Headquarters Staff

Dr. Charles Benjamin : President

Dr. Charles Benjamin

President

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.

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 : Senior Vice President of Global Operations

Dr. Simona Ceci

Senior Vice President of Global Operations

Dr. Ceci is an international operations professional with over twenty years of experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She joined NEF in 2013 with an extensive background in cross-border organizational management, compliance and legal affairs. In her current position, Dr. Ceci oversees NEF's global operations including risk, legal affairs and corporate compliance. She is the organization's Chief Compliance Officer. A native of Italy, she has lived and worked extensively in the Middle East, Europe and North America. 

Lezlie Blaski : Global Human Resources Manager

Lezlie Blaski

Global Human Resources Manager

Ms. Blaski 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. Ms. Blaski holds a BS in organizational leadership and received an MBA, specializing in entrepreneurship, from the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.

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.

Jonathan Peters : Senior Programme Officer, NEF UK

Jonathan Peters

Senior Programme Officer, NEF UK

Jonathan Peters coordinates programme 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 programmes, 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.

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. 

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.

Jennica Bramble : Director of Grants and Contracts

Jennica Bramble

Director of Grants and Contracts

Ms. Bramble 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. Ms. Bramble holds an MPA from New York University and a BA in International Studies from American University.

Jennifer Abdella : Director of Climate Resilient Development

Jennifer Abdella

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.

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.

James Murray : Program Officer

James Murray

Program Officer

Mr. Murray 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. He 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.

Andrea Crowley : Director of Partnerships and Philanthropy

Andrea Crowley

Director of Partnerships and Philanthropy

Andrea Crowley currently leads fundraising development, donor engagement, and partnership cultivation at the Near East Foundation with the aim to grow and steward support for the organization and its programs globally. 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 global affairs with a focus on human rights advocacy from New York University and a B.S. in human development from the University of Texas. 

Kayleigh Begley : Senior Communications Officer

Kayleigh Begley

Senior Communications Officer

Kayleigh Begley brings a decade of experience in nonprofit communications and management to Near East Foundation. As senior communications officer, she develops engaging content and creative strategies to reach a wide range of audiences. Prior to joining Near East Foundation in 2019, she managed communications for Social Finance, where she helped pioneer the field of Pay for Success. As a 2014 Pro Journo journalism fellow, she reported on organic solutions in global food production. Ms. Begley holds a dual MPA and MA in Journalism from Indiana University and a BA in environmental studies from Warren Wilson College.

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.

Breanna Ryan : Finance & Budget Analyst

Breanna Ryan

Finance & Budget Analyst

Ms. Ryan collaborates with the Controller, CFO, and international teams to ensure accurate financial reports, records and general ledgers. Prior to joining the Near East Foundation, Ms. Ryan worked as an Internal Audit Manager at ACS Web Design & SEO and as a Staff Accountant at Driver’s Village, Inc. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from the State of New York College at Oswego, School of Business.

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.

Iraq
Kifah Al Shuwaysh : Program Director, Iraq

Kifah Al Shuwaysh

Program Director, Iraq

Mr. Al Shuwaysh has over 20 years of experience in international development and construction project management. Prior to joining Near East Foundation as Iraq Program Director, Mr. Al Shuwaysh worked for International Relief and Development (IRD), serving as chief of party and director of operations. His construction management portfolio includes the development of health clinics in Baghdad and the rehabilitation of water treatment and power plants in Tunisia and Iraq. Mr. Al Shuwaysh earned a Bachelor of Civil Engineering from the University of Baghdad. 

Jordan
Maha Shadid : Country Representative, Jordan

Maha Shadid

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.

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
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.

Sudan
Hasan Al Shammari : Country Director, Sudan

Hasan Al Shammari

Country Director, Sudan

Mr. Al Shammari is Country Director of NEF Sudan. He previously served as Chief of Party for NEF Syria. Mr. Al Shammari has more than 15 years of progressively responsible international development experience in Iraq, South Sudan, Rwanda and Syria. He holds a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering from Baghdad University, a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from St. Clements University, and is a certified Project Management Professional. 

Syria
Mohammed A. El-Turk : Program Director, Syria

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.