Our Team – (Previous)
ERIK GUSTAFSON – EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Erik K. Gustafson (@epicEKG) is the founder and executive director of Enabling Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), overseeing the administration, programs, and strategic plan of the organization. Erik is a U.S. Army veteran and social entrepreneur, focusing on peacebuilding, human rights, and humanitarian affairs. Following his military service, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in education. While there, he led the Madison and Midwest chapters of the East Timor Action Network, supporting East Timor’s right to self-determination. In 1997, after traveling to investigate deteriorating conditions in Ba’athist Iraq under comprehensive economic sanctions, Erik established EPIC to advocate for the human rights and humanitarian needs of ordinary Iraqis. Over the years, he has hosted dozens of policy forums, organized coalitions and working groups, and served as a leading advocate for Iraq’s peace and development. While residing in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq from 2009 to 2010, he directed a countrywide training program for Iraqi human rights defenders, and in 2013, he authored a case study of human rights defenders in Sudan. From 2014 to 2017, Erik led Soccer Salam, an EPIC partnership with the Iraq Health Access Organization and other humanitarian groups that successfully delivered emergency assistance to more than 60,000 Iraqis displaced or under siege by ISIS. Since 2018, Erik has overseen an expansion of EPIC’s programming in Iraq through projects with USAID and IOM, and the opening of a field office in Erbil. He has written for the Middle East Institute, Fikra Forum, The Hill, and The Progressive, and has appeared on the PBS NewsHour, BBC World, AlHurra, and other media outlets.
OMAR AL-NIDAWI – DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS
Omar Al-Nidawi (@omar_nidawi) is the director of programs at EPIC, developing and overseeing the organization’s research and monitoring programs. He is a guest lecturer on Iraq’s modern history and politics at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, a Truman National Security Fellow, and a long-time Iraq analyst, focusing on energy, political, and security affairs. In his native Iraq, Omar was a pioneer of internet journalism and a strong advocate for freedom of expression, earning recognition by World PC Magazine in 2007 as one of the “50 most important people on the web.” His reports and articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, War on the Rocks, and various other publications. He earned his B.D.S. from Baghdad University and his M.I.A. from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
MOHAMMED KHALIL – COUNTRY REPRESENTATIVE
Mohammed Khalil is EPIC’s country representative in Iraq, directing the organization’s field work and connecting EPIC’s research and advocacy with key partners and stakeholders in Iraq. Mohammed has nearly two decades of experience in civil society, development, governance, human rights, and democracy building in Iraq and the Middle East. He has served as a consultant to many local and international organizations, including United Nations agencies. Mohammed is an alumnus of the International Visitor Program of the U.S. Department of State, and a participant in the EU’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Over the years, he has authored and contributed to reports, studies, and articles on Iraq and Middle East issues for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, openDemocracy, The Jordan Times, and numerous other agencies and outlets. Mohammed holds a master’s degree in political science from the Middle East University and a bachelor of economics from the University of Jordan.
Halwest farhad – project officer
Halwest joined EPIC in August 2020 as a Project Officer in Iraq. He supports the development and execution of project concepts, strategies, implementation plans, activities, and work reports. He also provides technical support for video planning, production, and marketing for creative video projects. Halwest was born and raised in Erbil, Iraq. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Cihan/Erbil.
Board of Directors
ZEENA ABDUL-RAHMAN – PRESIDENT
Zeena Abdul-Rahman is President of EPIC’s Board of Directors. She is a Senior Counsel in the Division of Investment Management of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In this position, Zeena provides legal advice and guidance on a wide range of policy matters involving the regulation of investment advisers and investment funds, including private funds, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. Prior to joining the government, Zeena was an Associate at a law firm in Washington, DC, where she worked primarily on assisting mutual fund boards satisfy their fiduciary duties as well as their various compliance obligations. Zeena also co-chaired the firm’s immigration pro bono program and helped resettle several Iraqi immigrant families in the United States. Originally from Iraq, Zeena lived in Saudi Arabia and Iraq before moving to United States to complete her education. She earned a Juris Doctor from the George Washington University Law School and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tennessee. Zeena is licensed to practice law in the State of New York and the District of Columbia.
KATE PHILLIPS-BARRASSO – VICE PRESIDENT
Kate Phillips-Barrasso is the Director of Humanitarian Policy at InterAction. In this capacity she helps lead the NGO community’s efforts to secure policies for improved humanitarian response and represents the experience and views of InterAction’s members in both U.S. and international humanitarian policy fora. Prior to joining InterAction, Kate served as the Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). At the IRC, she guided work to draw the attention of policy makers to global humanitarian needs, led advocacy efforts for policy change to better assist people forced to flee war and disaster and oversaw the organization’s relations with the U.S. Congress, Executive Branch and other NGOs. Kate also worked for several years as a Senior Policy Advisor with CARE, leading the organization’s policy and advocacy efforts on a number of humanitarian and development issues. Kate is a Truman National Security Project Fellow and served as a Council on Foreign Relations Term Member. She holds a Master’s in International Development Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs and a Bachelor of Science from the University of California, Berkeley in Conservation of Natural Resources in Developing Countries.
HUSSEIN AL BAYA – TREASURER
Hussein Al Baya is an investor at Valinor Management, an investment firm based in New York managing approximately $3 billion in assets. Previously, he was on the investments teams at Bain Capital Credit and the Principal Investment Area of Goldman Sachs, and started his career in the Investment Banking Division of Credit Suisse. During graduate school, Hussein also served as an adviser to the Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq based in Baghdad. Prior to joining EPIC’s board, Hussein was a co-founder and a director of Rally for Iraq, a not-for-profit organization that established a scholarship endowment for Iraqi students to pursue undergraduate and graduate studies in the United States. Hussein earned a Bachelor of Science, with University and College Honors, from Carnegie Mellon University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
DAVID SLATER – SECRETARYDavid Slater has been interested in the Middle East since 2005, when he joined the U.S. Army. During his time of service, David studied Arabic at the Defense Language Institute and deployed to Iraq twice, in 2008 and in 2011. While deployed, he worked closely with Iraqi civilians, witnessing first-hand the utter devastation which surrounded them, and decided that he was going to do something to help improve their situation. To that end, after returning to the U.S., he finished junior college then studied International Relations at U.C. Davis. In the summer of 2013, David participated in the University of California Washington D.C program, during which he interned at EPIC and was instrumental in creating the “Iraq Matters” podcast. Currently, David is working as a Caseworker for the International Rescue Committee in Sacramento, where he helps resettle many Iraqi refugees and SIVs.
DENNIS EÓGHAN CLANCEY
Dennis Eóghan Clancey oversees support of all disaster operations at Team Rubicon, an international, veteran-based disaster response non-profit. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from the University of Colorado. Prior to joining Team Rubicon, Dennis was a stand-out operations leader at Amazon in Europe and North America. He has spent time as a successful entrepreneur and award-winning documentary filmmaker. Dennis traces his interest in Iraq to when he was stationed there as an infantry platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division, 2005-2006 – an experience that fuels his support of EPIC’s mission.
TAIF JANYTaif Jany was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. At age 16, he fled the sectarian civil conflict in the country and sought refuge in Damascus, Syria. Taif arrived in the United States to attend Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he studied sociology and French. Currently, Taif serves as the Policy Coordinator at the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network, where he manages nationwide projects to effectively impact policy on the state and local levels of government. Taif also provides one-on-one public policy support to over 1,200 elected officials nationwide. From 2013 to 2016, Taif worked at EPIC, supporting day-to-day operations and helping to design, manage, and evaluate on-the-ground projects in Iraq, including Soccer Salam. Taif also helped oversee the Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor (ISHM), EPIC’s weekly report tracking and analyzing the latest security, humanitarian, and political developments in Iraq. Prior to EPIC, Taif’s experience includes work at the United Nations and internships with Congressional Quarterly, the Arab American Institute, and the office of Congressman Keith Ellison. As an Iraqi immigrant living in the United States, and because of his life experiences, Taif understands, believes in, and values the impact of EPIC’s work in creating long-lasting positive change in Iraq and the region.
Gheed Saeed is an Iraqi American digital marketing strategist. Gheed’s work on behalf of the Middle East started at the University of California, Davis. There, she was a founding sister of the Empowered Arab Sisterhood (Epsilon Alpha Sigma, Inc), the first and only Arab sorority in the nation. As Vice President of the organization, Gheed has overseen the growth of the organization and the sorority’s annual fundraising efforts on behalf of the Kayany Foundation to build classrooms for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. After earning her undergraduate degree in Communication at the University of California, Davis, Gheed launched her career at Apple. At Apple’s App Store, she was instrumental in the launch of the new Mac App Store and multiple iOS launches. Gheed pivoted from the technology sector to beauty, and is now based in New York City working in Strategy and Operations on behalf of cosmetic pharmaceutical giant Allergan Aesthetics, the maker of BOTOX Cosmetic. Gheed is founder of Single Arab Female, a content hub aimed at helping Arab American women bridge the gap between their dual identities and make sense of growing up Arab in America. Gheed brings her communication prowess and innovative digital strategies to the EPIC board to help build a better Iraq.
Sören Südhof is a technology investor at Maverick Capital. Previously, Sören was an investment professional at Parthenon Capital Partners, a director for Vianar Affordable Housing, and a strategy consultant for Oliver Wyman. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Ethics, Politics, and Economics from Yale University and his MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he was an Arjay Miller Scholar and the winner of the Robichek Award. At Yale, as a Richard U. Light Fellow, Georg Walter Leitner Fellow, and Fox International Fellow, he explored religious political conflict across Asia and the Middle East, focusing in particular on India and Iraq. Sören joined EPIC’s Board of Directors in June 2012 and served as Board President from 2012 to 2019.
Bilal Wahab, PhD, is from Iraqi Kurdistan where he is a faculty member at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). At AUIS, he teaches classes on petroleum policy and international politics. He was AUIS’s first research fellow at the Institute of Regional and International Studies. He completed his PhD at George Mason University’s (GMU) School of Public Policy, where he studied patronage networks, economic and political transition, and Iraq’s petroleum policy. While at GMU, he was the managing editor of Foreign Policy Bulletin for two years. He received a Master’s Degree from American University on a Fulbright Scholarship. He also taught at Salahaddin University’s College of Law and Political Science and College of Education in Iraq, and has spoken at numerous campuses and think tanks across the US, Europe and Iraq.