Our Senior Leadership Team

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Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, FACP, FACPM


Hope Ferdowsian, MD, Phoenix Zones Initiative President

Hope is co-founder, president, and CEO of Phoenix Zones Initiative. She is a double-board certified physician in internal medicine and preventive medicine whose expertise spans the fields of medicine, public health, and ethics. Having worked internationally with people and animals who have experienced systemic abuse, Hope is uniquely positioned to recognize how social structures that enable violence cause suffering to disenfranchised humans and nonhuman animals alike, and how people and animals can recover in environments that promote resilience.

Over the past two decades, Hope has worked across six continents in an effort to advance human and animal rights, health, and wellbeing. In the United States, she has provided healthcare and advocacy for homeless, veteran, immigrant, and other vulnerable populations, while also working to end the exploitation of animals in laboratories and food production. Hope’s global health work has included collaboration with the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States and the development of resources for nongovernmental organizations, national governments, and the World Health Organization. She has authored highly cited publications and spoken at academic institutions and through media outlets across the globe. Many of her publications, including her critically acclaimed book Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives, focus on the link between human and animal rights, health, and wellbeing.

Hope received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Southern California, a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, and a master’s degree in public health from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She completed a medical internship at Yale University-Griffin Hospital, a preventive medicine residency at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and an internal medicine residency at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She served as an assistant professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, associate professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and she now serves as an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

Elan Abrell, JD, PhD

Vice President, Community Planning and Partnerships

Elan AbrellElan is a cultural anthropologist whose research, writing, and practice focus on human-animal-environment interactions, scientific knowledge production, and food-related technological innovation. His work has also explored the socially constructed and historically shifting dividing line between who does and does not count as human, and how economic processes have reinforced this dividing line to rationalize the exploitation and mistreatment of both people and animals.

Elan has written about systemic discrimination associated with the sanctioning of torture and other anti-civil rights policies, and his forthcoming book, Saving Animals: Practices of Care and Rescue in the US Animal Sanctuary Movement, examines how sanctuary caregivers respond to a range of ethical dilemmas and material constraints while attempting to meet the various and sometimes conflicting needs of rescued animals. The book examines animal sanctuaries as a model for creating a positive vision of the future for both people and animals.

Elan is currently a visiting assistant professor in the Animal Studies Program at Wesleyan University and an adjunct assistant professor in the Animals Studies MA Program and the Anthropology Department at New York University. He was formerly a 2017-18 Farmed Animal Law and Policy Fellow at the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard University, a visiting assistant professor in the Urban Studies Department at Queens College, CUNY, and a Senior Regulatory Specialist at the Good Food Institute.

Mike Anastario, PhD

Vice President, Research and Evaluation

Mike is an independent researcher with expertise in mixed qualitative and quantitative methods. Much of his work centers on emerging intersections between epidemiology, medicine, the humanities, and public health. Mike was a 2018-19 US Fulbright scholar to El Salvador, and he has authored 40 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters concerning these topics. In his recent book, Parcels: Memories of Salvadoran Migration, he explored social remembering and forgetting in one rural community affected by US migration policies.

Mike has served as a co-investigator and lead analyst for projects serving Indigenous populations in the United States and in Greenland, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and by the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Social Sciences Program. In addition to grant-funded research, Mike has more than 10 years’ experience directing health program evaluations for nonprofit organizations, including human rights programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Kenya, funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and by the US State Department.

Mike received his PhD in sociology from Boston College in 2007. During his studies, he served as a research associate at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Women’s Health at the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; he subsequently led research projects at RTI International. In addition to his role as a researcher, Mike now directs graduate student theses in the Master in Applied Research Statistics Program at the Central American University (Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas) in El Salvador.

Kyle Ash, MA, LLM

Vice President, Policy Strategy and Outreach

Kyle Ash

On food policy, Kyle’s campaign objectives have included mandatory plant-based options in hospitals and nutrition education for physicians. On forest policy, he has worked to ban the cutting of old-growth forest, and to establish long-term protection for intact forests. On climate, his objectives have included exposing obfuscation at UN negotiations, halting the expansion of oil drilling on the outer-continental shelf, and prohibiting public subsidies for coal-fired power plants. He has succeeded in achieving legislative and regulatory reform at the state, national, and international level.

Kyle has appeared on radio, television and in Politico, Greenwire, the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, DeutscheWelle, Outside Magazine, as well as many other media outlets. His published articles on environmental and legal issues include “Why ‘Managing’ Biodiversity Will Fail,” and “International Animal Rights: Speciesism and Exclusionary Human Dignity,” published in the Animal Law Review. He received a BA in International Affairs and Political Economy from Lewis and Clark College, an MA in Global Environmental Policy from American University, and an LLM in International Law from the University of Kent in Brussels.

Kris Weller, JD, PhD

Vice President, Legal Analysis and Operations

Kris WellerAfter studying psychology as an undergraduate at the Johns Hopkins University, Kris spent several years working in direct care, administrative, and management positions with organizations serving children and adults diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, adults with cognitive differences, educationally-disadvantaged urban youth, and politically- and economically-neglected urban communities. Seeking to understand the systemic causes of the symptoms addressed by social service projects and to learn about more comprehensive solutions, she returned to school.

Kris completed a JD/MA program in Law and Women’s Studies at the University of Cincinnati, with an emphasis in Law and Psychiatry that included a specialized academic track and externships in legal services and rights defense work on behalf of individuals with diagnoses of psychiatric difference. She received a PhD in the history of consciousness with a parenthetical citation in feminist studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. Her dissertation examined the legal, cultural, and discursive barriers to full legal personhood for nonhuman animals and for humans with atypical psychiatric and cognitive abilities, and the barriers to full social equality for members of historically marginalized groups.

Kris has completed postdoctoral fellowships at Duke University and Penn State University, and she has taught undergraduate courses in animal studies and gender studies, focusing on the intersectionality of categorizations used to justify oppression and discrimination.