NEAR EAST FOUNDATION: A NEW MEMBER OF THE SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY By Selina Carter


The 2010-2011 academic year marks the start of a new long-term affiliation between Syracuse University and the Near East Foundation (NEF), which now uses SU facilities for its headquarters. This historic move has meant greater opportunities for students as well as collaboration with SU specialists in international development and the MENA region.

Founded in 1915, NEF is the oldest nondenominational international development organization in the United States. NEF provided large-scale humanitarian relief for Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian minori- ties during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Since 1930, NEF has sponsored community-based economic development in Middle Eastern and African countries. Its development model has served as a template for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, and the United Nations Development Program.

NEF currently maintains six international offices, staffed by all-local teams, in Egypt, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Palestine, and Sudan, while also supporting programs in Armenia. These country teams work with local partners to build the lives they envision for their communities. NEF’s projects include enterprise development and microfinance, education and literacy programs, civic engagement, and improved agricul- tural and natural resource management.

NEF formed a strategic affiliation with Syracuse University in spring of 2010 and moved its head- quarters office from New York City to SU campus in the summer of 2010. Its president, Dr. Charlie Ben- jamin, has said there’s been “a lot of good energy” during NEF’s first months at its new office on SU’s campus. Since coming to Syracuse, NEF has added a staff of eleven interns, one graduate assistant, and another full-time employee (Sarah Peterson), who graduated from the Maxwell School’s Public Administra- tion and International Relations (MPA/IR) dual masters degree program in 2010. NEF is working to develop a Fellows Program for graduate and undergraduate students to do field work related to NEF’s projects. This past summer, Karen Cadondon (MPA/IR, ’10) spent three weeks in Morocco evaluating the Youth De- velopment Program in Casablanca. Benjamin says the organization needs experts in many types of fields, including but not limited to graphic design, media, social sciences, economics, fundraising, and program assessment. “We want to be an effective learning organization, and our interns have helped us apply our knowledge and experience to our work in the future,” he states.

SU professors and faculty are also intrinsically linked to NEF’s work. Dr. John McPeak of the Public Administration Department of the Maxwell School is currently helping NEF innovate its grassroots develop- ment programs in Mali. Dr. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program, and Mr. Wil- liam Sullivan, assistant dean for external relations at the Maxwell School, serve on NEF’s Board of Directors.

“I really want NEF to become fully a part of the SU community. And we’re going in the right direc- tion there,” states Benjamin. He envisions more joint activities using SU students in various capacities, such as interns and field assistants. He especially emphasizes the importance of a solid learning experience for students, and says “there will later be more exciting announcements” regarding opportunities for students.

According to Joanna Palmer (MPA ’11), NEF’s graduate assistant, the task of working for a dy- namic development NGO has been a career enhancement. After helping NEF transition to its new SU of- fice, Joanna has taken up “a little bit of everything” – including graphic design, public relations material for the website, and a major revamping of NEF’s monitoring and evaluation system. “It’s been absolutely fascinating,” she states. “I’ve always known I’ve wanted to learn about organizational management. But NEF has let me know what’s involved, putting theory into practice.” Palmer, who speaks fluent Spanish and some French (but regrets not knowing Arabic), says that her coursework on strategic planning, indicators to measure output, and log frames at Maxwell have helped her immensely with her work duties.

For more information on NEF and future opportunities, visit www.neareast.org