Soliya’s team is made up of a diverse group of talented and committed individuals from around the world.
Shamil Idriss, Chief Executive Officer
Mr. Idriss served as Executive Director of the Alliance of Civilizations Media Fund which merged with Soliya in 2009. In 2005 he was appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Deputy Director of the Alliance of Civilizations. He served on the Steering Committee of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100 Leaders and as COO of Search for Common Ground, a global conflict resolution organization. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and of the ASMA Society’s Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow.
Lucas Welch, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer
Prior to his work with Soliya, Lucas was a producer for ABC News working with Peter Jennings. He taught media at Birzeit University, and conducted research at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Lucas is a TED Fellow, an Echoing Green Fellow, and a “Global Expert” for the UN Alliance of Civilizations.
Fahad Ahmad, Chief Operating Officer
Fahad holds his MBA with a specialization in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from the Schulich School of Business at York University, Canada. Fahad's commitment to social justice and peace-building has seen him engage with organizations in the US and Canada focusing on promoting social justice and diffusing identity conflicts. He has worked in advocacy, event planning, and strategy development for nonprofits. Fahad also has eight years’ experience in the high-tech sector in North America and he has led dynamic engineering teams through time-sensitive projects. Fahad grew up in the Middle East and holds a BS and MS in Computer Engineering from India and the US respectively.
Waidehi Gokhale, Director - Organizational Development and Volunteer Engagement
Having lived, studied and worked in the United Kingdom, India, South East Asia and North America, Waidehi believes firmly in the power of effective cross cultural exchange. She has several years of experience working in the fields of psychology and development with a focus on the impact of conflict on children and youth. Prior to joining Soliya, Waidehi worked as an International Projects Manager with War Child Canada, as a counselor on staff for two high schools in the Greater Boston Area and as an English Language Teacher in South East Asia. She has a BA in Literature & Philosophy, an MA in Counseling Psychology and an MA in Law & Diplomacy.
Salma Elbeblawi, Director - Connect Program
Salma has several years of experience in the field of community development. Prior to her work with Soliya Salma has engaged in several regional initiatives across the Middle East and North Africa, including Safar Youth Mobility Fund and Naseej, a Community Youth Development Initiative. She has worked at the Ford Foundation, the Canadian International Development Agency, Population Council, and the Arab Education Forum. Salma is deeply committed to youth empowerment and has a special interest in the use of art for youth development. Salma did her undergraduate studies at the American University in Cairo and received an MPH from Boston University.
Soha Gad, Director - Partnerships, MENA
Prior to her role at Soliya , Soha has over twenty years’ worth of leadership and managerial experience. She was a Manager at Mobinil where she led critical projects and has held many strategy and senior management roles at such companies as EGID, EBIC and Sales Tax Administration to name a few. Her immense passion to dialogue, social cohesion and social development brought her to Soliya in 2009 and she is advising several initiatives and local NGOs in Egypt such as Nabny Foundation, Hamlet Sout, Rahama Charity & Sohbet Kheir, and she is serving on the advisory board of the 1MDream project, a mega project run by a network of local NGOs in Egypt.
Adham Ahmed, Assistant - Operations
Adham was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. He is currently studying at the Faculty of Commerce in Ain Shams University. Prior to joining Soliya, he was involved with several local NGOs like Nahdet El-Mahrousa. Adham had an active role in establishing The Federation of Egyptian Youths NGO, which allowed youth organizations to collaborate and share resources in order to achieve their missions. Adham believes in the importance of dialogue between youth from around the world, and he is diligently learning the English language to discuss culture and sports with English-speaking visitors to Egypt.
Callie Wallace, Coordinator - Connect Program
Callie was born in Houston, TX and has lived in Dubai, UAE; Moscow, Russia; St. Louis, MO; and Cairo, Egypt. Callie graduated from Washington University with a BA in International Studies and Arabic, and has studied Arabic at Washington University, Middlebury College, and the American University in Cairo. After graduating, Callie spent a summer working at Legacy International's Global Youth Village, a international cross-cultural and peacebuilding program. Prior to joining Soliya, Callie worked at Meridian International Center, a cultural exchange organization in Washington, DC, and the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.
Claudia Maffettone, Officer - Network Program
Claudia Maffettone has worked as a consultant for NGOs in the development and implementation of projects and programming. She has been working in the field of intercultural dialogue with NGOs in the UN system and in several youth projects of the European Commission and the Council of Europe. In the past ten years she has served on the boards of different international networks, including the World Federation of UN Associations, the YMCA and the International Synergy Network. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and Diplomacy with a focus on the Middle East and has attended several mediation and conflict resolution trainings, including the Program on Negotiation Seminar at Harvard Law School and the New York Peace Institute mediation training.
Deena Ramadan, Officer - Training and Facilitation
An Egyptian-American born and raised in Staten Island, New York, Deena moved back to Cairo with her family to finish high school and begin her university education. In June 2008, she graduated from the American University in Cairo (AUC) with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a specialization in Public International Law. At AUC Deena was very active, holding various delegate and secretariat positions in the National and Cairo Model United Nations, as well as the Model Arab League. Prior to working with Soliya, Deena was an Economic Researcher for the Trade-Related Assistance Center at the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt.
Diaa Nashed, Manager - Operations
Diaa was born and raised in Egypt. After graduating from The Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University and serving as a medical officer in the Egyptian Army for two years, he felt the call to shift directions in life. Diaa obtained a BA from Ain Shams University, and recently earned an MBA from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Diaa brings more than ten years of experience in Operations to the Soliya team. He was the Operations Manager at Gateway Travel and then he served as the Assistant Director of the Middle East Studies Program, which offers American university students a study abroad program in Cairo and includes educational travel within Egypt and the Middle East. Diaa has also been an active volunteer at several Egyptian NGOs.
Heather Harkess, Officer - Connect Program
Heather earned her BA in Sociology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and her Master’s Degree in Violence, Conflict, and Development with a minor in Modern Standard Arabic from The School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Her interest in exploring culture and identity has led her to living abroad and driven her to promote co-existence and a sustainable peace through dialogue. In addition to her lifelong dedication to cultural understanding, she practices yoga and dance and is trained to facilitate dance and movement as a means of self-expression, healing, and cultivating connections. Heather believes sustainable peace is possible if we equip youth with tools that inspire positive agency, a voice, and engage them in meaningful cross-cultural dialogue.
Henry Shepherd, Coordinator - Network Program
Henry was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and received an A.B. in Political Science from Brown University in 2008. At Brown, he was a leader of Strait Talk, a recently-founded initiative to foster youth dialogue about the Taiwan Strait issue. Henry continues to serve on the Board of Directors for Strait Talk’s non-profit organization, which advises three student-led chapters in the United States and China. Prior to entering Brown, he held a one-year internship as a reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper. Henry's interests include online media, social entrepreneurship, the former Soviet republics, and exploring New York City. And baseball.
Katja Riikonen, Senior Officer - Training and Facilitation
Originally from Finland, Katja traveled, studied and worked abroad for several years. She spent a number of those years living in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan. Katja's academic background is in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies. After completing her Master's Degree in International Conflict Analysis, she worked for the Finnish Foreign Office and as an intercultural mediator, university lecturer, and researcher. In addition to working at Soliya, Katja completed a Ph.D. in the Peace Studies Department at the University of Bradford, UK, where her research focused on sectarian conflicts in Pakistan.
Lily Hanson, Officer - Finance
Brought up in a small community in Northern California, Lily’s first experience with an international community came in high school when she worked with Seeking Common Ground, a peace building organization which brings together youth from Palestine, Israel, and the US. This experience motivated Lily to study Intercultural Communications at LIU Global. While completing her degree, she traveled extensively throughout Latin America and across Asia. Lily concluded her independent research with a thesis exploring the impact of new media on cross-cultural relationships between youth in the Middle East and United States. As Soliya’s Finance Officer, Lily is currently pursuing a certificate in Not-for-Profit Accounting and Governmental Reporting at NYU.
Merva Faddoul, Senior Manager - Network Program
Growing up in Byblos, Lebanon, Merva has always been fascinated by different cultures. She was the Film Program Manager for an international initiative between the University of Southern California and the Royal Film Commission of Jordan. Merva received her Bachelor's Degree in Communications from the Lebanese American University, as well as a Master's Degree in Film and Interactive Media Production from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Merva continues to write and direct short films that have screened at several film festivals including the Cannes Short Film Corner and the Annual Arab Film Festival in the US.
Mohammad Omar, Coordinator - Technical Support
Mohammad is an ordinary person with an extra-ordinary vision. He received a Bachelor of Biotechnology in Genetics. In addition to seven years experience in volunteer work with several NGOs, he participated in many activities and campaigns to save the environment. Through these activities, he realized his interest in photography. It's not about capturing a photo but rather it's about capturing a moment, and these moments were what made him genuinely interested in the diversity of societies and cultures. Consequently, social media has been a vital tool in satisfying his passion for connecting people worldwide.
Nahid Ahmed, Manager - Connect Program
Nahid was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and has lived in Oman, the U.A.E., India and the United States. She is fluent in English, Bangla and Hindi, and has also studied French. As a ‘third-culture kid,’ Nahid has developed an active interest in cross-cultural dialogue and conflict resolution, as well as examining the ways in which different cultures and identities interact with one another and the lines that divide them. Nahid received her Bachelor's Degree in Government & International Relations from Clark University and has a background in foreign policy and international trade economics.
Nihal Saad, Officer - Information Technology
Nihal studied electronics and communication engineering in Cairo, Egypt. During her time at university she was involved in a number of student activities such as the Student Council and The Arab League Model United Nation. She worked with the ILO UN Cairo Office, organizing two workshops: the National Employment Policy in Egypt Workshop and the Capacity Building Workshop. Nihal was an intern with Fujitsu Siemens' Customer Service Department in Cairo. She is very passionate about Soliya and believes that the organization effectively contributes to bridging the gap between the predominantly Muslim countries and the Western countries.
Nora Byrnes, Senior Coordinator - Executive and Development Support
Nora holds a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and in 2010 she graduated with distinction from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in Global Politics. Nora's graduate work explored the impact of globalization on identity and complex emergencies in the Middle East. This work deepened her interest in the potential of new media and cross-cultural communication as means of conflict resolution. Originally from Boston, she has lived in Ireland, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom, and previously worked as both a teacher and journalist.
Rafael Tyszblat, Officer - Training and Facilitation
Born and raised in Paris, France, Rafael dedicates his career to research and practice in a variety of fields ranging from family mediation and inter-communal dialogue to international conflict resolution. Rafael received a Master's Degree in Political Science from Sciences-Po Paris and another MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Bradford, UK. He also completed a Masters of Philosophy in International Relations at the Sorbonne. Rafael spent three years in Bangalore, India where he worked at Meta-Culture as a Conflict Resolution Specialist in the community and corporate sectors. In addition to working at Soliya, he works on promoting the field of conflict resolution and dialogue for his non-profit, the EuroMediation Institute.
Sarah Stillwachs, Senior Coordinator - Operations and Information Technology
Sarah was born and raised in San Francisco, a city which greatly influenced her love of travel and culture. She studied History at the University of California at Berkeley and continued her studies at The American University in Cairo, where she was a graduate student in Middle Eastern History. Sarah lived in New Delhi, India for one year, studying Arabic, and later traveled throughout the Middle East. Previous to Soliya, Sarah worked at one of San Francisco’s early dot-com startups, an experience that solidified her interest in IT and Operations, and at AUC she led workshops for professors on how to increase efficiency and streamline classroom time using technology.
Waleed Nassar, Manager - Online Community
Waleed was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt and graduated with a Bachelor in Journalism & Mass Communication from the American University in Cairo. Since then, he has followed his passion as a blogger and media producer. Waleed joined the organization in 2007 as a volunteer and then full-time to establish Soliya's regional office in Cairo. His focus now is to enable Soliya's online community to leverage the reach of social media to build strong and meaningful ties based on mutual respect and understanding. He enjoys sitting at the 'ahwa' (local coffee shop), having conversations with people while drinking tea with mint.