President & CEO
James Patton assumed the leadership of ICRD in 2017, upon the retirement of its founder, Dr. Douglas Johnston. He has conducted international development, conflict transformation, and social reconciliation for over two decades in more than a dozen countries, building collaborative networks and programs with the entire range of social and political actors in complex conflict environments.
Prior to 2011, when he joined ICRD as Executive Vice President, he had worked in the governmental and non-governmental sectors. His non-governmental experience included assessing the impact of drug policies and military responses in Bolivia, facilitating the role of Cambodian Buddhists in post-conflict stability, and coordinating citizen security and conflict transformation efforts in the Andean region. His governmental experience included working with the Special Envoy for Sudan, leading stability operations assessments for the US State Department in South Sudan, and enhancing the Latin America and Religion and Conflict portfolios for USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation.
In his role as ICRD’s President, James has served as a member of a number of collaborative efforts to advance the field of peacemaking, including: the U.S. Department of State’s Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy; the Council on Foreign Relations’ Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group, and; the public-private partnership advancing national dialogue on reconciliation in Colombia, Reconcilación Colombia. He is a Senior Visiting Fellow at Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institution and the co-author, with Rev. David Steele, of the forthcoming (2018) U.S. Institute of Peace publication, Religion and Conflict Guides: Religion and Reconciliation. He is a Lifetime Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
James holds a Master of Law and Diplomacy degree from The Fletcher School at Tufts University and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School. He has taught and lectured widely, and is fluent in Spanish, with practical experience in a number of other languages. He and his wife, Andrea, have a wonderful daughter, Gabriela, and a son, Simon.
Martine is a mediator and conflict transformation specialist with over 20 years of engaged experience—with communities, governments, regional bodies (i.e. EU, AU and ASEAN), UN agencies, a range of inter/national non-governmental organizations and academic institutions. Her work has engaged her directly in fluid war to post-war reconstruction and development contexts across 70 countries in Africa, Asia & the Pacific, West to East Europe, and North and South America.
Ms. Miller derives her formal education linking practical mediation and conflict transformation knowledge and skills from a Masters in International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, a Masters in Politics Post-war Reconstruction and Development, a dual Bachelors in Political Science and International Development, coupled with specialized Certifications in Asian and African Studies, Mediation/ Negotiation in War Contexts, Religion and Mediation, Conflict Transformation, etc., as well as engagement in Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation and the International Committee for the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC).
She is a guest lecturer at Georgetown, American University, and a lecturer and program advisor to the Peace and Conflict Studies Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
Program Director (Conflict Resolution Liaison)
Amira Abouhussein is a peacebuilding and development professional with 10 years of experience focused on the MENA region. She has designed and conducted conflict resolution and negotiation training programs, facilitated faith-based peace dialogues, and has engaged members of conflicting religious groups and former extremists in community programs.
Before joining ICRD in April, 2018, Ms. Abouhussein was working with the Crown Center for Middle East studies. She has also served as a facilitator at the Drew Institute of Religion and Conflict Transformation, which included Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders and peace activists from Indonesia, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, and Palestine. Amira also provided training for a UN program on capacity building and economic empowerment for refugees. She also brings significant experience in non-profit management and administration through having founded and managed a grassroots NGO in Egypt that focuses on sectarian violence prevention, early warning networks, and conflict resolution
Amira holds a dual-M.A. in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence and International Sustainable Development from Brandeis University.
Mohammed serves as a fellow for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region at ICRD, where he has provided a wide range of support for the Center’s community engagement and research programs in Yemen, including conducting program evaluation, communicating with local partners and undertaking translations.
Hailing from Sana’a, he has experienced the impacts of the civil war and conflict in Yemen first-hand, both in a professional capacity and as a civilian. He has authored more than 30 studies and reports about Yemen and reported extensively on Sudan, including Darfur. He is currently writing his memoir for HarperCollins Publishers.
Abubaker Y. Ahmed Al-Shingieti
Dr. Abubaker Al-Shingieti is a Senior Associate at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. He brings to the Center unique experience in government affairs and diplomatic relations and a strong commitment to inter-religious reconciliation. Dr. Shingieti earned a BSc. (Honors) in Architecture and a Graduate Diploma in African and Asian Studies from the University of Khartoum.
Dr. Barnes is a cultural anthropologist with a background in bioarchaeology. Between 2016-2022 she assisted the Slovenian government’s transitional justice project, helmed by the Commission on Concealed Mass Graves; she has worked on human remains recovery efforts in Slovenia, Croatia, and the United States.
As a Program Officer at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, she has designed qualitative research protocol, conducted ethnographic work, and both assisted and led teams in the writing of grant proposals. With her background in bioarchaeology, she has designed programming for countries undergoing government-led peace processes in both judicial and forensic capacities, with a focus on Latin America.
Olga Batkhan has over 10 years of accounting experience in taxation, finance, auditing, and compliance. She graduated from University of Maryland College Park, The Robert H Smith School of Business with Bachelors in Accounting and went on to get a master’s degree in Management and Accounting, along with Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification.
Having supported multiple public accounting firms, working with various individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Her work experience ranges from day-to-day accounting functions, to preparation of complex tax returns, and audits for non-profit organizations as well as for-profit companies. Prior to joining ICRD Olga was well familiar with the organization as for numerous years she led the external auditing team, learning about the mission and accounting functions in detail.
In her role as a Peace Fellow, Milica supports ICRD program by assisting in the research and drafting process, collaboration with local actors, financial tracking, and implementation of program activities. Prior to working at ICRD, Milica has experience interning and working in cultural exchange and development at the local and international level. Her academic and professional interests primarily revolve around global development, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, building community resilience and collaboration, as well as reconciliation and state-building following violent conflict. Her research is largely focused on Latin America and the Caribbean, while also working on projects relating to Eurasia and the MENA region.
Growing up in the religiously and ethnically diverse post-conflict Balkans, Milica has quickly come to recognize and appreciate diversity, as well as the importance of intercommunity dialogue and the need to proactively seek and engage in peace and community building, which inspired her to do her part in contributing to this sentiment worldwide through her career. She is currently studying International Studies at American University, and has completed her secondary education as a class valedictorian and International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma recipient. Milica holds certificates in Community-Based Action Research and Peace Corps Prep Program.
Senior Program Director
Rebecca is a specialist and trainer in conflict resolution and preventing/countering violent extremism (P/CVE) with experience in nearly 60 countries. She currently serves as ICRD’s Senior Program Director, where she directs ICRD’s Yemen programs on conflict resolution and P/CVE; engages madrasa and other religious leaders in Pakistan; conducts/oversees P/CVE training programs in places like Kenya, the Philippines, and Morocco; leads educational programming in Uganda; and has supported reconciliation programs in Syria.
In addition to her work at ICRD, she has conducted conflict resolution training within the US prison system, led community interfaith engagement programs, and facilitated Western-Muslim World dialogues with the Soliya Connect Program as well as political dialogue among Americans, in addition to teaching English as a Foreign Language in Japan. She is also a Consultant on Preventing Violent Extremism to the UN Peacebuilding Fund.
Rebecca is a summa cum-laude graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and holds an M.S. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (now Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution), where she is currently a member of the Advisory Board and Advisor to the Political Leadership Academy.
Chikodili Deborah Ekweozoh
As an ICRD Peace Fellow, Deborah assists with seeking program proposals and supports ICRD’s Program Managers for the Horn of Africa, South and Southeast Asia. She is also currently an LLM candidate in the International Legal Studies program specializing in International law and Human Rights at the American University Washington College of Law.
Her academic and professional interests primarily involve utilizing International Laws and treaties to further Peace education for Reconciliation, state/community building, and conflict resolution. In addition, she is currently working on two dissertations looking into Transitional Justice and Counterterrorism efforts since 9/11.
Juncal Fernandez-Garayzabal has spent the last years researching the parallels between recruitment for human trafficking networks and those employed by jihadist groups. She now researches and develops appropriate programming for those who once embraced jihadism, particularly foreign fighters.
Juncal has experience researching conflicts, forced migrations, organized crime, and security. Her research has developed through collaboration in projects with research institutes, both in Spain and internationally. She has worked with institutions like Georgetown University, Comillas ICADE (Madrid), the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, and UNICEF, with peacebuilding experience in Latin America and Equatorial Guinea.
As the Communications Coordinator at ICRD, Maryam assists with developing, coordinating, and executing strategic communications campaigns across the organization to advance ICRD’s programs and mission. By curating multimedia content, cross-platform initiatives, storytelling campaigns, and ICRD’s events calendar, Maryam has helped diversify ICRD’s output and enhance the organization’s capability to serve as a central hub of conversation and connection on efforts related to peace, faith, and diplomacy.
Maryam holds a BA in Global Studies and has previously worked on communication efforts at Families USA and the Frank Karel Fellowship. She was also the recipient of a Davis Projects for Peace Grant and collaborated with RAICES to bolster financial aid and resource distribution to the migrant community. Outside of her work at ICRD, Maryam continues to extend professional development support to first-gen students, drawing on her background as an immigrant and first-gen scholar dedicated to equity and human rights.
Dr. Douglas M. Johnston is President Emeritus and founder of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy. Prior to founding ICRD, Dr. Johnston served as Executive Vice President and COO of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he also chaired the Preventive Diplomacy Program and the Maritime Studies program.
A distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Dr. Johnston holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University and has served in senior positions in both the public and private sectors. His government assignments include: Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy; Director of Policy Planning and Management in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; and planning officer with the President’s Office of Emergency Preparedness. He was the founding director of Harvard University’s Executive Program in National and International Security. Dr. Johnston is a Captain in the Naval Reserve and, at the age of 27, was the youngest officer in the navy to qualify for command of a nuclear submarine.
Dr. Johnston’s publications include: Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft (1994); Foreign Policy into the 21st Century: the U.S. Leadership Challenge (1996); Faith-based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik (2003); Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement; and Religion and Foreign Affairs: Essential Readings (2012). Religion, Terror, and Error won the 2011 “Book of the Year Award” by Foreword Reviews, the rating agency for universities and independent publishers.
Dr. Johnston’s hands-on experience in the political-military arena, coupled with his work in preventive diplomacy, has guided ICRD’s efforts to bridge religion and politics in support of peacemaking in Sudan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Colombia and Saudi Arabia. He holds an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters and in 2008 was identified in a leading Christian journal as “The Father of Faith-based Diplomacy”.
Elene (Hélène) Kekelia
Elene (Hélène) Kekelia is a Peace Fellow at ICRD and a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Virginia, Department of Sociology. At ICRD, she assists in drafting proposals and research. She supports work at ICRD by applying her multilingual abilities, research skills, and experience in the post-Soviet area. Her dissertation engages with comparative-historical sociology, memory studies, and the sociology of exile. In her research, she focuses on and contributes to understanding exile as a comparative historical sociologist.
For her dissertation, she compared the Georgian, Ukrainian, and Azerbaijani exiled communities that fled the Soviet occupation around the 1920s, titled: “The Imaginaries and Claims of 20th Century Forced Migrants: A Comparative Study of the Georgian, Ukrainian and Azerbaijani Exiles”. Previously, Elene has worked on the Soviet Georgian sites of memory (including the conflicted memory around Stalin, Pantheons and Soviet art).
Elene received a Ph.D. degree in 2019 from the Ilia State University in Cultural Studies after defending her dissertation on “The 20th-century monuments and national narratives in Georgia”. She has received several fellowship awards and has been a member of various scholarly communities.
Junior Program Officer
As Junior Program Officer, Loujain is providing assistance to the ICRD’s Yemen program, and conducting research to support senior staff on analyzing interreligious dynamics in the MENA region, including determining drivers of religious conflicts, mapping peacebuilding activities, and assessing of religious minority rights.
Loujain holds a BA in Business Administration and a post-graduate diploma in marketing from Damascus University. After graduating, Loujain started her carrier as a researcher at the Central Bank of Syria, where she expanded her research and analytical skills. She continued to work in the economic research as she moved to Saudi Arabia.
Growing up in a diverse community from various religions and backgrounds where people used to live in harmony inspired Ms. Kiki to pursue a career that encourages religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. She is also working towards a master’s degree in communication in the DC Area.
Ray Kim, Ph.D.
Program Development Consultant
Ray Kim received his Ph.D. from Georgetown University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies. He is a sociologist of religion specializing in contemporary Islam and Christianity who has years of experience conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Korea tracking developments in the halal market and the spread of Islamophobic discourse throughout the country.
His research interests have also led him to collaborate on projects concerning the religious soft-power influences of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey in Africa, the Balkans, and Central Asia, as well as the flight of non-Muslim minorities from the Levantine region. He has also conducted qualitative research observing and interviewing churches in the US that were exploring questions about “calling” and “vocation” as part of a program that was funded by the Lilly Endowment.
As the Program Development Consultant, Ray coordinates the development of proposals and the production of deliverables at their conclusion. Adept in various qualitative research methods and analysis, he applies these skills and the knowledge he gains from conducting fieldwork in the research leading up to a proposal’s design, ensuring that the program’s design is directly informed by the contexts in which they will be implemented.
Maëlys supports ICRD as a Program Assistant by employing her language skills in French, Spanish, and Arabic as well as her research experience. She supports three programs. One is funded by USAID in Chad and Cameroon and focuses on researching civic values in informal education to foster resilience to violence in youths. Other programs focus on capacity-building efforts to support the in-community rehabilitation and reintegration (R&R) of Maldivian women and children returning from Syria and Iraq, and most recently, she is also engaged in a program in Mali, focused on gender dynamics and violent extremism. More specifically, it seeks to build the capacity of Malian women to prevent and counter violent extremism across the country through community-based projects.
She supports proposal writing in francophone Africa, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and other areas as needed on subjects of violence prevention, communal resilience, and marginalized population leadership and capacity building. Having completed her Master’s in the last year at King’s College London, her research experience spanned the subjects of peace agreements in deeply divided societies, the theories of state failure and state building, and a specialization in the role of international law in peace and security. She graduated with Merit last August.
Maëlys is always seeking to connect to new people and organizations with the goal of building bridges in the greater peacebuilding network!
Mallie Strickland serves as the Executive Assistant to the President at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy and is responsible for coordinating a range of day-to-day administrative tasks, including office management, record keeping, logistical, and clerical duties. The position also supports the ICRD team with research, organizational development, and outreach activities.
Before joining the ICRD team in September of 2021, Mallie spent over a decade in the hospitality industry and served three years as a volunteer advocate for survivors of rape and sexual assault. Mallie is currently completing her studies at the College of Charleston, with a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies, with expected completion in the Spring of 2023.
C. Eduardo Vargas
As Senior Associate at ICRD, C. Eduardo Vargas serves as special advisor to the president and government liaison. He joined ICRD after serving in President Barack Obama’s Administration as Deputy Director of the Center for Faith Based & Community Initiatives (CFBCI) at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). At CFBCI, Mr. Vargas led external engagement efforts, public diplomacy, and partnerships to build support for USAID’s humanitarian and development priorities, including, among others: the surge of unaccompanied children related to the 2014 Central American Migration; ensuring the safety, security and freedom from persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East; countering violent extremism; and advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Before joining the Obama Administration, Mr. Vargas served as Director to the United Nations DPI/NGO Executive Committee in New York, representing over 1,300 NGOs worldwide at the UN while championing greater civil society representation, access and inclusion in various UN agencies. Prior to that, he directed a variety of global refugee programs, development and humanitarian assistance projects, and advocacy campaigns for Caritas Internationalis, Intersections International, and Aya Worldwide.
Mr. Vargas earned his MA in Diplomacy & International Relations at Seton Hall University. He has published articles and speaks publicly on a variety of globalization, humanitarian, and public policy issues. He has been featured by Al Jazeera, CNN, Foreign Affairs, FOX News, and Telemundo, among other outlets. For his work in diplomacy and peacemaking he has been recognized by the Huffington Post’s 40 Under 40 in Foreign Policy, awarded the USAID Administrator’s Letter of Commendation, and received the Many Are One Alumni Servant Leadership Award from Seton Hall University.