Headquarters Staff

Amy Kruse : Director of Communications

Amy Kruse

Director of Communications

Amy develops strategies and directs the execution and implementation of marketing and communications that broaden awareness of the Near East Foundation to a global audience. She also works closely with the philanthropy team to support their fundraising goals. Amy joined NEF in 2022 after holding various marketing and communications roles in entertainment, higher education, politics and public radio. Amy has a bachelor’s degree in English from Le Moyne College and a master’s degree in communications from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Communications.

James Murray : Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager

James Murray

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager

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.

Jami Fancher : Director of Philanthropy

Jami Fancher

Director of Philanthropy

Jami develops the major donor and annual giving strategies at the Near East Foundation. She leads NEF's philanthropy team as they establish relationships with all levels of donors to steward their philanthropy toward fueling organizational impact, innovation and growth. Jami brings a decade of experience in successfully developing fundraising programs focused on impact and transparency. She 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. 

Jay Dietz : Major Gifts Manager

Jay Dietz

Major Gifts Manager

Jay is responsible for raising critical funds that broaden impact and support strategic growth at the Near East Foundation. He joined NEF in 2023 with over 10 years of sales, marketing and business development experience. Prior to his role at NEF, he was the assistant director of development at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs. Jay holds a bachelor’s degree in sport management from Ithaca College and an MBA with concentrations in marketing and finance from Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management.

Jennifer Abdella : Vice President of Technical Leadership

Jennifer Abdella

Vice President of Technical Leadership

Jen works closely with NEF’s global program and business development teams to support program growth, while also furthering NEF’s technical leadership and ensuring the alignment of new programs. She provides strategic and technical leadership in strategy development, program design, partnership building, resource mobilization, learning, and project implementation support across NEF’s global programs. She has supported the growth of NEF programs on climate resilience, adaptation finance, sustainable agriculture and natural resources management, and support for the green economy, including in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Prior to joining NEF in 2014, Jen practiced environmental law, working with US- and internationally-based private sector and local government clients, and also worked as an ecologist.  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.

John Ashby : Co-President

John Ashby


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.

Jonathan Peters :  Program Director

Jonathan Peters

Program Director

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.

Jum Lux : Senior Accountant

Jum Lux

Senior Accountant

Jum works with the Associate VP of Finance 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, Jum 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 eight staff members and serviced multiple development programs funded by a broad array of international donors. Jumis a native of Bangkok, Thailand and received her BS in Accounting and Finance from Ramkhanhaeng University.

Justin Pritchard : Vice President of Finance

Justin Pritchard

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.

Kacy Gardiner : Philanthropy Officer

Kacy Gardiner

Philanthropy Officer

Kacy supports the philanthropy team’s fundraising efforts. She manages the donor database, assists in fundraising events, and executes high-touch donor stewardship practices. Before joining NEF in 2023, Kacy served as associate director of alumni engagement and annual fund at Cazenovia College and has held various other sales and development roles at for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Kacy earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Cazenovia College.

Laurie Cooper : Executive Assistant

Laurie Cooper

Executive Assistant

Laurie works collaboratively with NEF co-presidents and headquarters staff to support the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of the organization. She also provides support to NEF's board of directors in the US, UK and Belgium, as well as several board committees. Laurie has more than twenty years of experience organizing, managing and adjusting to the ever-changing complexities of an administrative office. Prior to joining NEF, Laurie spent over 13 years as the assistant to the president at SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

Lezlie Blaski : Vice President of People

Lezlie Blaski

Vice President of People

Lezlie leads employee development, engagement and retention at NEF, while ensuring the organization has policies and procedures in place to create and support a strong and positive organizational culture that has a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Lezlie has more than 20 years of experience in human resources management, strategic planning, and organizational development across public, private and non-profit sectors. Lezlie holds a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership and an MBA, specializing in entrepreneurship, from the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Lezlie is a Certified Senior Professional in Human Resources.


Louise Martin : Program Officer

Louise Martin

Program Officer

Louise works with field teams in Morocco, Iraq, Sudan and South Sudan to provide coordination and backstopping support for Near East Foundation programs. Prior to joining NEF, Louise worked for Think Equal, a global initiative that seeks to mitigate discrimination and violence through systems change in education, including in refugee contexts. Louise is bi-lingual (English/French) and holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from King’s College London and a master’s degree in religion in global politics from SOAS University.

Rabih Yazbeck : Senior Vice President of Programs and Impact

Rabih Yazbeck

Senior Vice President of Programs and Impact

Rabih leads the development and success of innovative programs at NEF. He has over 25 years of international development experience in the Middle East, Africa, and the 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, Rabih 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. He also was the executive director of the 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 bachelor's degree in civil engineering with specialization in public work from the Lebanese University; a master's degree in IT for e-commerce with a focus on rural development from Sussex University, UK; and a master's degree in social entrepreneurship from Goldsmiths University of London. A native of Lebanon, he now resides in London.

Rachel Bass : Program Officer

Rachel Bass

Program Officer

Rachel works closely with NEF field teams to provide program backstopping support and coordination for diverse sectoral programs in Armenia, Lebanon and Sudan. She joined NEF as an intern in 2014 and became a permanent staff member in 2016, bringing more than 10 years of experience in administration and coordination, staff training and development, and process improvement to the position. In 2015, Rachel received the U.S. State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic in the Sultanate of Oman, and the following summer she 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.


Simona Ceci : Co-President

Simona Ceci


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.

Susmita Hamal : Digital Data Officer

Susmita Hamal

Digital Data Officer

Susmita supports and maintains NEF's cloud-based platforms, which enable NEF to deliver services and manage internal operations. As a member of the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning team (MEL), she also supports data visualization and analysis, and she facilitates the implementation of various MEL activities. Prior to joining the team, Susmita worked in development and the nonprofit sector for eight years for organizations such as The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Child Watabaran Center Nepal (a European Union project), and Governance Facility. Susmita is from Nepal and has a degree in data science from the University of Gloucestershire, UK, and a degree in development studies from Kathmandu University, Nepal.

Tsionawit Gebre-Yohannes : Program Manager

Tsionawit Gebre-Yohannes

Program Manager

Tsionawit coordinates program support and contributes to program growth across the Middle East and Africa, working closely with institutional donors and field teams. Prior to joining NEF, she worked for international NGOs on program design and operational delivery of large international donor-funded programs across East and North Africa. Tsionawit has extensive experience in humanitarian and development assistance to displacement-affected communities with technical specializations in refugee protection, education, livelihoods and social inclusion programming. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and arts from the University of Tasmania and a master of public policy degree from the University of Oxford. 

Willow Faulkner : Business Development Coordinator

Willow Faulkner

Business Development Coordinator

Willow works across departments to support program development and the development of funding proposals to support the work NEF does across the Caucus, Middle East, and North Africa. She spent two years in Guatemala as a Global Studies teacher before returning to the international development sector. Before this, Willow spent two and half years in Ghana supporting communications and grant development for education, child protection, livelihoods, and anti-child trafficking initiatives with Pencils of Promise and Challenging Heights. Willow holds a B.A. with dual majors in International Relations and Citizenship and Civic Engagement from Syracuse University. She also has a Certificate of Advanced Study in Conflict Resolution and a Master's in Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. 

International Leadership

Imran Bashir : Country Director, Iraq

Imran Bashir

Country Director, Iraq

Imran provides technical and operational leadership to teams in Iraq, Syria and Sudan, developing and implementing inclusive economic growth and finance, agribusinesses, humanitarian response, MSMEs development, CSO support and social programs. He has 20+ years of international development experience in the Middle East and Asia managing large-scale, multi-million-dollar projects funded by USAID, FCDO, ADB, ENI, SDC, and the US State Department. Imran holds an MS/MPhil degree in management sciences, an MSc in Agriculture, a diploma in human resource management, and a certificate in results-based management, monitoring and evaluation. 

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.

Ziad Kmeid : Country Representative, Lebanon

Ziad Kmeid

Country Representative, Lebanon

Mr. Ziad Kmeid is a professional in International Humanitarian Development with more than 15 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.

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 responsible for strategic planning, program development and fundraising for programs in Mali. He oversees the implementation of NEF’s agricultural development projects, which focuses on natural resource management, rural credit, community capacity building, and information and communications. Mr. Dème has over 35 years of experience in rural development and is an internationally recognized expert in climate change adaptation and natural resource management. He is a member of the Mali delegation to the UNFCCC, leveraging his grassroots experience with rural communities to influence the highest levels of national and international policy. Mr. Dème lends his vast experience to other development initiatives, including serving as a socioeconomic specialist for the resettlement of affected populations in Mali within the framework of MCA’s (Millennium Challenge Account) Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) and as the social and environmental impact specialist for the MCC-Mali Bamako airport expansion and Alatona irrigation projects. He holds an MSc in Public Law from the National School of Administration in Bamako.

Abdelkhalk Aandam : Country Representative, Morocco

Abdelkhalk Aandam

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.