Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General
Religions for Peace International
Dr. William Vendley is the Secretary General of Religions for Peace International. He is a member of its World Council which consists of 60 senior religious leaders from all continents. He coordinates the activities and projects of Religions for Peace’s 92 national and 5 regional councils.
Religions for Peace is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition advancing common action for peace by working to advance multi-religious consensus on positive aspects of peace as well as concrete actions to stop war, help eliminate extreme poverty and protect the earth.
William assumed leadership of Religions for Peace International in 1994. He is a pioneer in advancing multi-religious cooperation to help resolve conflict and advance development and has facilitated the establishment of multi-religious councils around the world. In the immediate aftermath of the civil war in Bosnia, he facilitated the Inter-religious Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina which served Bosnia religious leaders in their efforts to heal their society and re-build a single, multi-ethnic Bosnia. He also facilitated the establishment of the Inter-religious Council of Sierra Leone in the midst of a ten-year civil war, supported the successful multi-religious mediations between the rebels and the government and was requested to assist in the formal peace talks in Lome, Togo. He has advanced multi-religious efforts to prevent conflicts, mediate among warring parties and heal societies in the aftermath of violence in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Iraq and many other countries. He is actively working in the Middle East North Africa region with religious leaders to advance peace. He is convinced that multi-religious efforts for peacemaking provide unique strengths that complement those marshaled by governments and bodies like the United Nations
William co-founded the Hope for African Children Initiative to address the needs of African children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The Initiative resulted in an initial US$ 50M being raised to help equip African communities, particularly grassroots religious congregations, to provide needed services to vulnerable children. This work provided the base for major additional grants of US$ 150M to underwrite the development work by the 26 African inter-religious councils affiliated with Religions for Peace.
William is an advisor to a number of governments on matters related to religion and peace. He advised President Obama through his service on the Multi-religious Cooperation and International Affairs Task Force of the White House Faith Based Council. He was appointed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and re-appointed by Secretary Kerry as one of ten members of the US State Department’s Advisory Committee on Strategic Partnership with Civil Society and he is a Co-chair of the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group.
William is a theologian and has served as a professor and dean in Roman Catholic graduate schools of theology. He earned his BA from Purdue University (1971) and was the recipient of its Distinguished Alumni for Science Award in 2005. He has a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Fordham University (1984).
William is married to Mrs. Yasuko Vendley, and they reside in New York City.
Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Deputy Secretary General
Religions for Peace International
Rev. Kyoichi Sugino serves as the Deputy Secretary General of Religions for Peace (RfP). He coordinates RfP’s affiliated interreligious councils, women and youth networks in more than 90 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Rev. Sugino has been directly engaged in multi-religious diplomacy and track-II negotiations in Iraq, Sri Lanka, and other conflict zones—most recently, he co-authored the “Yogyakarta Statement” (March 2015), which aimed at overcoming violent religious extremism and interreligious tensions in South and Southeast Asia.
Rev. Sugino joined the RfP International Secretariat in 1999, and was appointed to his current position at the International Executive Committee meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2011. Earlier in his career, he served as policy research officer at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Rev. Sugino received his LL.B from Chuo University in Tokyo (1989) and an M.L.I. in International Law and International Human Rights Law from the University of Wisconsin (1993). He is an ordained Dharma Teacher in Rissho Kosei-kai--a major Japanese Buddhist denomination--having graduated from Gakurin Buddhist Seminary in Tokyo (1991).
Rev. Sugino has written on the subjects of humanitarian and peace-building issues in many international journals and publications. Rev. Sugino is a member of the U.S. State Department Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy, a member of the Non-Official Group of Friends of Sri Lanka, as well as a trustee at the RKK International New York Center for Engaged Buddhism.
Regional Secretaries General
Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema, Secretary General
African Council of Religious Leaders - Religions for Peace
Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema, 49, is the Secretary General of the African Council of Religious Leaders-RfP and Executive Director of Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK-RfP), a position he has held since 2008. He previously served as Programs Director and head of the IRCK-RfP secretariat for a period of six years. Before joining the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya-RfP, Dr. Kuria worked as the National Coordinator for the Small Business Network, an organisation advocating for small and medium enterprises. He also worked as a Financial Analyst at the Nairobi Stock Exchange and as a volunteer with St. John Ambulance Brigade where he worked for 16 years, eventually retiring as Assistant Commissioner, Training and Operations in 1998. A holder of a degree in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, Dr. Kuria is married with four children.
Rev. Yoshitaka Hatakeyama, Secretary General
Asian Conference of Religions for Peace
Rev. Yoshitaka Hatakeyama is the recently-elected Secretary General of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace Japan. In Religions for Peace Japan, he served as the Under Secretary General for 10 years. Since 2009, Rev. Hatakeyama has served in ACRP as a Deputy Secretary General and represented Dr. Sunggon Kim, former ACRP Secretary General, in various meetings of Religions for Peace International and other global network meetings.
Rev. Hatakeyama is known for his staunch advocacy and organized series of programs and projects on nuclear disarmament, care for the environment, poverty reduction programs, relief operations to refugees, and natural disaster relief work through multi-religious dialogue and cooperation..
Mr. Elias Szczytnicki, Secretary General & Regional Director
Religions for Peace Latin America and the Caribbean
Elias Szczytnicki has extensive and distinguished experience in inter-religious relations. Since 2004, he is the Secretary General of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders (LACCRL) and the Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Office of Religions for Peace.
Mr. Szczytnicki holds a bachelor’s degree in history of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). Also, he is a graduate of the Certificate on Jewish Nonprofit Management at the Latin American Training and Investigation Center for Jewish Institutional Leadership Leatid and an alumni of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship.
He served as Secretary of the Interfaith Committee of Peru and Lecturer in Judaism at the Center of Oriental Studies of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). Mr. Szczytnicki is an Argentinean living in Peru since 1991. He is married and father of a son.
Mr. Jehangir Sarosh OBE, General Secretary
European Council of Religious Leaders -Religions for Peace
Jehangir is a Zoroastrian – is currently also the Executive Director of Religions for Peace UK chapter, and a Co-President of the World Council of Religions for Peace. He served as the President of Religions for Peace Europe for 10 years and helped establish the European Interfaith Youth Network and the European Women of Faith Network.
Jehangir is a founding member of the European Council of Religious Leaders - Religions for Peace, and served as its Co-Moderator from its inception.
His passion is to see all faiths and none working together for all that is good.
He says, "I love and enjoy life with my wonderful children and the beautiful wife, and am looking forward to the new challenge of serving Religions for Peace as Secretary General of the European Council of Religious Leaders.
Dr. William F. Vendley, Interim Secretary General
Religions for Peace Middle East and North Africa Council
Ms. Luisa Hernandez, Director of Finance and Administration
Ms. Luisa Hernandez is the Director of Finance and Administration at Religions for Peace. She oversees all the financial and administrative systems. Hired as the Senior Accountant, Mrs. Hernandez acquired the title of Director of Finance and Administration at Religions for Peace in 2006. She is responsible for budget development and monitoring; managing of international and national funds received from multiple non-for-profit and private agencies; and collaboration and coordination with international field-office financial staff to ensure accurate and timely reporting of all financial information. She provides management and control for the International Secretariat’s Human Resources and Administrative policies, and all fiscal operations of Religions for Peace. Mrs. Hernandez has more than ten years of non-for-profit finance and administration experience. She has worked in collaboration with development agencies like USAID, the State Department, C.D.C, HRSA, UNDP, UNICEF, and other international NGOs. She holds an M.B.A. degree in Finance from Regis University, and a B.A. in Accounting from Herbert Lehman College of the City University of New York. She is certified in USAID Rules and Regulations, NICRA, NYS Notary Public and Individual Income Taxes.
Ms. Deepika Singh, Director of Programs
Ms. Deepika Singh is the Director of Programs at Religions for Peace, where she directs overall program strategy and related implementation and monitoring. Ms. Singh has more than fifteen years of professional experience in international affairs and development, including service in USAID-funded programs in Nepal and consultancies with UNDP, UNICEF, and other international NGOs. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Pace University in New York, USA; a Master of Arts degree from Dhaka University in Dhaka, Bangladesh; and a BA with honors from St. Bede’s College in Simla, India.
Mr. Anthony Annett, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Advisor
Anthony Annett is the Climate Change and Sustainable Development Advisor, leading efforts at Religions for Peace, in partnership with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, to strengthen the engagement of religious communities in climate change and sustainable development.
He served sixteen years at the International Monetary Fund, including over five years as speechwriter to two successive Managing Directors—Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Christine Lagarde.
An Irish national, he holds a B.A. and an M. Litt from Trinity College, Dublin and a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University. He has a keen interest in Catholic social teaching and the intersection of ethics and economics. He is also a Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a papal order of chivalry.
Ms. Valerie Nash, Chief of Staff
Staff and Personnel
Mr. Baker al-Hiyari, Special Advisor - Middle East and North Africa Affairs
Mr. al-Hiyari joins the RfP family as special advisor for Middle East-North Africa (MENA) Affairs at the International Secretariat. A Muslim from Amman, Jordan, Mr. al-Hiyari is a multi‐disciplinary professional with twenty years of experience at the intersection of politics, religion, development, civil society and public affairs in the Middle East, West Asia and North Africa region.
Mr. al-Hiyari assumed several leadership positions in non-governmental institutions, civil society organizations and regional multi–stakeholder initiatives. In addition to being a member of the RfP International Youth Committee, Mr. al-Hiyari has extensive international outreach and engagement.
Mr. Ce Geng, Project Officer & Intern Coordinator
Mr. Ce Geng joined the Religions for Peace team as the World Assembly Associate in 2013. Mr. Geng holds a MS degree in International Communication from St. John’s University in New York. Born and raised in China, Mr. Geng earned his MA degree in Intercultural Communication. With a multi-disciplinary educational background, Mr. Geng is always highly motivated to translate what he has learned into the international organizational practice.
Mr. Geng coordinates the digital communication programs to help advance the mission of Religions for Peace. As a Project Officer at RfP, he aspires to gain great experience in peace-building with multi-sectoral and multi-religious projects.
Ms. Elida Jbeili, Program Officer, Youth & World Assembly
Ms. Elida Jbeili is the RfP Youth and World Assembly Program Officer. Ms. Jbeili, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon, who was raised in Sweden, holds a B.A. in International Relations from The City College of New York and a degree in Theatre performance. Before joining RfP, she worked extensively with youth as a teacher, mentor and coordinator, organizing conferences on U.S. and Muslim relations. Her work has ranged from helping inner city children in New York City to assisting Berber youths in Rabat by using theatre activism to raise awareness about human rights issues. Ms. Jbeili is passionate about inter-faith youth dialogue and believes inter-faith cooperation and cross-cultural understanding are paramount for advancing a more harmonious global society.
Ms. Mary Rose O'Brien, Program Manager
Ms. Mary Rose O’Brien is the Program Manager at Religions for Peace. She has more than ten years’ professional experience working across six continents. Ms. O’Brien has extensive experience working in active and post-conflict countries including Iraq, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and Uganda, with a particular focus on ethnic and religious conflicts. She has managed multi-million dollar reconciliation and reconstruction projects for USAID and US Department of State programs as well as worked at the grassroots level with local NGOs. She has worked in South America in post-disaster relief and elections issues and conducted research in Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, the Balkans, and Northern Ireland. Ms. O’Brien also has a strong background in organizational and capacity development through her experience as a management consultant implementing ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems and performing organization assessments for both US and foreign government entities and NGOs.
Ms. O’Brien holds a Master of Science degree from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Boston College with a minor in Faith, Peace and Justice. She is an avid traveler and has visited more than 70 countries and all seven continents.
Ms. Jiaxin Cao, Communication Consultant
Ms. Jocelyn Jiaxin Cao holds a M.S. degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from New York University. During her study at NYU, she worked at the NYU American Language Institute for its Global Initiatives and International Outreach programs. She led, coordinated and served the multi-cultural and multi-religious community of international students there. Prior to NYU, she studied linguistics and sociology in the Global Studies Program at University of California, Davis. Ms. Cao is passionate about cross-cultural communications. With a diverse academic background, she regards herself as a cultural ambassador to build bridges among world different cultures via effective communications. Currently, she is also a certified interpreter at the New York City Major’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
2016 RfP Summer Interns
Ms. Mariah Genis, Intern of Religions for Peace
Mariah Genis recently graduated from the University of Richmond, cum laude, where she triple majored in Leadership, Arabic, and Religious Studies. During her undergraduate career, Mariah studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain, Amman, Jordan and Prague, Czech Republic. She was also part of a multi-faith pilgrimage to Morocco and travelled to Japan as a guest of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of a young leadership exchange program. In August she will begin her first year at Georgetown University Law Center. Mariah hopes to pursue a career in international human rights.
Ms. Emma Bausert, Intern of Religions for Peace
Emma is an undergraduate Pre-Law student at Fordham University, studying International Political Economy, International Humanitarian Affairs and Spanish. She recently studied abroad in Spain to expand her language expertise, as well as study the diverse logistics and policies of European countries. Emma plays an active role in Fordham’s Global Outreach (GO) community, an organization that facilitates international and domestic service-immersion trips. Through GO, she has immersed herself in the cultures of Bethel, Alaska and Les Cayes, Haiti. She will be returning to Haiti in March 2016. Though the combination of her studies and her travels, Emma has developed a passion for assisting all of humanity. She has a heightened appreciation for the role of Non-Governmental Organizations in the developing world, which ultimately led her to the Religions for Peace International Secretariat.
Through her past internships, studies, and travel experience, Emma is eager to continue her role at Religions for Peace International to learn how religion serves as a force of peace in the international arena. She hopes to use this experience to gain an appreciation for multi-religion common action. Emma is interested in pursuing a career in International Law, and is certain this opportunity with RfP will amplify her desire to generate peace.
Mr. Jaiwon Lee, Intern of Religions for Peace
Jaiwon is working at a community center as an instructor for new immigrants in New York City. He has strong interest in world history, international politics, and sustainable development of cities and nations as well as communities. Such interest led him to working and travelling many other countries in Asia and Europe. With his interest in religions, he has also participated in many events and activities from diverse religious groups. So far, his experience was mainly on a local level. Now he wants to work internationally and he decided to join Religions for Peace.
Originally from Korea, Jaiwon holds a B.A. degree in Mathematics from New York University, where he graduated with Summa Cum Laude. He also holds M.A. degree in Economics from the same university.
During his internship period at Religions for Peace, he wants to learn about activities of the world religious groups and how youth religious group leaders in the world cooperate to coexist in harmony and make the world a better place. Especially, influenced a lot by Buddhism teachings, he pays special attention to RfP’s effort to protect the Earth.
Ms. Anna-Leigh Ong, Intern of Religions for Peace
Anna-Leigh is an international relations major pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (International Honours) in the College of William and Mary - University of St Andrews Joint Degree Programme. She is the International Relations Degree Representative for the William and Mary – St Andrews (WaMStA) Student Partnership, and has served as a research assistant in the University of St Andrews School of International Relations. By studying in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Anna-Leigh has been exposed to multi-dimensional approaches to international relations, and is excited to further expand these perspectives in her work at Religions for Peace and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.
Building upon a past internship with Bern-based NGO swisspeace, her experience with RfP has served to further her interest in the work of NGOs, and particularly in gender- and religion-inclusive diplomacy. Anna-Leigh is pursuing a career in international politics, and is grateful for the invaluable experience of working with RfP and contributing to a better world.
Born in Singapore and raised in New York City, she is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School. Outside of the office and lecture hall, she is a classically trained dancer in dance companies/teams in the US and UK.