Simona Ceci has served as Co-President of the Near East Foundation (NEF) since 2022, providing overall leadership for NEF in partnership with her colleague John Ashby. Simona joined NEF in 2013, and prior to rising to Co-President served as Senior Vice President of Global Operations. She has an extensive and diverse background in international operations management, government relations and legal affairs, holding key roles in the public and private sector before joining NEF. This experience combined with her time spent living and working in the field has contributed to supporting NEF’s growth over the past decade, including leading NEF’s expansion into new geographies (i.e., Syria, Iraq, South Sudan) and supporting the design and operationalization of innovative programs in complex settings. And while Simona takes great pride in her work, she considers her highest achievement being the proud mother of her two children.
John Ashby has served as Co-President of the Near East foundation (NEF) since 2022, providing overall leadership for NEF in partnership with his colleague Simona Ceci. Mr. Ashby joined NEF in 2012, and prior to rising to Co-President served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. His leadership in finance, organizational development, and strategic planning helped to shepherd NEF into a period of strategic growth and a position of long-term financial sustainability. Prior to joining NEF, Mr. Ashby worked in the private sector where he held leadership positions in business development and finance for an international manufacturing company with headquarters in Central New York, and as Managing Director for a privately held company in Bristol, England. He holds an MBA from SUNY Oswego, a CAS in Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, and a BSME from the Rochester Institute of Technology. John resides in Syracuse, NY and cherishes time and adventures with his wife and two adult-aged children.
Vice President of Programs
Rabih has over 25 years of international development experience in the Middle East, Africa, and Caucasus with expertise in program design, strategic planning, donor engagement, revenue and resource mobilization, learning capture and program management in complex and fragile settings. Prior to rejoining NEF in 2012, he worked for NEF's Regional Offices in Cairo and Amman, where he worked on multi-million dollar social and economic development programs in six countries in the Middle East. Rabih also was the Executive Director of HCI Middle East region where he was responsible for developing and managing over 70 innovative, quick-impact interventions to address socio-economic issues in post-conflict zones. Rabih holds a B.Sc. in civil engineering with specialization 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.
Associate Vice President of Finance
Justin 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, Justin 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. Justin 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.
Director Human Resources
Lezlie oversees NEF's US and international-based human resources to ensure the Foundation’s organizational capabilities continue to support a diverse workforce capable of meeting the evolving needs of the organization. She has more than 15 years of experience in human resources management, strategic planning, and organizational development across public, private, and non-profit sectors. Lezlie holds a BS in organizational leadership and received an MBA, specializing in entrepreneurship, from the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.
Director of Climate Resilient Development
Ms. Abdella provides strategic and technical leadership in global strategy development, program design, and partnership building related to climate change, the environment, sustainable agriculture and natural resources management. Prior to joining NEF in 2014, Ms. Abdella practiced environmental law with the Washington D.C. based firm Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., where she worked with US- and internationally-based private sector and local government clients. She holds a JD from Vermont Law School, an MS in resource ecology and management from the University of Michigan, and a BS in environmental policy and planning from the University of Michigan.
Director of Grants and Contracts
Jennica has over a decade of experience working in the international development and nonprofit sectors. In her current position, she provides guidance and expertise in grants and contracts management for NEF's diverse portfolio of projects. Prior to joining NEF, she held various roles in compliance, program implementation, and policy development for USAID in Washington, DC and offices overseas. Jennica holds an MPA from New York University and a BA in International Studies from American University.
Major Gifts Manager
Jami manages donor engagement with individuals, foundations and companies looking to make a lasting impact on NEF’s beneficiary communities. She joins NEF with over 8 years of successful fundraising experience leading growth and innovation in nonprofit organizations. In her role as Major Gifts Manager, Jami works with a variety of donors to steward their philanthropy toward fueling organizational impact, innovation, and growth. Jami holds a B.A. in Public Affairs with a specialization track in nonprofit management and a minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies at The Ohio State University.
Jonathan coordinates Program support and development across Caucuses, Middle East and the Sahel. Working closely with institutional donors and field teams, he supports the design and implementation of private sector, civil society, and stabilization programs, and has led the design and roll-out of project management tools and guidance across country operations. Prior to joining NEF UK, Jonathan managed policy research and innovation initiatives at UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States, working closely with private sector, government, and UN agencies in response to the Syria crisis. He also previously managed governance and economic growth programming across the Middle East for Global Partners Governance and FHI 360. Jonathan holds a BA in Politics and Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, a MSc in Development Studies from London School of Economics, and was a 2015 CBRL Arabic Scholar.
Program Manager for Innovative Finance
Hayley supports the design and implementation of NEF's innovative financing programmes, with particular focus on the Refugee Livelihoods Development Impact Bond in Jordan and Lebanon. Prior to joining NEF UK, Hayley worked at Instiglio managing the design of multi-million dollar Results Based Financing projects to improve social and economic outcomes across Sub Saharan Africa. She was previously selected as an ODI Fellow and placed in Zanzibar's Ministry of Health where she was responsible for building the capacity of the health financing team. Hayley has a Bachelors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Cape Town and a Masters in Specialized Economic Analysis from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
Senior Program Officer
James provides multifaceted support for NEF's programs, focusing primarily on monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) and project management. Prior to joining NEF, he undertook an internship with the United Nations Development Program in Geneva, Switzerland where he supported the implementation and management of public health grants to combat AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. James holds a B.A. in French language from St. John Fisher College as well as an M.A. in International Relations from Syracuse University, with Certificates of Advanced Study in Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Conflict Resolution.
Rachel works closely with NEF field teams to provide program backstopping support and coordination for diverse sectoral programs in Armenia, Lebanon, and South Sudan. Rachel joined NEF as an intern in 2014 and as a permanent staff member in 2016 with over 10 years of experience in administration and coordination, staff training and development, and process improvement. 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 in Amman. Rachel holds a B.A. in International Relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University with concentrations in International Political Economy and Human Geography, and a minor in Modern Standard Arabic.
Awards and Compliance Officer
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.
Dr. Charles Benjamin
President of the Near East Foundation (NEF) since 2010, Dr. Charles Benjamin provides overall leadership for a 105-year-old international development organization with programs in the Middle East, Africa, and Caucasus. Dr. Benjamin has more than 30 years of experience in international development, with extensive experience in livelihoods and natural resource management in the Middle East, North Africa and West Africa. He began his affiliation with NEF 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 International Resources Group, an international development consulting firm based in Washington DC, and a Professor of International Environment Issues at Williams College in Williamstown, MA. He holds a Ph.D. in Natural Resources and Environment from the University of Michigan, with a dissertation on livelihoods, natural resources, and policy change in Mali.
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.
Country Representative, Jordan
Dr. Maha Shadid has managed national and community-based development, empowerment, and civic programming in the areas of health, protection, education, gender-based violence, community-based rehabilitation, emergencies, and capacity building for NGOs and CBOs.
Dr. Shadid has over 5 years of experience working on and contributing to emergency programming in Jordan with ADRA International, Save the Children, and UNICEF during the first and second Gulf Crises. In addition to working for NEF and other international organizations, she has partnered with national NGOs, local authorities and ministries, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA, and USAID-funded projects. She has extensive professional development experience in private sector partnerships, management, strategic thinking, planning and leadership, gender, youth, and human rights-based programming.
Country Representative, Lebanon
Mr. Ziad Kmeid is a professional in International Humanitarian Development with more than 12 years of experience in this field. Prior to serving as Country Representative for the Near East Foundation in Lebanon, Mr. Kmeid worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Mauritania, Yemen, and South Sudan. Holder of a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Saint Joseph University (USJ) in Beirut, Mr. Kmeid started off his career in Lebanon with World Vision International, before joining the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) where he first worked with Palestinian refugee youth in one of the most volatile Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and later coordinated the DRC Emergency Response Program for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and then in Turkey. As the head of NEF office in Lebanon today, Mr. Kmeid oversees and coordinates programs across the country related to inclusive economic development – working with both vulnerable Lebanese and refugees with a focus on women and youth.
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.
Country Representative, Morocco
Mr. Aandam has 20 years of experience in business management and business development as well as education, local governance, sustainable development, and the management of agriculture and natural resource projects. He has worked extensively in Morocco on civic-action for young people and mobilizing public and private partnerships on the national, regional, and local levels.
Program Director Sudan
Ban joined the NEF foundation in September 2021 with over 18 years of international development experience leading USAID and other donor-funded programs in conflict, transitional, and volatile environments. Her work in the Middle East and Africa includes Burundi, Egypt, Guinea Iraq, Jordan, Somalia, and the West Bank. She holds experience in achieving project indicators and objectives through a structured team building and communication processes with project team, donors, and stakeholders; promoting sustainable development through strengthening partnerships with civil society and government actors to respond to identified community concerns. Ban holds an M.A in Advanced Arab Studies from Georgetown University and a B.A. in International Studies from George Mason University. She if fluent in both English and Arabic and proficient in French.
Mohammed A. El-Turk
Program Director, Syria
Mr. El-Turk has more than 15 years of nonprofit and private sector experience in multicultural, conflict, and post-conflict environments in the Middle East, including in Jordan, Iraq, and Syria. Prior to assuming the position of Program Director, he served as Deputy Chief of Party and Area Manager for NEF in Syria. Mr. El-Turk has designed, implemented, and provided leadership for humanitarian and emergency response projects focused on livelihoods, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), national reconciliation and dialogue, disaster risk reduction, youth empowerment, civil society empowerment, the rights of people with disabilities (PWDs), protection, and conflict resolution. Mr. El-Turk holds BSc and MSc degrees in Business Administration.