About Root Cause

Sonja Okun

Senior Consultant

Sonja comes to Root Cause with two decades of experience developing and leading successful positive youth development intervention programs for justice system-involved youth. She founded and was Executive Director of exalt from 2006-2014. exalt provides a unique educational internship program model, using a proprietary curriculum and distinctive pedagogical approach, to justice system-involved youth ages 15-19. Sonja has consulted to several nonprofits in New York City and nationally across a range of content and functional areas. She is skilled in program and organizational development, cultivating strong organizational culture, building and managing diverse teams, bridging diverse perspectives and functional areas of expertise/experience, developing and implementing customized program & organizational performance measures, and tailoring initiatives to meet the needs of a broad range of constituents. Sonja has presented on exalt’s model and the school to prison pipeline in multiple forums including Brian Lehrer’s television show, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) national conference, Columbia Business School, and the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Why Do You Do What You Do? 

I have been instinctively driven to play a role in helping advance justice in the world my whole life. The transparency we have in the 21st century to identify the problems we face as a people and a planet has elevated our efforts to effectively direct resources towards solutions. I’m passionate about helping to bridge perspectives, experience, and decision-making between the people and organizations that do the work of addressing our most entrenched problems, and those who dedicate and invest vital resources to support that work.  

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  • Harvard University, BA, African American Studies; Harvard Business School, MBA

Favorite Books, movies, music

  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander; All God’s Children, Fox Butterfield; The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson; The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt; Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston


  • Yoga, interior design, food & wine, nature, travel