Board of Directors and Staff
Nathaniel Hurd is Policy Advisor for Conflicts and Disasters for World Vision US, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the world. For more than 10 years, he has been working to advance policies and initiatives to improve the humanitarian situation in Iraq. After graduating from Hamilton College with a bachelor’s in international relations, Nathaniel became a researcher and analyst, focused on Iraq issues ranging from public health to economics to disarmament. As a researcher, Nathaniel briefed Congressional staff, UN officials, and media outlets on Iraq policy and its related humanitarian issues. Later he worked for Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee, leading their advocacy and policy on countries in crisis – including Iraq at IRC – to ensure humanitarian needs on the ground were met. On several missions with IRC, Nathaniel met vulnerable Iraqis, in Iraq and in neighboring countries hosting Iraqi refugees, surveyed their situation, and co-authored reports that were shared with the Administration and Congress and were reported on in the press. Nathaniel has a Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Soren Sudhof graduated from Yale University, where he studied Ethics, Politics, and Economics. 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 on Kurdish Iraq, where he spent time in early 2008. His focus has always been the economic aspects of these issues, particularly in relation to natural resources. Currently, Soren is an investment professional at Parthenon Capital Partners, a director for Vianar Affordable Housing, and is active within the Association of Yale Alumni. In the past, he also worked as strategy consultant for Oliver Wyman, the global management consultancy.
Elena McGovern is a Masters degree candidate at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, pursuing degrees in Strategic Studies and International Economics. Prior to entering SAIS, Elena worked for several years at the Stimson Center, a leading international security think tank, focusing on security issues in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. Her work on Iraq included exploring the linkages between Iraqi reconstruction, security, and national reconciliation, and on recent trends in and the future of US-Iraq relations. Elena also traveled to Iraq in 2010 to discuss the future of US-Iraq relations with diverse Iraqi audiences. Other areas of focus include Iran-GCC relations and the regional implications of the Iranian nuclear issue.
Elena is an active member of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP), including previously serving as Vice President for Global Operations, and is a member of the US Institute of Peace’s Youth Advisory Board. She received a B.A. in International Relations from Lehigh University in 2006. Elena speaks Arabic and Spanish.
Mohammed Zakir is the President of Acustrategy, a business and data analytics firm he started in Houston in 2008. In the past he has worked for Charles River Associates and Simon-Kucher & Partners and he founded Silk Route Crafts, a venture to promote fair trade and opportunities for women artisans in Pakistan. Mohammed also started and runs an education scholarship program for inner-city youth in Karachi that raises funds from the Pakistani diaspora in the United States. Mohammed belongs to the Dawoodi Bohra group, a small and culturally distinct sect of Shia Muslims based primarily in Western India. He handles public relations for the group’s Houston Chapter. Mohammed received his undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Economics from Middlebury College and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
A 19-year veteran, Andrew Morton has been an Army officer most of his adult life. During that time, he has served in peace keeping, humanitarian and combat operations throughout the world, including a year in Iraq. Andrew, who now serves as a public affairs officer, worked closely with the Iraqis and the State Department during his tenure in Iraq and witnessed the amazing power of the Iraqi spirit. Andrew worked with international and Pan-Arabic media and the Iraqi Spokesman’s office during his time in Iraq. Like so many veterans, his life was changed by his incredible experience with Iraqis he now calls family. Andrew, and his physician wife, now have dedicated themselves to promoting the cause in Iraq through various channels, and Andrew has proudly served as a member of EPIC’s Board since the summer of 2009. Passionate about the power of communications, Andrew knows how important it is to keep focus on Iraq’s children as Iraq charts its future.
Bilal Wahab is from Iraqi Kurdistan, and is currently a doctoral student at George Mason University where he studies economic and political transition in the petroleum-rich Middle Eastern states. He served as the governance advisor for citizen participation in public decision-making at USAID’s Local Governance Program where he worked with local authorities and civil society organizations in five northern Iraqi provinces to promote transparency and accountability toward democratic governance. Prior to that, he worked for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In the run up to Iraq’s first democratic elections, he worked for the International Republican Institute and the American Development Foundation, where he trained election candidates, monitors and journalists. He also taught at Salahaddin University’s College of Law and Political Science and College of Education, and spoken at numerous campuses across the United States. His most-cited article appeared in Middle East Quarterly, entitled “How Oil Smuggling Greases Violence in Iraq.”
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Erik Gustafson: Executive Director
Erik K. Gustafson founded EPIC in 1998 to improve humanitarian conditions in Iraq and defend the human rights of the Iraqi people. Under his leadership, Gustafson has hosted dozens of policy forums and led humanitarian advocacy on Iraq in Washington DC. In 2008, he organized Iraq Action Days, which helped generate $1.8 billion in funding for war-affected Iraqis and other vulnerable persons worldwide.
From early 2009 to late 2010, Gustafson took a sabbatical from EPIC to spend time in Iraq. Based in Kurdistan Region of Iraq, he directed a $1 million professional development program for Iraqi human rights defenders. Participants included organizations from 9 of Iraq’s 18 provinces including Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Anbar, Kirkuk, and Erbil. Since his return, Gustafson has focused on implementing EPIC’s long-term goal of establishing a summer youth institute to serve young people and educators from around the region. In the near-term, he is working on small, high-impact projects that empower young Iraqis to promote peace and positive social change.
Last year, Gustafson successfully led EPIC’s first youth project in Iraq, the Iraqi Youth Hike, offering a diverse group of young Iraqis from the war-torn city of Kirkuk a chance to get away from the dust and violence and enjoy the great outdoors. Together they hiked mountainous landscapes, cooled off in a swimming hole, saw their first mountain goat and bear captured by a camera trap, and left with unforgettable memories and new friendships.
Gustafson is a U.S. Army veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. Witnessing the consequences of war has fueled his life-long passion for human rights, peacebuilding, and humanitarian work. Following military service, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in Education. While there, Gustafson led the Madison chapter of the East Timor Action Network, supporting East Timor’s right to self-determination. he traveled to Iraq in 1997 and 1999 to investigate the deterioration of humanitarian conditions under Saddam Hussein’s regime and the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever imposed in the history of the United Nations. Gustafson currently resides in Washington DC with his wife, two-year old son, Aussie shepherd, and three cats.
Laura Lundahl: Management Intern
Laura Lundahl joined the EPIC team the first week of the New Year. She has her Bachelor’s Degree in both International Studies and Political Science (with minors in Cultural Studies, History, Philosophy,and French),which she obtained from the University of Minnesota Duluth. While she has a background in international relations, it is with a focus on Europe rather than the Middle East. She is extremely excited to learn more about this region, as well as bring her background and experiences to the EPIC team. One day she hopes to obtain her Master’s Degree in International Health and Developmental Policy.
Lesley Harkins: Management Intern
Lesley Harkins joined the EPIC team in May after finishing up her junior year with a semester abroad in London. This fall, she will return to Boston University to complete her BA in International Relations with concentrations in Foreign Policy and Security Studies and Africa and the Middle East. Lesley is interested in exploring the US’ role in promoting democracy in post-Arab Spring countries, and hopes to write her senior thesis on the topic in the coming academic year. She is very excited to join the EPIC team this summer and continue her working knowledge of Iraq and the region.
Chelsey Mullins: Online Campaign and Communications Intern
Chelsey Mullins joined EPIC in February 2013 after receiving her Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of San Diego. While attending graduate school, Chelsey’s area of study focused on democratization within the MENA region. As part of her curriculum, Chelsey was given the opportunity to attend the 2012 NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bucharest, Romania where she participated in daily hearings on the role of the international community in the Arab Spring. As a part of EPIC, Chelsey hopes to garner a greater knowledge of the region and further her career within the field of international relations.
Ayhan Üçok: Research and Special Projects Intern
Ayhan joined EPIC in February 2013. She is currently a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Affairs with a regional concentration on the Middle East. Ayhan is familiar with Turkish domestic and foreign affairs after studying abroad in Turkey, working with NGOs dealing with Turkey-U.S. relations and having recently returned from a Critical Language Scholarship in Ankara. Through this internship, she is hoping to expand on her knowledge of the Middle East and in her graduate studies she intends to compare democratization patterns across countries in the region.
Farah Rasool: Research and Liaison Intern
Farah Rasool joined the EPIC team in February 2013. She is working towards a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Criminal Justice at Westwood College. Farah was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. She left the country with her family in 2006, and they were relocated to the United States as refugees. She joins EPIC’s team hoping that her experience as a young Iraqi who has been through the war will help the organization with the great journey of empowering youth for a better Iraq.