We take a multi-disciplinary perspective to generate pragmatic solutions that respond to community needs.

ABOUT THE FOUNDER

Jennifer LeSar CEO and Founder,
Global Policy Leadership Academy

Jennifer LeSar combines a background of more than three decades in community development, real estate development and investment banking with a deep working knowledge of eco-system change management and organizational strategy.

She is the CEO/Founder of several systems change and sustainable communities-focused firms.

LeSar Development Consultants, founded in 2005, works specifically on systems change interventions to end the housing affordability and homelessness crises. In 2017, Ms. LeSar launched the Housing Policy Leadership Academy (HPLA), an education and engagement program for leaders and influencers designed to forge comprehensive regional housing solutions and identify actions needed to effectuate structural change and solutions.

Ms. LeSar earned an MBA in real estate and finance and an MA in Urban Planning from UCLA, and a BA from Bryn Mawr College in political science and economics. In 2014, she completed the Executive Program in Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

OUR STAFF

PAM KESTNER, Chief of Staff

With over 23 years dedicated to combatting homelessness at local and state levels, Pam has become a seasoned advocate for effective solutions. Currently, she holds the position of Chief of Staff at the Global Policy Leadership Academy (GPLA), an organization committed to empowering both established and emerging leaders in tackling global challenges.

Prior to joining GPLA, Pam served as Co-Lead of LeSar Development Consultants’ (LDC) Homelessness Solutions Team. Before joining LDC, she served as Chief Deputy with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) where she led efforts to develop and implement Virginia’s first statewide rental assistance program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her role also focused on eviction prevention and creating affordable housing for vulnerable populations, specifically through collaborative efforts across the housing and health sectors.

Earlier in her career, Pam served as a Governor’s appointee for five years, guiding the commonwealth’s plan to end homelessness. In this capacity, she coordinated efforts among various state agencies, including those focused on housing, behavioral health and substance use disorders, physical health, public safety, veteran services, and social services. Additionally, Pam held the appointed position of Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources, further demonstrating her commitment to holistic approaches to social issues.

Before working at the state level, Pam spent 26 years at the Council of Community Services (CCS) which is a nonprofit organization based in Roanoke, Virginia that addresses a variety of community needs by convening groups, building consensus, and facilitating collaborative efforts. During that time, Pam developed the Nonprofit Resource Center of Southwest Virginia which was a program that assisted smaller organizations with capacity building through training and direct technical assistance. The last 12 years with CCS, she served as its President and CEO.

Currently, Pam serves on the Virginia Access to Justice Commission and sits on the board of directors for the Virginia Housing Alliance. She earned her BA degree in Sociology from Emory & Henry College and holds a MSW from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Anu NatajaranANU NATARAJAN, Managing Director, Global Housing Practice

Anu Natarajan is an urban planner and designer with a unique perspective that has been defined by work experience in housing, land use planning, and development in the private, consulting, public, non-profit, and political sectors. In her various roles as project and program director, city planner and planning consultant, program director for civic engagement, and vice-mayor/councilmember, she brings leadership, a unique perspective, and depth of knowledge in land use development, public policy, communication, and working with cross-sector partners at all levels.

Most recently, she led the $1.1 billion housing initiative at Facebook/Meta, where she facilitated the production of housing with the Community Development Fund, provided investment funds to scale innovative construction, and worked with the development community on middle-income housing, including a public-private partnership to build teacher housing. She currently teaches a graduate-level class at San Jose State University that focuses on the intersection of private development and public planning processes in partnership with the Urban Land Institute.

Prior, Anu focused on working with cities to share best practices, identify sources of funding for affordable housing, and provide technical assistance to planning staff as policy and advocacy director at MidPen Housing. She has served on the regional planning committee at the Association of Bay Area Governments and was the first Indian-American in the Bay area to be elected to the Fremont City Council, serving as a council member and vice mayor for ten years.

Anu grew up in Bangalore and graduated from Architecture School. She moved to Seattle on a Rotary International Scholarship as an “Ambassador of Goodwill” and earned her Masters’s Degree in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington, Seattle.

NATALIE DONLIN-ZAPPELA, Director, Partnerships & Climate Practice

Natalie Donlin-Zappella has worked at the intersections of community development, health, and housing in the nonprofit sector for nearly 20 years in roles as an organizer, planner, educator, and facilitator. She currently serves as the Director of Partnerships and Climate at the Global Policy Leadership Academy, leading initiatives to advance effective systems change to today’s most pressing challenges—housing affordability, equity, and climate.

Bringing deep experience in working across sectors with nonprofits, public agencies, and community development sectors, Natalie currently directs and guides initiatives focused on collaborative governance and resilient housing to advance equitable outcomes in housing, infrastructure, and environmental justice. In prior work as a Principal at LeSar Development Consultants, Natalie led the Policy and Legislative Research and Applications Team and client projects related to housing policy, sustainability and equitable community development, and community-driven affordable housing preservation.

Before joining LeSar, Natalie worked for Enterprise Community Partners in Southern California for over 5 years, supporting anti-displacement, neighborhood and regional development, resilience, and sustainability initiatives. She received her dual master’s degree from University of Michigan Ann Arbor in urban planning and social work. In Michigan, Natalie held positions with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, and the Program on Intergroup Relations at University of Michigan. Natalie has formal training in social justice education and intergroup dialogues, and has extensive experience in designing and facilitating coalitions, workgroups, stand-alone workshops, and participatory research practices to identify shared priorities and solutions.

In 2019, Natalie was recognized as an Impact-Maker to Watch, nominated by the Chief Resilience Officer of the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti.

ARIA POUNAKI, Team Manager, Manager, Community of Practice

Aria Pounaki brings experience in advocacy, housing policy, and affordable housing development to his role in GPLA. Aria is passionate about addressing housing affordability through the production and preservation of housing across the housing continuum. He has worked as an associate project manager at the largest nonprofit affordable housing developer on the West Coast.

Aria graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Spanish, and holds a certificate in Real Estate Development & Finance from the University of San Diego. He resides in San Diego.

ARIA CATAÑO, Manager, CA Housing/Homelessness Curriculum

Aria Cataño is passionate about addressing the housing and homelessness crisis through grassroots organizing and cross-sectoral innovation. Prior to joining LDC, Aria worked as a communications and land use specialist at Lee Andrews Group, where she managed multiple community outreach projects in the Los Angeles region.

She is also active in addressing water insecurity issues within unhoused and low-income communities in Southern California. Aria holds a master’s in Urban Planning from the University of Southern California.

BEA STAMBUK-TORRES, Manager, Vienna Field Studies

Beatriz Stambuk-Torres has been working and living in Vienna to deepen her knowledge of the Vienna social housing model and to translate the unique policies social housing approach into a language policymakers can use to implement similar systems in the United States.

Beatriz is a researcher who is passionate about supporting initiatives that prioritize access to affordable, quality housing for all. Beatriz previously worked as an Associate at LeSar Development Consultants (LDC) where she provided expertise on numerous California public sector jurisdictions topics, including building affordable housing on public land, rehabilitation of hotels into housing for people experiencing homelessness, community land trust development, California wildfire disaster recovery, and regional preservation of unrestricted and restricted affordable housing. 

Beatriz has also worked as a housing researcher at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, a California housing policy think-tank, where she co-developed two published policy reports. She has worked internationally for several years as an Environmental Analyst to secure water rights for Ecuadorian farmers. She has three years of experience as a nationally certified Spanish interpreter in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and holds a master’s degree as a city planner from UC Berkeley.

JACQUELINE WOO, Manager, CA Legislative Analysis

Jacqueline Woo is California Legislative Analysis Manager at the Global Policy Leadership Academy. She tracks and analyzes Federal, State, and local funding and legislation for the LeSar portfolio of companies, leading the firm’s Capital Mapping service.

Jacqueline previously worked at LeSar Development Consultants and the Office of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, where she supported greater state-level coordination to absorb climate/energy funding into affordable housing, the implementation and tracking of Proposition HHH, and advocacy regarding the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Jacqueline earned her MPA from Columbia University and bachelor’s degree in Economics from Emory University.

Edwin PeartEdwin Peart, Housing and Homelessness Curriculum Senior Specialist

Edwin Peart is passionate about housing affordability and homelessness prevention. Before joining LeSar, Edwin worked as a Program Manager with Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor, MI) supporting and managing projects for its Board of Commissioners, including work on equity-related policies and affordable housing initiatives that aim to safeguard vulnerable populations. He also served as Chair of the United Way Committee in Ann Arbor, working on safety-net initiatives that support school-aged youth, older adults, and housing and homelessness prevention efforts. He holds a dual master’s degree in Public Policy (MPP) and Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) from the University of Michigan.

Gabrielle WerveGABRIELLE WERVE, Housing and Homelessness Curriculum Specialist

Gabrielle Werve is dedicated to advancing equitable and sustainable land use, housing development, and solutions to homelessness through research and curriculum development. With almost a decade of experience in program management, Gabrielle brings a holistic and diverse perspective to her role, where she conducts research, designs training programs, and manages stakeholder relationships.

Before joining GPLA, Gabrielle worked across various roles from marketing to project management, refining her skills in system thinking and technological adaptability. For the past seven years, Gabrielle has been immersed in Environmental Health policy and research, serving as a product owner, developing courses for health professionals. She holds a BA in Sociology with a concentration in culture and communication from the University of California, San Diego, and is currently pursuing her PMP certification.

In addition to her professional endeavors, Gabrielle serves as a board member on Downtown San Diego’s Community Planning Council and chairs the Communications Committee. Her passion for bridging the gap between people and processes drives her commitment to constant improvement and making a meaningful impact in the field of housing and homelessness.

Phillip BockDR. PHILLIP BOCK, Housing and Homelessness Curriculum Specialist

Dr. Phillip Bock is a content development specialist, known for his expertise in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) learning technologies. Currently serving at GPLA, Dr. Phill is dedicated to revolutionizing the learning experience through cutting-edge technology. His work emphasizes the creation of intuitive and meaningful learning curricula, designed to foster significant behavioral transformations within educational environments. 

His approach not only enhances the learner’s journey but also sets new benchmarks in the application of AR and VR technologies in education. He continues to inspire advancements in educational methodologies, ensuring that learners are engaged, informed, and impacted by their educational encounters.

Dr. Phill graduated from University of Arizona with a PhD in Learning Theory and Technology and also holds a double Masters in Human Performance Technology and Instructional Design. He holds a certification in Adobe CC, and is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and ATD Master Instructional Designer. Dr. Phill is also a retired veteran of the US Army having been awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Karen ValerioKAREN VALERIO, Production Assistant Manager

Karen Valerio serves the Global Policy Leadership Academy as Production Assistant Manager, focusing on curriculum implementation, customer service support, reporting, and user management within our learning management system. Her day-to-day includes course creation on Articulate and Synthesia for various housing-related courses such as the SANDAG Housing Policy Leadership Academy and the Vienna Field Study.

As a project manager, Karen is also responsible for the execution of the overall accreditation process, upholding all processes and procedures, and maintaining compliance standards with the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).