Headquarters Staff

Dr. Charles Benjamin : President

Dr. Charles Benjamin

President

Dr. Benjamin has over twenty-five years of experience in international development, with extensive experience in community development and natural resources management throughout the Middle East and Africa. He began his affiliation with the Near East Foundation in 1993 as Country Director in Morocco. Before joining NEF he spent several years in Morocco as a Fulbright Scholar and as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After leaving Morocco, Dr. Benjamin was Senior Manager for a large international development consulting firm based in Washington DC and a Professor of International Environment Issues and Development at Williams College in Williamstown (MA). Dr. Benjamin became NEF’s President in 2010. Under Dr. Benjamin’s leadership, NEF has seen steady growth. Dr. Benjamin holds a PhD from the University of Michigan with a focus on decentralization and local institutional development in West Africa. He is a published author in the areas of natural resource management and policy.

John Ashby : Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

John Ashby

Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Mr. Ashby has nearly 20 years of experience working as a financial officer with non-profit and profit corporations in the United States and the United Kingdom. Prior to joining the Near East Foundation in 2012, Mr. Ashby held the position of Chief Financial Officer at InterFaith Works of Central New York, the position of Director of Finance at the Fulton Companies in Pulaski (New York) and the post of Managing Director at Fulton UK in Bristol (UK). Mr. Ashby holds a B.S. in engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology and an M.B.A. from the State University of Oswego.

Dr. Simona Ceci : Vice President of Operations and Legal Affairs

Dr. Simona Ceci

Vice President of Operations and Legal Affairs

Dr. Ceci oversees the operations of the Foundation. She joined the NEF in 2013 with over 15 years of experience in cross-border organizational management, compliance and legal affairs in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Prior to joining NEF, Dr. Ceci was the Associate General Counsel of Syracuse University where she led the international and grants practice areas. She has previously worked in higher education, public and private sectors in both legal and non-legal capacities. A native of Italy, Dr. Ceci has lived and worked in the Middle East, Europe and North America.

Brandy Westerman : Vice President of Program Development

Brandy Westerman

Vice President of Program Development

Ms. Westerman has worked in international development since 1998 designing, managing and evaluating programs and strategic initiatives from both headquarters and country leadership positions. Prior to joining the Near East Foundation, she was the Director of Program Management at Mercy Corps. Ms. Westerman’s diverse experience includes humanitarian response and recovery in Pakistan and Afghanistan; cross-border peace and development programming in Central Asia; leadership in food security strategy and capacities; Country Director for Mercy Corps in Tajikistan and a variety of program development, monitoring, evaluation and research initiatives designed to utilize evidence for decision making, strategy and learning in the development sector. In addition to her work with the Near East Foundation, she serves on the Board of Directors for PM4NGOs, an organization dedicated to promoting excellence in the management of social investment projects and programs globally. 

Gareth Richards : Regional Director for the Middle East

Gareth Richards

Regional Director for the Middle East

Mr. Richards leads the program operations for NEF and NEF UK's projects in the Middle East. Mr. Richards has been based in the Middle East since 2005 as country and regional director with CARE International, following senior level INGO assignments in three regions of Africa with Voluntary Service Overseas, Penal Reform International, and Save the Children. Prior to moving on to a career in international development, Gareth was seconded for two years by the UK Home Office to establish a national Young Offender program with the Prince’s Trust which promoted innovative approaches and alternatives to custody, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales. Mr. Richards holds an MSc in Criminal Justice Policy from the London School of Economics, which included postgraduate research into prison systems in southern Africa. 

Laurent Denis : Director of Program Support, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

Laurent Denis

Director of Program Support, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

Mr. Denis oversees the program support and monitoring, evaluation, and learning efforts of the Foundation. He joins NEF after nearly 13 years as Director of F3E, a French organization dedicated to supporting the strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation efforts of French and European NGOs as well as their organizational development and M&E training. Prior to joining F3E, Mr. Denis worked as Country Director for Handicap International in Laos, as Program Manager for Handicap International in Morocco and as Project Manager and M&E Officer for GRDR in Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. A native of France, he has spent a large part of his career in West and North Africa, has conducted extensive field training on M&E practices and lectured on M&E and result-based management at various French universities including SciencePo, Sorbonne and Orsay. 

Rabih Yazbeck : Programme Director, NEF UK

Rabih Yazbeck

Programme Director, NEF UK

Mr. Yazbeck joined NEF UK with nearly 15 years of experience in the non-profit and social entrepreneurship sectors in Africa, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom. Previously he was the Executive Director of Human Concern International Middle East Region (HCI ME) where he was responsible for developing and managing over 70 innovative, quick-impact interventions to address socio-economic issues in post-conflict zones. From 2000 to 2008, he worked for the Near East Foundation Regional Offices in Cairo and Amman, where he worked on multi-million dollar social and economic development programmes in six countries in the Middle East. Rabih holds a B.Sc. in civil engineering with specialisation in public work from the Lebanese University; a M.Sc. in IT for E-commerce with focus on rural development from Sussex University, UK; and, a M.A. in Social Entrepreneurship from Goldsmiths University of London. A native of Lebanon, he is now based in London.

Sarah Peterson : Senior Program Officer

Sarah Peterson

Senior Program Officer

Ms. Peterson provides support to NEF’s programs, focusing on project management. Prior to joining NEF, she worked with Aga Khan Foundation USA, and undertook internships with the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Social Development Center in Sokone, Senegal. She received a master’s degree in public administration and M.A. in international relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, with studies abroad in South Africa and at Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey. Ms. Peterson holds a B.A. from Macalester College (St. Paul, Minn.) in international studies, with a minor in French and Francophone studies.

Paul Worden : Senior Program Officer

Paul Worden

Senior Program Officer

Mr. Worden provides multifaceted support for NEF’s programs in the Middle East and Africa focusing on micro-enterprise development, early recovery, and peace-building. Prior to joining the Headquarters staff in 2014, Mr. Worden worked on NEF projects in Rabat, Morocco. Fluent in seven languages, Mr. Worden specializes in Arabic communications and worked previously with International Relief and Development in Jordan. He earned an MA in Linguistics and a CAS in Middle Eastern Affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Mr. Worden is a two time recipient of the U.S. State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in Jordan and Morocco.

Adam Smith : Programme Officer, NEF UK

Adam Smith

Programme Officer, NEF UK

Mr. Smith serves as NEF UK programme officer where he provides programme support to NEF UK managed projects. For over nine years, Mr. Smith's professional career has focused on programme and resource management. Prior to his role at NEF, Mr. Smith worked at DFID, EveryChild, and HelpAge International managing projects across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Mr. Smith holds a MSc in Development Studies from the University of London, with a focus on conflict and economic studies.

Meghan Boesch : Monitoring and Evaluation Officer

Meghan Boesch

Monitoring and Evaluation Officer

Ms. Boesch provides evaluative and data management support to NEF’s natural resource management, livelihoods, conflict mitigation and climate adaption programming across the Middle East and North Africa. Prior to joining NEF, she served as Program Manager at the Amherst, MA-based Karuna Center for Peacebuilding where she focused on co-designing, monitoring and evaluating the organization’s systems-oriented peacebuilding efforts across 4 continents. She holds a M.A. of International Relations and a CAS in Post-Conflict Reconstruction from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, a M.S. of Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague with a concentration in Agricultural and Resource Development, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with concentrations in African Studies and Development Economics.

Jennifer Abdella : Senior Practice Area Lead, Environment, Natural Resources

Jennifer Abdella

Senior Practice Area Lead, Environment, Natural Resources

Ms. Abdella provides strategic and technical leadership in global strategy development, program design, and partnership building related to climate change, the environment, and natural resources. Prior to joining NEF in 2014, Ms. Abdella was an environmental attorney with the law firm Beveridge and Diamond in Washington, D.C. She holds a JD from Vermont Law School, an MS in natural resource ecology and management from the University of Michigan, and a BS in environmental policy and planning from the Univeristy of Michigan.

Shannon Mouillesseaux : Senior Practice Area Lead, Gender and Protection

Shannon Mouillesseaux

Senior Practice Area Lead, Gender and Protection

Ms. Mouillesseaux has 15 years of experience working in the humanitarian and development sectors, including 10 years at the Division for International Protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). During her time at UNHCR, she oversaw the Protection and Community Services programs for asylum-seekers, refugees, internally displaced persons, and the stateless in francophone Africa (Bénin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Djibouti, Niger, Togo) and Sri Lanka and wrote and edited UNHCR Protection policies, handbooks, guidance and other publications at UNHCR Headquarters. In her personal time, she developed an advocacy and support group for UN staff survivors of kidnappings, bombings and related traumatic events that have been increasingly impacting humanitarian staff in the field. At NEF Ms. Mouillesseaux provides strategic and technical support in  program design, proposal development, and strategic partnerships, as well as guidance and support to our country offices, in the areas of Gender and Protection.  

Rachel Bass : Program Development Officer

Rachel Bass

Program Development Officer

Ms. Bass provides support in proposal coordination and program development at NEF, collaborating with the international teams and headquarters staff. She joins NEF with over 10 years of administrative, training, and development experience. In 2015, she received the U.S. State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic in the Sultanate of Oman, and the following summer studied intensive Arabic at the University of Jordan. Ms. Bass holds a B.A. in International Relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University with concentrations in International Political Economy, Human Geography, and a minor in Modern Standard Arabic.

Justin Pritchard : Controller

Justin Pritchard

Controller

Mr. Pritchard oversees the accounting functions of the organization by monitoring and assessing the internal controls of the Foundation. In his role he supports the Chief Financial Officer in implementing effective accounting systems and processes as well as helping in facilitating policy formulation to enhance financial integrity for the organization at the global level. Prior to joining the Near East Foundation, Mr. Pritchard worked as a Senior Auditor at Dannible & McKee and as an Audit Associate at Fust Charles Chambers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and a Master in Business Administration from the State of New York College at Oswego, School of Business.  Mr. Pritchard is a Certified Public Accountant and a Member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and of the New York State Society of Public Accountants.

Jum Lux : Senior Accountant

Jum Lux

Senior Accountant

Ms. Lux works with the CFO and VP of Operations to support NEF's financial management and accounting systems. She joined  NEF in 2012 and brings to her work more 15 years of financial management and accounting experience. Prior to joining NEF, she was associate director of the finance and accounting department of Thailand's largest local non-government organization, the Population and Community Development Association. In this capacity she managed 8 staff members and serviced multiple development programs funded by a broad array of international donors. Ms. Lux is a native of Bangkok, Thailand and received her BS in Accounting and Finance from Ramkhanhaeng University.

Kristin Sheehan : Communications and Development Manager

Kristin Sheehan

Communications and Development Manager

Ms. Sheehan implements communications and outreach efforts focussed on growing and engaging the constituency of NEF supporters and raising awareness of the Foundation’s work. Previously, she worked as a producer in video and animation production, a Communications Specialist for a national health plan provider, and most recently as the Director of Alumni Affairs for Albany Law School. Ms. Sheehan holds a B.S. in Television and Radio with a concentration in Video Production from Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications.

Andrea Crowley : Communications and Development Officer

Andrea Crowley

Communications and Development Officer

Ms. Crowley currently serves as an officer for the communication and development team at NEF. Prior to this role, she worked as a program associate for the Open Society Foundations in their Justice Initiative department and most recently as a community manager for income development at the American Cancer Society. Ms. Crowley holds a M.S. in international law, dispute settlement and human rights advocacy from New York University and a B.S. in human development  from the University of Texas. 

International Leadership

Armenia
Arpine Baghdoyan : Country Director, Armenia

Arpine Baghdoyan

Country Director, Armenia

Ms. Baghdoyan joined the Near East Foundation as Armenia Country Director in 2013. Prior to joining NEF, Ms. Baghdoyan worked as Project Coordinator at the Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce, Anti-Corruption Center. Ms. Baghdoyan has received numerous recognitions for her work against corruption in the public sector, including the prestigious Certificate of Appreciation for Public Activity awarded by the US Ambassador in Armenia and the Certificate of Appreciation for Fighting Corruption awarded by the Prosecutor General of Armenia to honorable citizens. Ms. Baghdoyan holds a master degree in Economics from Gavar State University in Gavar.

Mali/Senegal
Yacouba Dème : Country Director and Regional Program Coordinator, Mali/Senegal

Yacouba Dème

Country Director and Regional Program Coordinator, Mali/Senegal

Mr. Dème joined the Near East Foundation in 1991. He is an internationally recognized expert in rural development and natural resource management. Mr. Dème has spoken about and published an article on poverty reduction in the region of Mopti. He is member of the Mali delegation to the UNFCCC. Mr. Dème holds an MSc in Public Law from the National School of Administration in Bamako.

Morocco
Mahmoud Bchini : Country Director, Morocco/Tunisia

Mahmoud Bchini

Country Director, Morocco/Tunisia

Mr. Bchini joined NEF in 2011 as the organization’s youth development advisor; in 2014 he was named Country Director for Morocco and Tunisia. Prior to joining NEF, Mr. Bchini worked for about 15 years with Oxfam-Canada in various positions. A native of Tunisia, Mr. Bchini has spent most of his life and career in Canada and Morocco. He holds a Diploma in Social Work from the National Institute of Labor and Social Studies in Tunis and several advanced certificates in non-profit management from the University of Quebec.

Palestine
Salah Abu-Eisheh : Country Director, Palestine, and Regional Program Coordinator for the Middle East

Salah Abu-Eisheh

Country Director, Palestine, and Regional Program Coordinator for the Middle East

Mr. Abu-Eisheh joined the Near East Foundation in 2004 as Project Manager. Since 2010 he has served as NEF’s Palestine Country Director and Regional Advisor. Prior to joining the Near East Foundation, Mr. Abu-Eisheh worked as Program Coordinator for the Land-O-Lakes Foundation and as Technical Supervisor for the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture-Veterinary Services. A native of Nablus, Mr. Abu-Eisheh holds an undergraduate degree in agriculture and a master’s in business administration (MBA) from An-Najah National University in Nablus.

Sudan
Musa Gismalla : Country Director, Sudan

Musa Gismalla

Country Director, Sudan

Mr. Gismalla joined the Near East Foundation in 1993 as Finance Manager. He took on progressively more responsibility with NEF-Sudan and, in 2007, Mr. Gismalla was named NEF-Sudan Country Director. Mr. Gismalla oversees the Foundation’s work in Khartoum, Darfur and Kordofan states. Prior to joining NEF, Mr. Gismalla worked for Mobil-Sudan. A native of South Kordofan, he holds a degree in accounting and business administration from the University of Khartoum.