity. Sarah’s cumulative service of over ten years at CRS between 1998-present included working on the global grant, AIDS Relief, from 2004-2005. She is looking forward to working in a new capacity within Catholic Relief Services and supporting the important work of Changing the Way We Care.
Sarah has a BA in Political Science/International Studies from College of Notre Dame of Maryland (now Notre Dame of Maryland University) and a MA in Victorian studies from the University of Leicester. She has over fifteen years of work experience in finance-related positions at CRS and in the for-profit sector, which was strengthened by additional coursework in accounting and finance. Sarah is a native Marylander who enjoys spending time with her family, reading, listening to music, following sports, and watching documentaries.