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.
Mark M. Seaman – Director of Development & Communications
Mark comes to EPIC with over ten years of experience in strategic communications, non-profit fundraising, and humanitarian causes in the United States and other countries. Mark completed a Master of Public Affairs (summa cum laude) and Master of International Affairs at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris and Columbia University in New York, where he focused on countering terrorist recruitment by providing economic opportunity and education – instead of relying on military means alone. While in graduate school, he completed work with the US Embassy in Rabat, Morocco and with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to continuing his education, Mark was responsible for corporate, foundation, and individual giving, public relations, and marketing for one of the nation’s largest AIDS service organizations and was a communications consultant for a DC-based media training firm. He has served on several non-profit boards and is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from the Republic of Niger where his work centered on gender equality and public health. Mark is a 2006 graduate of American University’s School of Public Affairs and is originally from Central Pennsylvania. Mark is committed to EPIC’s mission of building more sustainable, human-centered solutions in Iraq and promoting peace through education around the world.
Ayad Amin – Diaspora Program Assistant
Ayad comes to EPIC with a thorough understanding of Iraq’s potential – and the potential of the Iraqi diaspora living in the United States to help rebuild and reconstruct their homeland. Since he arrived in the U.S. from Iraq in 2006, Ayad has worked with a number of refugee resettlement and other non-profit organizations in the Washington, DC area, including five years with the Iraqi Cultural Center, where he helped promote cultural understanding and campaign to help Iraq retrieve its looted antiquities since 2003. His knowledge and experience in using design, digital media, and other communications to promote peace contributed invaluably to contract work with relief organizations, cultural agencies, state and local courts, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. In 2015, Ayad helped establish Voices for Iraq to assist in Iraq’s redevelopment, share Iraqi culture with the American public, and preserve the country’s heritage for future generations. Ayad has a degree in Architecture and Design from the University of Technology in Baghdad and an Associate Degree in Design and Multimedia. At EPIC, he is responsible for connecting the Iraqi diaspora living in the United States to civil society organizations and institutions in their native Iraq who need their help. Through this effort, Ayad envisions a future for Iraq filled with economic opportunity, cultural understanding, and true democracy.
Matthew Schweitzer – Research Fellow
Matthew has a degree from the University of Chicago in History, specializing in modern Iraqi politics and society. He was previously EPIC’s Program Assistant in 2016-2017. In 2012, he launched an initiative to study the effects of war and violence on Iraq’s university professors and intellectual class. In 2014, he launched a complementary Harvard-funded initiative to examine the intersection of conflict, political development, and cultural heritage following the emergence of ISIS. Matthew has traveled throughout Iraq, and his writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The Hill, World Politics Review, Al Jazeera, Le Monde Diplomatique, Truthout, Small Wars Journal, the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and other outlets. He has worked with the US State Department in Washington, DC, and Abu Dhabi, UAE. In his spare time, he edits the online magazine, Post-War Watch, which collects analysis from leading global experts on social, cultural, and political development in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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, the global management consultancy.
Marion Abboud – Secretary
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.