During the spring semester 2010, Syracuse University formed a strategic affiliation with the Near East Foundation (NEF), the oldest nondenominational international development organization in the United States. The affiliation brings together SU’s rich mix of academic programs, institutes and other resources with NEF’s 95 years of experience in finding creative solutions to the challenges facing vulnerable communities in the Middle East and Africa. NEF has relocated its headquarters to the SU campus in Syracuse, N.Y., while remaining an independent organization. This unprecedented affiliation between a major higher education institution and an international nonprofit development organization places NEF and SU at the cutting edge of innovative philanthropic partnerships.

SU Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric F. Spina points out that the University’s new relationship with NEF is both natural and deeply reciprocal. “We know, as NEF does, that the challenges facing communities across the Middle East and Africa are complex, demanding cross-sector collaboration to address them,” Spina says. “NEF’s presence on the SU campus will facilitate precisely that, stimulating mutually beneficial engagement between our faculty—which already has extensive interests and expertise in those regions— and the foundation’s existing community of experts. At the same time, we will create extraordinary opportu- nities for our students to test what they learn by tackling global issues in their local contexts.”

Founded 95 years ago, NEF pioneered large-scale humanitarian relief in the period 1915-30, provid- ing relief to Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian minorities facing persecution during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, and community-based economic development from 1930 until today. NEF’s work served as a model for social and economic development institutions around the world, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps and the United Nations Development Program. Today, NEF works in the Middle East and Africa to improve conditions for vulnerable communities confronting the effects of chronic poverty, conflict, migration and climate change. These communities include marginalized social groups (young people in Morocco’s peri-urban slums and residents of “poverty pockets” in rural Jordan); villages isolated by their environment (Berbers in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, Malians facing an encroaching desert, Egyptian farmers relocated from the Nile Delta, and rural Armenians cut off from economic oppor- tunity); and people affected by conflict (Palestinians in the West Bank, Iraqis in Jordan, and Darfurians in central Sudan).

NEF maintains six international offices, staffed by all-local teams, in Egypt, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Palestine and Sudan, and supports programs in Armenia. The teams assist local partners to participate more fully in the development of their countries—to build the lives they envision for themselves. NEF supports these groups at three levels: increasing ac- cess to knowledge necessary to participate fully in civic and economic life through education, job training, and literacy programs; helping amplify their collective voice through commu- nity organizing and institution-strengthening initiatives; and creating economic opportunities through enterprise development, micro-credit, and improved agricultural and natural resource management.

NEF and SU are working together to create internships and research opportunities for the SU community. NEF will offer SU students opportunities to put their education into practice through service-learning activities in the United States and participation in on-the- ground development work abroad. For example, two groups of Maxwell MPA students are completing capstone workshops with NEF—one helping to develop an organization-wide system for measuring the impact of its work and another conducting research and analysis to assist with strategic planning. Moving forward, SU and NEF will work together to devel- op jointly implemented projects involving students and faculty in grassroots development efforts.

“NEF has always prided itself in being a learning organization,” says NEF’s new presi- dent, Charles Benjamin. “The fit with SU, with its strong commitment to social engagement, is perfect. Now more than ever we need thoughtful approaches to the problems of the Middle East and Africa. And we anticipate that the SU community will shape NEF’s work in important ways—bringing new skills and creative solutions to the people we serve, identifying new program areas, and analyzing our work with a new rigor.”

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