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The ISSA Secretariat is committed to helping connect and continuously improve the skillset, knowledge tools and the program scope of ISSA's fast growing membership base.

ISSA's Secretariat works to enhance the communication and cross-pollination between locally-, regionally- and nationally operating organizations. When it comes to advocacy, we operate from the heart of the European Union and move far beyond. We show and share the progress made by our members and consortia, and we emphasize their strengths and experiences, so they can be picked up and spread elsewhere within our extensive network.

Moreover, we facilitate the creation of new resources as we seek out the latest knowledge and translate that into publications, trainings, practical tool-kits, topics for conferences and discussions, webinars and news stories. Pleased to meet you!

Executive Director, non-voting Board Member

Liana Ghent is Director of ISSA since 2006. Under her leadership, the association expanded its programmatic portfolio and grew significantly, with member organizations from across Europe (East and West) and Central Asia. Over these years, ISSA also broadened its scope to address various aspects of Early Childhood Development.

Liana has over 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience. Previously she was Co-President of the Civic Education Project (CEP), an organization working in higher education in Europe and the former Soviet Union. She served on several boards, including the Consultative Group for ECCD and the Leadership Council of the Global Compact for Early Childhood Development. Currently, she is a member of the Executive Group of the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN) and WHO's Advisory Group for the Nurturing Care Framework. Liana is a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher.

ISSA Mihaela
Program Director

Dr. Mihaela Ionescu joined ISSA in 2010. She is an early childhood education expert and doctor in Educational Sciences. She worked for more than 20 years as a researcher in the education field as an education policy developer, trainer and leader of programs and projects aimed at improving the quality of early childhood education and care services. Prior to joining ISSA she worked throughout the CEE/CIS region as an international consultant for UNICEF and the World Bank. As the Program Director of ISSA Mihaela is central to strategic planning and implementing programs. She creates resources aimed at providing equitable and high-quality early childhood services in countries from ISSA regions by strengthening the capacity of ISSA members to work with professionals, parents, administrators and policy makers.

Languages: Romanian, English and Italian

Yuliya Savchenko
Finance Director

Yuliya Savchenko joined ISSA in February 2023. She holds a degree in International Economic Relations and has over 15 years of experience in leadership and finance management of international NGOs. She was born and raised in Ukraine before relocating to the Netherlands in 2008.

Prior to joining ISSA, she was the CFO at EuroMed Rights, human rights network organization headquartered in Denmark.

Since January 2021 Yuliya also serves as a Treasurer, member of the Board of Trustees of WECF (Women Engage for a Common Future), a non-profit network working on transformative gender equality and women’s human rights in interconnection with climate justice, sustainable energy & chemicals, less toxic waste, safe water & sanitation.

Languages: Ukrainian, English, Dutch. 


Zorica Trikic
Senior Program Manager

Zorica Trikic, joined ISSA in Leiden in 2014. Prior to that, Zorica was Program Director for ISSA member Centre for Interactive Pedagogy (CIP) in Serbia and consultant for ISSA and UNICEF in Eastern Europe. As Sr. Program Manager, Zorica leads different ISSA initiatives, including Embracing DiversitySupporting Families for Nurturing Care and Children on the Move. She holds a Master's degree in Education and Human Resources Development. She has over 30 years of experience in the early years sector, working on programs and policy development with clear focus on the most vulnerable children, families and communities - especially Romani - refugee and migrant children. She is also an experience training developer and creator of programs for trainers, educators and health workers.

Languages: Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and English

Aljosa Rudas
Program Manager

Aljosa joined ISSA in 2019 with over a decade of experience working as a practitioner with Romani and Non-Romani children, their parents and communities. At ISSA he coordinates the Romani Early Years Network (REYN). Before joining ISSA, he was an early childhood educator and counselor in a public preschool, where he served as manager of a unit. In Slovenia, he has collaborated with various Ministries to play an active role in national initiatives related to the education of Romani children.

In 2016, Aljosa was awarded a scholarship from the Open Society Foundations to attend the University of Haifa in Israel. He holds an MA in Child Development and a BA in Early Childhood Education.

Languages: Slovenian, Romani, Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian and English

Francesca Colombo
Program Manager

Francesca joined ISSA in May 2019 to support the implementation of the Romani Early Years Network (REYN) initiative and the development of other early childhood programs of the association. She previously worked at Associazione 21 luglio (an ISSA member organization in Italy) and Amnesty International, where, in both positions, she gained extensive experience in program management and fundraising. For many years, she has also directly worked together with vulnerable communities, especially Roma, organizing and implementing empowerment activities aimed at fostering their rights and their access to basic services.

Francesca holds a Masters degree in international relations and affairs.

Languages: Italian, English and Spanish

Ayça Alaylı
Junior Program Manager

Ayça joined ISSA in 2021 as Junior Program Manager. Before joining ISSA, she worked as a researcher with a special interest in inclusion and equality in education at University of Amsterdam and formerly at ISOTIS project led by Utrecht University. During her work, she contributed to projects focusing on early childhood workforce and quality. Previously, as an education specialist at Anne Çocuk Eğitim Vakfı (AÇEV) - an ISSA Member organization, Turkey, she gained experience in implementation and evaluation of intervention programs targeting societally disadvantaged and refugee children and families.

Ayça holds a Masters degree in Developmental Psychology. In 2020, she was awarded a full grant from ROSANNA Fund for Women.

Languages: Turkish, English, Dutch and Turkish Sign Language

Membership Manager

Eva Izsak joined ISSA in 2002. She holds a BA degree in Social Work and an MA in Social Policy. Throughout her career she has worked with different non-profit organizations, agencies and networks, including the Hungarian Association for Non-profit Human Services, the Regional Environmental Centre, USAID, United Way and Telecottage Partner Service. Her work for ISSA includes the initiatives in the network division, such as the coordination of international events and conferences, publications, website and social media. She was also coordinator of ISSA's Second Language Learning project, funded by the Comenius Programme of the European Commission. Eva was a member of the Coordinating Committee of ISSA’s Education for Social Justice program.

Languages: Hungarian and English

Maya Autret
Communications Manager

Maya Autret is a seasoned professional with a diverse career spanning various industries and geographies. She joined the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) as Communications Manager in April 2024. Previously, she served as Global Head of Communications at ProVeg International, advocating for sustainable food systems. Maya has also worked as a researcher, writer, and professor at Montclair State University. She has held senior marketing and communications roles in real estate across Manhattan, New Jersey, and Miami, facilitated international business development at the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU), and specialized in establishing best practices for a global IT division of 3000 staff during her seven-year tenure at Société Générale Corporate and Investment Banking in Paris. Maya holds a PhD in Family Science and Human Development and an MA in International Relations.

Languages: English, French, and Hebrew

TM photo -May2020-square
Senior Communications Officer

Teresa joined ISSA in March 2020 as Communications Officer. An Economics graduate, she holds a master’s degree in Publishing. Prior to joining ISSA, she worked for the Bernard van Leer Foundation in The Hague where she managed the publishing process of its journal Early Childhood Matters and its Annual Report, as well as ran the Foundation’s communications and outreach activities.


Before moving to the Netherlands from Spain, she worked both for the private and for the non-profit sector, mostly by running fundraising campaigns.


Languages: Spanish, English, Italian and French

Jennifer Lorimer_headshot
Junior Communications Officer

Born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe, Jen moved to the Netherlands in 2017 to study at Utrecht University. She is in the exciting position of being at the start of her career. Having previously interned for an online magazine for internationals in the Netherlands, she has a strong foundation in communications, as well as customer service experience gained through working for a global retail chain.

 Jen has a BA degree in History.

 Languages: English

Vanessa bio - cropped 2_0
Junior Communications Officer

Vanessa joined ISSA in August 2022 as a Junior Communications Officer. She was born and raised in Bali, Indonesia before relocating to the Netherlands in 2016 to pursue an international career.

Prior to joining ISSA, she interned at a Continuous Professional Development organization and led a university-wide student publication communication activities.  Vanessa holds a BA in International Communications Management where she developed an eye for strategic communication and passion for positive psychology.

Languages: English, Indonesian, Balinese and Dutch

Senior Operations Officer

Ning joined ISSA in Leiden in 2019 to support ISSA in running it's financial and organizational processes. Prior to that, she was working as an Accounts Receivable Specialist in REMOBIS Refund Service in Utrecht from 2012 till 2018. She has Bachelor of Arts specializing in Education, Drama and Performance and English Literature.

Ning is originally from Singapore where she was a primary school teacher for 5 years, and head of the school’s Drama department. She was also a Tweede Graads Engels teacher in several high schools in the Netherlands. Ning lives in the Netherlands since 2009. 

Languages: English, Dutch and Bahasa


ISSA Winnifred
Finance Manager

Winnifred Sanders joined ISSA in 2018 as Finance Manager. She holds a BS degree in Business Administration and a CIMA accountancy qualification. She developed her coaching skills through several coaching and NLP training courses.

Winnifred brings along a 20-year international track record in financial management and consultancy, in both the corporate arena and in the non-profit sector. Prior to joining ISSA, she was the Finance Manager of the Museum of Brands in London. Throughout her career, she has gained broad experience in business - ranging from finance and operations support to more commercial roles.

In her spare time, Winnifred provided coaching and financial support to local start-ups, helped a local school to fundraise, and tutored young children in basic reading and maths skills. 

Languages: Dutch, English, and French