TOTY® People-Focused Finalists

Champion of Diversity & Inclusion

Brent Bell, Art Director at Moose Toys

Brent Bell

Brent Bell is a driving force behind fostering inclusivity at Moose Toys. With a steadfast commitment to an "All Welcome" workplace, he co-founded the Moose D&I Committee in 2022, leaving an indelible mark. Joining Moose in 2015, Bell identified the need to bridge diverse experiences, particularly as a gay man, leading to the committee's expansion. A dedicated advocate, he spearheaded the transformative LGBTQIA+ Workstream, engaging the global "Moosie" community through interactive sessions, guest speakers, and Pride Month activities. Bell's dynamic leadership seamlessly integrated the workstream into Moose's D&I framework, guided by his infectious enthusiasm and a team of volunteers. Aligned with Moose's strategic roadmap, the initiative fosters a safe environment, promotes allyship, expands education, and advances gender diversity and equality in the toy industry.

Dr. Zabina Bhasin, Founder & CEO at In Kidz

Dr. Zabina Bhasin

Dr. Zabina Bhasin, a South Asian American Child Psychiatrist and Cornell-educated diversity & inclusion expert — affectionately known as Dr. Zee — founded In KidZ, an ed-tech venture focusing on cultural education for families. Driven by her mission to normalize inclusion in daily family life, she strives to transform the world through play and has secured a landmark licensing deal with Sesame Street. Dr. Zee continuously expands her company’s cultural kits to impart diverse knowledge to children and parents, fostering understanding and celebration. With media recognition from Good Morning America, Entrepreneur Magazine, Vogue, and Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneurs, she expertly employs games, toys, and fun to address crucial topics like diversity and inclusion. As a dynamic speaker, author, and a member of the Toy Association Board of Directors and Concordia, Dr. Zee leaves her mark on education and empowerment.

Esra Cafer, Senior Vice President of Global Brand Marketing at Hasbro

Esra Cafer

Esra Cafer champions inclusivity in the toy industry, driving innovation as she led the creation of "Kiya & the Kimoja Heroes" from Hasbro's eOne studio. The animated series, rooted in African culture, showcases Kiya's dance and martial arts passions as superpowers. Cafer's dedication to diversity extends to Peppa Pig's global brand management, fostering responsible and entertaining content for diverse backgrounds. The recent Peppa Pig season introduced the Polar Bears family, including Penny Polar Bear with two mummies. Cafer's leadership spearheaded the impactful Kiya marketing campaign, resonating with multicultural families. Garnering positive attention, the campaign highlighted themes of diversity, superhero action, dance, and music. Her strategic vision generated anticipation for the show's March 2023 debut on Disney Junior and Disney+.

Kim Culmone, Senior Vice President & Head of Doll Design at Mattel, Inc.

Kim Culmone

As the lead designer for Barbie, Kim Culmone guided the brand's design team through a transformative era, creating the world's most diverse doll line at Mattel. Recognizing play's significance, she is devoted to crafting a toy collection mirroring the diverse reality children experience today. Culmone and her team embraced the challenge of making diversity engaging and fun within the Barbie brand, achieving a remarkable design feat. Over her 25-year journey at Mattel, Culmone harnessed Barbie's impact to empower diverse masses. Her role in curating Barbie's inclusive collections, notably the Barbie Fashionistas line launched in 2009, showcased dolls with various body types (curvy, tall, and petite), and extended to dolls with Down syndrome and physical disabilities. As highlighted in the 2015 documentary "Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie," Culmone's vision has redefined Barbie, reflecting her dedication to inclusive and empowering play.

Karen Kelly, Manager of Executive Communications & DEI, and Community Engagement at Crayola

Karen Kelly

As the manager of Crayola’s DEI initiatives, Karen Kelly collaborates with the Inclusion Council to implement the company's strategic framework through impactful projects. She played a key role in establishing Crayola’s inaugural Inclusion Council, crafting guidelines and an application process. Kelly also leads the strategy, initiation, and efforts of the company's ERGs (Employee Resource Groups), working in harmony with the Inclusion Council, ERGs, employees, external speakers, and trainers. Together, they design educational and meaningful programming aligned not only with the DEI strategy but also with employees' needs. Under Kelly’s guidance, the Crayola Inclusion Council executed an identity pie exercise, reaching over 1,500 employees worldwide. This activity aimed to encourage team members to share various facets of their identities beyond the physical, fostering connections, and enhancing teamwork and collaboration throughout the organization.

Vanessa Raponi, P.Eng, PMP Manager of Manufacturing Engineering Product at Spin Master

Vanessa Raponi

Vanessa Raponi's boundless passion fuels her drive to create positive change at Spin Master. As a dedicated product development engineer, she helps to create toys that offer children and families magical experiences, transcending mere compliance. Raponi's influence extends beyond assigned brands, as she champions sustainability and inclusivity across all Global Brand Teams. Her leadership extends to Spin Master's ED&I Employee Resource Group, where she played a pivotal role in crafting the groundbreaking Truly You! toy through collaboration with high school students. Raponi embodies her values, cultivating safe spaces and driving meaningful conversations. A member of the LGBTQIA+ community and an engineering student, Raponi founded EngiQueers Canada to celebrate diversity and inclusivity. Under her leadership, the organization hosted its first national conference, uniting more than 100 students for community building and empowerment. She further advocates for ED&I through panels, vlogs, and talks, embodying the perspective of a queer woman of color.

Genna Rosenberg, Changemaker & CEO at GennComm

Genna Rosenberg

Genna Rosenberg, an impact-driven industry leader, is committed to catalyzing change within the toy industry and beyond. With a dedicated focus on social impact, she pioneers a path to positive transformation, exemplified by the creation of GoodWorks X GennComm — a novel division aimed at serving an industry she has been a part of for three decades. As a vocal activist and advocate, Rosenberg orchestrates diverse initiatives, from campaigns and educational courses promoting inclusivity to dynamic panel discussions on social impact. Her influence extends to mentoring students, guiding CEOs, and actively participating in various D&I industry committees. Notably, Rosenberg has been instrumental in cultivating pathways to empower diverse youth from underserved backgrounds, fostering a vibrant and inclusive workforce for the toy industry's future.

Dr. Lisa Williams, Founder & CEO at World of EPI

Dr. Lisa Williams

Dr. Lisa Williams, formerly a high-ranking professor, embarked on a groundbreaking journey after witnessing a doll study revealing the need for authentic representation in the toy industry. Despite lacking resources and experience, she established the largest Black-owned toy company, World of EPI, infusing DEI principles into its very core. Through patent-pending technology, Dr. Lisa disrupts the toy, publishing, and animation sectors, creating inclusive products. Committed to uplifting the next generation, she offers jobs, mentoring, internships, and scholarships, supporting global charities. Dr. Lisa's achievements include a TOTY Award-winning product, Walmart Supplier of the Year, and a role on The Toy Association Board of Directors. Her Fresh Dolls gained recognition as Oprah's Favorite Thing and appeared in prominent media. Notably, Dr. Lisa participated in the Equity in Entrepreneurship Summit 2023 and Disney's Essence Festival panels, advocating for Black entrepreneurship and financial wellness. Her ongoing dedication shines through collaborations with Disney and Marvel, affirming her mission to provide empowering representations for children everywhere.

DeeDee Wright-Ward, CEO at Purpose Toys

DeeDee Wright-Ward

DeeDee Wright-Ward, an African American founder and CEO, leads Purpose Toys — the largest Black-owned, culture-driven toy company, specializing in natural hair and culture-based products for kids. Wright-Ward introduced the acclaimed natural hair fashion doll line, Naturalistas. This line made history in 2022 as the world's first all-Black natural hair fashion doll collection available at major retail. Garnering accolades including a Good Housekeeping Best Toy Award, National Parenting Product Award (NAPPA), and International Collector Community's "Doll Award," Purpose Toys was also a finalist for TOTY's prestigious Doll of the Year category. Purpose Toys continued to innovate by co-developing and distributing HBCYOU DOLLS, a toy line celebrating Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). With more than 25 HBCU school licenses, Purpose Toys contributes to these institutions through the sale of school-branded goods, solidifying its commitment to both cultural representation and education. In 2023, Wright-Ward made history again with the founding of Purpose Toys LATIN, the industry’s first dedicated Latino-focused toy division, and the historic launch of Latinistas, the world’s first all-Latina fashion doll line carried across major retail.

Champion of Sustainability

Peter Handstein, CEO at Hape International

Peter Handstein

Peter Handstein has dedicated his mission to crafting a better world for the next generation. Through beautifully designed and thoughtful toys, Handstein shapes young minds while championing sustainability. Handstein’s enduring commitment extends beyond childhood enrichment — it includes paving the path for environmentally-conscious practices within the toy industry. A pioneering thought leader, he actively engages in global forums and conferences on sustainable development, constantly refining Hape's practices. Notably, his sustainability efforts have earned him accolades such as the Outstanding Contribution Award from the Ningbo Charity Star and the Beilun District Charity Federation. Committed to community welfare, Peter invests in better living conditions for underprivileged children worldwide. Most recently, Handstein approved investment in renewable energy at the largest Hape manufacturing facility in China to power production and office buildings with the installation of more solar panels. By the end of 2022, all roofs were covered with solar panels and are expected to produce 3.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2023.

Jason Kroskrity, Director of Sustainable Development, Chemistry, & Materials at Mattel, Inc.

Jason Kroskrity

Jason Kroskrity has played a pivotal role in advancing Mattel's sustainability initiatives, spearheading the integration of eco-friendly materials across the company’s toy portfolio. He collaborates with new suppliers to explore sustainable alternatives, reducing Mattel’s reliance on traditional fossil fuel resources. Kroskrity's innovative contributions include a Design for Circularity Playbook, poised to set industry standards. Within Mattel, he established a Materials Hub and Sustainable Development SharePoint sites, facilitating technical support and knowledge sharing on sustainable materials. Under his guidance, life-cycle assessments (LCA) have been introduced, allowing the company to measure environmental impact and provide data-driven design recommendations. Kroskrity’s influence extends to our Product Take Back program, reflecting his dedication to a more sustainable future.

Robert Pasin, Chief Wagon Officer at Radio Flyer

Robert Pasin

Robert Pasin drives Radio Flyer’s commitment to people, the environment, and future generations. Recognized for his visionary leadership, Pasin earned the Gold Stevie in the 2023 Stevie American Business Awards and was named Best in Biz 2022 Gold Executive of the Year (Medium Companies). Radio Flyer was acclaimed as one of Fast Company's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in the U.S. 2023 and Inc.'s Best in Business 2022 Companies Going Above and Beyond. Guided by his family's legacy and a dedication to sustainability, Pasin's initiatives span product design, manufacturing, and operations. He championed Flyer™ as an eco-friendly transit solution, established a LEED Platinum-certified office, reduced single-use packaging, and elevated recycled materials in packaging. In 2022, Radio Flyer's B Corp certification marked the company’s leadership in promoting an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy.

G.B. Pillai, Founder at Wild Republic

G.B. Pillai

For more than four decades, under founder G.B. Pillai's leadership, Wild Republic has stood as a champion of nature, conservation, and ethical responsibility. Sustainability has long been central to the company's ethos. Recently, Pillai and Wild Republic reinforced their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint through measures such as utilizing sustainable materials, reducing chemicals, and incorporating 80% recycled cardboard and plastic beans in plush toys. The company has taken substantial steps by eliminating single-use plastics, adopting reusable and biodegradable packaging, utilizing phthalate-free non-toxic materials, and embracing fully sustainable resources. This dedication reflects Wild Republic's ongoing journey towards greater environmental consciousness and responsibility.

Packaging Designer of the Year

Ingrid Chow, Art Director at Abacus Brands

Ingrid Chow

Ingrid Chow leads the design concepts for the Abacus Brands’ unique package details. Formerly with Hasbro's design team, Ingrid shapes the distinctive aesthetics and individualized styles of each VR Activity Kit at Abacus Brands. She skillfully crafts high-level compositions that match the theme of each kit, from lunar adventures to oceanic explorations, capturing the essence of the experience. Notably, her composition for Virtual Reality Human Body! displays the excitement and intricacy of the human body in an interactive learning kit, setting it apart on retailer shelves. With more than 30 different package designs in the last two years, Ingrid's contributions extend to captivating catalogs, website graphics, and innovative product designs, including multiple TOTY-nominated products, solidifying her impact on Abacus Brands.

Tim Conlin, Snap Circuits® Logo & Packaging Re-Design Initiative at Elenco Electronics LLC

Tim Conlin

With 17 years leading confectionary brands at Mars, Tim Conlin brings extensive brand design and packaging expertise. During his time at Elenco, he has been dedicated to innovating Snap Circuits® to align with modern consumer needs. As the head of design team S2, Conlin's team creates compelling brand experiences through packaging, branding, and activation, delivering dynamic work for consumer products companies like Crayola, Hasbro, Unilever, and Topps. After a comprehensive consumer review of Snap Circuits®, the team identified an opportunity to enhance distinctiveness and effectiveness. Consumer research focused on brand awareness, noticeability, social listening, and shopper behavior, revealing challenges in product visibility and brand perception. The mission is to elevate the Snap Circuits® retail presence by increasing noticeability, conveying clear benefits, and revitalizing packaging energy.

Shane Hartley, Creative Director of Global Games & Disney Lorcana at Ravensburger

Shane Hartley

With more than two decades of experience in creative direction and design for consumer products within pop culture, entertainment, and gaming, Shane Hartley has created design for a wide variety of products. His portfolio boasts the design of numerous trading card games, collectible miniatures games, and board games, collaborating with renowned brands like Disney, Star Wars, Nike, Blizzard, and more. Hartley has driven major program initiatives like the Halo 4 Limited Edition and Gears of War 3 Limited Edition, strategizing value, packaging, and content. He excels in vendor sourcing and manufacturing qualification, particularly in soft goods and plastics. Currently the creative director at Ravensburger Games, Hartley has revitalized packaging and components, leading diverse teams across the U.S. and Europe. His proudest accomplishment lies in conceiving the Disney Lorcana Trading Card Game, a testament to his expertise in design, pop culture, storytelling, collectibles, and gaming.

Suzanna Lakatos, Director of Packaging Design at Mattel, Inc.

Suzanna Lakatos

Suzanna Lakatos, a key member of Mattel's Barbie and Fashion Doll IP package design team for nine years, leads packaging for the iconic Barbie brand. With 8 GDUSA awards and a Dieline accolade, including the acclaimed Mark Ryden x Barbie collaboration, she drove successful packaging for the Barbie Movie line's 2023 launch. She also revitalized Monster High, generating more than $40 million in its first year and more than $180 million in the second. Lakatos’ plastic-free designs like Barbie Loves the Ocean and the celebrated Jane Goodall Barbie package showcase her innovation. Her contributions to the Reveal Segment's Color Reveal and Cutie Reveal achieved 12 percent growth and nearly $200 million in sales. Lakatos’ elegant packaging for Barbie Signature led to more than 30 percent growth, totaling nearly $84 million, while her tech-forward approach introduced augmented reality, QR Codes, and digital instructions. Her groundbreaking designs have elevated Barbie's sales and appeal among collectors and kids alike.

David Pearce, Principal Graphic Designer of Packaging & Branding, Boys Brands at Moose Toys

David Pearc

David Pearce boasts more than 17 years of design expertise at Moose Toys, crafting captivating packaging and branding for iconic brands. His creativity has fueled the success of renowned lines like Heroes of Goo Jit Zu, Magic Mixies, and more. Pearce orchestrated award-winning packaging, including the Magic Mixies collaboration. Notably, his designs for Magic Mixies Magic Cauldron, Magical Crystal Ball, and Magic Lamp transcended conventional packaging challenges, captivating shoppers. Pearce's inventive solutions, stackable plinth-style boxes, and compelling taglines invigorated Moose's mystically themed releases. Despite facing the COVID-19 lockdown during the creation of the Cauldron package, Pearce and his team adeptly adapted to virtual collaboration. His dedication extends to sustainable packaging, highlighting Moose's innovation. Pearce's remarkable work is a testament to his commitment, talent, and collaborative spirit, making him an esteemed figure in the industry.

PR/Marketer of the Year

Caleigh Anthony, Director of Global Communications at Spin Master

Caleigh Anthony

Caleigh Anthony is an important voice in the marketing center of excellence and has been with Spin Master for five years. Last year, her efforts led to 27,000 media placements and 47 billion impressions. For the 2022 holiday season alone, she delivered 25.8 billion impressions, a 32 percent increase year over year. She supports the company and its more than 30 brands, developing strong relationships with internal teams and industry partners including Nickelodeon, Paramount, Warner Bros., and Universal’s Dreamworks Animation. Collaboratively, she orchestrated a 490 million-impression event celebrating PAW Patrol’s 10th anniversary with notable attendees like Amanda Kloots and Mario Lopez. Her collaborative approach extends to elevating Spin Master's brands, including promoting the Rubik’s Cube acquisition with a New York event for Erno Rubik, garnering 800 million impressions and a 2023 Silver Bulldog PR Award. Additionally, she aids PR efforts for Entertainment and Digital Games, achieving coverage in publications like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety for launches like Vida the Vet and Unicorn Academy.

Jessica Kalichman, Director of Marketing at WowWee

Jessica Kalichman

Jessica Kalichman has driven every marketing facet of brand development at WowWee since her time with the company. In the past year, she orchestrated triumphant campaigns and marketing strategies for licensed-in brands like Baby Shark's Big Show, Nerf Super Soaker, Hasbro Gaming, and in-house hits like Got2Glow Fairy Finder and Fashion Fidgets. Leading a team, she managed brand ambassador networks and influencer content, fostering relationships with creative agencies and brand partners. Jessica's dynamic presence amplified WowWee's PR campaign success at Toy Fairs, CES, the Grammy Awards, and more. Notably, she propelled the launch of Fashion Fidgets, collaborated with Mrs. Bench, and expanded the WowWee brand portfolio with Twister SPLASH, Operation SPLASH, Crocodile Dentist SPLASH, Nerf Super Soaker RoboBlaster, and more. Her groundwork for the upcoming Dog-E robot dog and Fingerlings relaunch promises even more exceptional achievements in 2023.

Lisa Krueger, Senior Communications Director at Ravensburger North America

Lisa Krueger

Lisa Krueger boasts more than 20 years of experience in consumer, entertainment, and lifestyle PR. After guiding Ravensburger's PR via Zebra Partners, she moved in-house to spearhead Disney Lorcana's monumental campaign, Ravensburger's largest ever. Since 2023, Krueger led more than 27 product PR initiatives, amassing more than 16 billion impressions. Notably, she masterminded Disney Lorcana's launch strategy for the highly anticipated collectible trading card game. By announcing a year ahead at D23 Expo, Krueger engaged gamers and Disney enthusiasts, generating a flurry of buzz and headlines. Her strategic partnerships with IGN, TheGamer, Polygon, ComicBook, and Nerdist yielded 3,743 articles, more than 39 billion impressions, and 791 articles with more than 11 billion impressions for Disney Lorcana. Lisa's upcoming plans involve a comprehensive press rollout, Gen Con activities, and interviews, ensuring Ravensburger's PR continues to shine under her strategic guidance.

Sarah Madey, Director of Marketing & Franchise, Hasbro Gaming at Hasbro

Sarah Madey

Sarah Madey led the innovative launch of the reimagined Clue board game, achieving a double the social engagement rate than the industry norm. She and her team devised a unique marketing campaign, inviting players worldwide to experience the classic game in a new light. Through the Clue Instagram experience, a four-week immersive digital murder mystery, players engaged on social media to solve the case using motion capture technology and Unreal Engine, transforming characters into metahumans. The campaign commenced with an New York City-based event hosted by crime podcaster Ashley Flowers, attracting high-profile guests for a murder mystery party. The endeavor achieved over 85 million impressions across social platforms.

Lisa McKnight, Executive Vice President & Chief Brand Officer, Mattel, Inc.

Lisa McKnight

During her tenure at Mattel, Lisa McKnight has masterfully reinvigorated the iconic Barbie brand, transforming it into the world's most diverse doll line with enduring appeal. Leading with design-led innovation, McKnight's strategic partnerships and impactful social initiatives have solidified Barbie's cultural relevance. Under her visionary leadership, retail sales of the portfolio exceeded more than $3 billion, while Mattel consistently claimed the title of the No. 1 Global Doll Manufacturer. Lisa's efforts doubled Barbie's franchise size, achieving record-breaking sales in 2021. She initiated the Barbie Dream Gap Project, raising over $1.5 million for girls' empowerment. Collaborating on Barbie the Movie, Lisa's marketing prowess turned it into a viral sensation. Furthering sustainability, she introduced the 'Pink Is The New Green' campaign. Her strategic expansion established Barbie as a lifestyle brand, highlighted by the viral phenomenon #Barbiecore, attaining billions of media impressions.

Erika Merklinger, PR & Communications Manager at Crayola

Erika Merklinger

Erika Merklinger leads Crayola's strategic communication, PR marketing, and media relations efforts. With over eight years dedicated to Crayola and nearly 25 years contributing to its success, Merklinger’s unparalleled passion and commitment are evident. In 2022, she achieved increased overall Crayola PR product placements by 136 percent and impressions by 10 percent compared to 2021. Merklinger develops PR marketing strategies, pitches, and informs traditional media of brand activation and products to garner national visibility and increase sales; maintains media relations with key media outlets and editors; serves as the PR spokesperson for media outlets; orchestrates the year-round PR awards program with top-tier industry and consumer-facing outlets; manages the company’s PR agency of record; and helps support corporate DEI objectives with various PR initiatives. Her leadership helps to secure syndication placements and garner repeat coverage in top outlets like Cheddar News, TODAY, Parade, Business Insider, and Buzzfeed.

Dana Moncrief, Senior Director of Public Relations at Moose Toys

Dana Moncrief

If you’ve heard about Magic Mixies, Mama Surprise, Bluey or any other Moose toys in 2022, then it’s likely because of the tireless work of Dana Moncrief. For the last five years, Moncrief has spearheaded Moose’s in-house PR efforts, growing the business’ earned consumer reach exponentially year-over-year. Moncrief's ingenuity and adept team management have generated more than 4.2 billion consumer impressions in 2022 alone. Despite limited resources, her strategic approach has propelled launches like Magic Mixies Magical Crystal Ball and Bluey items to become pop culture phenomena. Moncrief's prowess in earned media, nurturing relationships, and strategic outreach has made Moose a media favorite. Her measurable impact extends to sales, evidenced by significant surges after media features. Moncrief's dedication exemplifies Moose's innovation, cementing her pivotal role in driving the company's outstanding success.

Lisa Orman, President at KidStuff Public Relations

Lisa Orman

Lisa Orman and her boutique agency KidStuff Public Relations specialize in elevating small, specialty manufacturers. With notable achievements like Moonlite's Good Housekeeping and Best Toys for 2022 awards, and successful brand launches for Little Kids Inc. in 2023, KidStuff PR's past year has marked continuous accomplishments. Orman's service on the ASTRA board of directors, including a term as Marketing Committee Chair, showcases her industry dedication. Known for resourceful strategies that combine paid and earned media effectively, Orman's team excels within tight budgets. A two-time recipient of the Wonder Woman award from Women in Toys, Orman's in-depth knowledge and organizational skills resonate with both clients and reporters, fostering enjoyable and productive collaborations.

Lee Parkhurst, Senior Marketing Manager at Educational Insights

Lee Parkhurst

Lee Parkhurst, a seasoned social media marketing expert, has orchestrated an innovative campaign for Educational Insights' brain-teasing puzzle game, Kanoodle. Recognizing TikTok's potential, he established a TikTok task force that harnessed TikTok's momentum, resulting in billions of views, high-level partnerships, and the viral #kanoodlechallenge. This impressive effort led to the creation of a TikTok shop page, an industry first for children’s brands. Parkhurst's creative strategies extend beyond Kanoodle, driving continuous growth and remarkable sales for Educational Insights. Under his leadership, the company has become a trailblazer in the industry, utilizing TikTok's live stream shopping trend to connect millions of people to Kanoodle. Parkhurst's innovative approach and exceptional achievements make him a deserving nominee, solidifying his position as a leader in the toy marketing field.