Erik Gustafson – Executive Director
Erik K. Gustafson is Executive Director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), an organization he founded in 1998. Gustafson is a U.S. Army veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. Witnessing the consequences of war has fueled a life-long passion for peacebuilding, human rights work and humanitarian advocacy. Following his military service, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in education. While there, he led the Madison chapter of the East Timor Action Network, supporting East Timor’s right to self-determination. In 1997 and 1999, he traveled to Iraq 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. In 1998, Gustafson moved to Washington DC and established EPIC to improve humanitarian conditions and promote human rights in Iraq. 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 the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, he worked with DePaul University’s International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI), directing a countrywide 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 from Iraq, Gustafson has focused on implementing EPIC’s new strategic plan of research, advocacy, and field work to serve civil society throughout Iraq.
Elizabeth Tsurkov – Development and Communications Manager
Elizabeth Tsurkov is the Development and Communications Manager at EPIC. She directs EPIC’s fundraising, communication and outreach efforts. Elizabeth earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and media at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University and another Master’s degree in Political Science at the University of Chicago. Elizabeth has a decade of experience researching the Middle East and working for human rights NGOs and conflict mitigation organizations in the Middle East. Her human rights work included advocating for the rights of Palestinians, refugees and migrants, as well as ethnic, religious and sexual minorities in the Middle East. Elizabeth is a Research Fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, a progressive Israeli think-tank, where her research focuses on Syria. Elizabeth’s research interests include movement for social change in the Middle East, sectarianism, conflict and communal reconciliation in the Middle East. She speaks Hebrew, English, Russian and Arabic.
Francesca Gasparella – Program Associate
Francesca Gasparella is a Program Associate at EPIC. She manages EPIC’s internship program and our research team, including overseeing the weekly publication of the Iraq Humanitarian and Security Monitor (ISHM), while also supporting other program areas. Francesca earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Africa Studies at the University Ca’ Foscari in Venice, Italy, where she focused her curriculum on the Middle East. She has a Master’s Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Strasbourg, France, where she completed a thesis about the language of Chaldean minorities in Northeastern Iraq. During her academic career, Francesca spent time living in the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Jordan. She is fluent in Italian, English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
Matthew Keller – Country Representative
Matthew Keller is EPIC’s official representative in Iraq. He facilitates EPIC’s efforts to provide relief to vulnerable populations, connects EPIC’s advocacy and research to the voices and stories on the ground, and represents EPIC to key partners and stakeholders in Iraq. Matthew has spent over a decade in public service, both in the military and diplomatic services, and has experience working with foreign governments and civil society from around the world. He earned a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School, concentrating in International Security and U.S. Foreign Policy and a Bachelor of Science from the U.S. Naval Academy. Matthew is an Atlantic Council Veterans Take Point Fellow.
Board of Directors
Sören Südhof – President
Sören Südhof is President of EPIC’s Board of Directors and a technology investor at Maverick Capital. 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. Previously, he was an investment professional at Parthenon Capital Partners, a director for Vianar Affordable Housing, and a strategy consultant for Oliver Wyman.
Dennis Eóghan Clancey – Vice President
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.
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.
Zeena Abdul-Rahman – Secretary
Zeena Abdul-Rahman is a Senior Counsel in the Division of Investment Management of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. 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.
Marion Abboud’s work focuses on the world’s most vulnerable populations, including women and children, internally displaced persons and refugees, and the extreme poor. She is currently living in Iraq where she serves as an Education and Livelhoods Program Manager for Catholic Relief Services. This is Marion’s second time living in Iraq, as she previously worked at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani (AUIS) where she designed, launched, and led the university’s first think tank: the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS). In her development career, Marion has also worked for Women’s Campaign International (WCI), a US-based international NGO that focuses on gender development in conflict and post-conflict zones. Marion took a lead role in the design, implementation, and management of WCI’s first Middle East/North Africa-wide women’s leadership program. She has a Masters in Global Human Development from Georgetown University, where she specialized in Education and Human Capital and Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. She speaks French, Spanish, and Arabic.
Yasmeen Alamiri is an Iraqi-American journalist covering foreign politics and policy in Washington, DC. She covered the White House for several years and has written extensively on the war in Iraq and American foreign policy. She received her undergraduate from James Madison University and her Master’s Degree from American University in journalism. She has long been interested in the cultural and economic implications of war. She travels often to southern Iraq to visit her family, as well as the across the greater Middle East and Europe. Her work has been published in both domestic US media outlets and publications across the globe.
Taif 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.
Peter Kjeldgaard is a business development manager at Opower, a tech startup that combines data analytics and behavioral science to help energy utilities save energy and become trusted advisors to their customers. In the past, Peter worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, consulting for US government agencies, and as a high school teacher. After moving on from teaching, he also spent time as a tutor and mentor for high school students in Washington, DC. Peter holds a M.A. in International Trade & Investment Policy from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, and a B.A. in history from Yale University.
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.
David 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.
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.