URI Perspectives

The perspectives of URI grassroots members are essential to inspire others into leadership and reflect on the critical peacebuilding efforts throughout the world.  

URI's executive leadership team leads URI's global community to achieve its mission and vision. Please learn more about URI's  Global Council Chair, Acting Executive Director, and President Emeritus and Founder below. To access the list of articles written by a particular person, please click on a person's name.

Please click here to learn from people carrying out URI's purpose in unique ways: Inner Voices of Leadership, Every Voice Collection, Being What We Want to Become.

Global Council Chair / Acting Executive Director / Founder and President Emeritus

Kiran Bali, MBE JP

Chair of the URI Global Council of Trustees (At-Large Trustee)

Kiran Bali, MBE JP is a remarkable global organizational leader and spokesperson in areas of interfaith understanding, environmental justice, women’s empowerment, and peacebuilding through selfless service and multidisciplinary approaches. Kiran was honored by HM Queen Elizabeth II with the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire accolade in 2008 and has received a number of international awards for her achievements. Tackling cli-mate change through advocacy and empowering grassroots communities with knowledge, she launched the Hindu declaration on climate change in India and spoke at the launch of the inter-faith declaration on climate change in New York. As a UK magistrate, Kiran underpins all her initiatives with the principles of social justice, compassion and equity toward creating safer, healthier and stronger inclusive communities.

Biff Barnard

Acting Executive Director

Biff Barnard was appointed URI Acting Executive Director in September 2021. He joined URI as its Director of Institutional Advancement in October 2016, having served as a member of URI’s Senior Advisory Council since 2003. While his primary responsibilities have been in development and individual and institutional donor relations, he provides support for the Senior Advisory Council and the URI Foundation; supports URI’s global partnerships, oversees URI’s Coordinator of Individual Membership and URI’s effort to seek corporate and foundation grants. Prior to joining URI, he was Managing Partner of Barnard/Montague Capital Advisors; Managing Director of Caltius Mezzanine; Senior Vice President of Allied Capital; and Chairman and CEO of Heller First Capital. Biff served as Chairman of the Advisory Council of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, as President of the San Francisco Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, and as a Director of ACG-Global. He serves on the East Bay Advisory Board of Heritage Bank of Commerce. Biff received a B.A. from Stanford University. He lives in Walnut Creek, California, with his wife, Connie.

The Rt. Rev. William E. Swing

Founder and President Emeritus of URI; Former Episcopal Bishop of California

William E. Swing, 7th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California (1980-2006), was born in Huntington, West Virginia. He graduated from Kenyon College and Virginia Theological Seminary, and holds six honorary degrees. Bishop Swing served as a priest in Wheeling, Weirton, and Chester, West Virginia. He also started a church at Waterford Park Race Track in Chester, pioneered homeless work in San Francisco, and played a critical role in saving St. Luke’s Hospital. He served on the Board of the American Foundation for AIDS research for 20 years and has spoken throughout the world. He was instrumental in starting a capital development bank in Oakland. He is known as an outspoken leader about the standing of gays and lesbians in the church. He led the radical expansion of the Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg, California. Bishop Swing is the Founder and President Emeritus of the United Religions Initiative. He is married to Mary Taylor Swing and has two children and three grandchildren.

Bishop Swing is an inspirational speaker and an author, most recently of A Bishop's Quest: Founding a United Religions and The Sacred and the Silly: A Bishop's Playful and Eventful Life. Both books are available on Amazon.com; the proceeds of book sales will benefit URI.

To access the list of articles written by a particular person, please click on a person's name. 

Leaders from Around the World

Maria Crespo

Director of Member Support

Maria Crespo serves as the Director of Member Support (both for Cooperation Circles (CCs) and Individual Members) from her office in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is also the URI Impact Assessment Project Manager. She maintains communication with CCs around the world, manages the CC approval process and is the staff liaison for the CC Approval Committee. Maria moderates URI’s listservs, assists with URI's social media activities, and oversees data collection for URI’s CCs. Prior to this, she served as the Regional Coordinator for Latin America for five years. Maria originally became involved with URI in 1997 when she was appointed as a Trustee in the Interim Global Council. By profession, she is a bilingual school teacher. She is very involved in the Roman Catholic Church. Maria is married and has five children.

Emina Frljak

Emina Frljak is a Program Coordinator within Youth for Peace, an organization based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ms. Frljak also serves as International Youth Committee Member within Religions for Peace. She is also a Board Member of European Interfaith Youth Network of Religions for Peace. Ms. Frljak holds a BA in Educational Sciences of University of Sarajevo, where she is completing her MA in the same field. She is also pursuing her second MA in Interreligious Studies and Peacebuilding, a joint program of three theological faculties in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Mussie Hailu

URI Director of Global Partnerships, URI Representative at the UN and the African Union, URI-Africa Regional Director, Former Ambassador

Ambassador Mussie Hailu is a peacebuilder who is working at national, regional, and international levels for peace, reconciliation, interfaith harmony, disarmament, the Golden Rule, world citizenship, right human relationships, and international cooperation for the preservation of the environment. He considers himself a Citizen of the World, believing strongly in the inter-dependence of human beings. He celebrates cultural diversity, seeing the differences in race, ethnicities, religions, politics, and nationalities as important elements of the one and indivisible humanity. He has served many national and international organizations, including the United Nations. Mussie also served as Diplomat in the rank of Ambassador and Special Envoy of the President of Burundi. Currently, he serves as URI Director of Global Partnerships, URI Representative at the United Nations and the African Union, and URI-Africa Regional Director. He is a founding member of URI.

Charles P. Gibbs

For 17 years, Charles has served as URI's founding Executive Director. He has worked with religious, spiritual and other leaders in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. He has been a featured speaker internationally and has written extensively about interfaith cooperation. He co-authored with colleague Sally Mahé, Birth of a Global Community, a book on the birth of the United Religions Initiative. In addition, he has published many articles on interfaith work, contributed a chapter to Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding, published by the United States Institute of Peace, and co-authored, with colleague Barbara Hartford, a chapter in Positive Approaches to Peacebuilding. His essay, Opening the Dream: Beyond the Limits of Otherness, appears in the anthology, Deepening the American Dream. As an Episcopal priest, Charles brings to his work a strong commitment to spiritual transformation and to work for peace, justice and healing, as well as an abiding belief in the sacredness of all life on this planet.

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Vincent Leong

Member of the URI-Multiregion Baraza

Vincent Leong is one of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle's Co-founders in the URI Multiregion. He has helped to connect youths from various interfaith communities in establishing a global interfaith network for knowledge exchange. He is a trainer by profession, helping individuals to find their personal limiting factors and helping them break through in order to be better individuals.

Sally Mahé

Senior Consultant

Sally Mahé, a founding staff person of URI, has held senior staff positions for over 20 years. Sally formerly served as URI Director of Organizational Development and Director of Global Programs, working primarily with regional staff across the world. As Senior Consultant, Sally is on-call for consultation and makes core URI values, practices and in-depth organizational wisdom available to the URI global community. Sally co-authored The Birth of a Global Community in 2003 and A Greater Democracy Day by Day. Sally holds Master's degrees from Harvard and the General Episcopal Seminary, New York. She lives in the Bay Area with her children and grandchildren nearby. Sally maintains the blog Every Voice, where she writes about the varied ways URI Cooperation Circle members all over the world give voice to URI and contribute to its success.

Sally maintains several recurring blog series on the URI website. You can access them at URI.org/sally.

Sarah Oliver

Associate Director of Global Programs

Since 2016, Sarah Oliver has been the URI Youth Coordinator for the Southern African region, working to strengthen the voices of young people across the regional URI network. In this role, she has led interfaith and leadership skills training programs with youth from Cooperation Circles across South Africa, Malawi, and Mozambique. She developed the Girls Not Brides Campaign with URI Youth Ambassadors in these areas. As an experienced facilitator, Sarah runs interfaith youth programs for high school learners with the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative in partnership with GOAL (Giving Opportunity to Aspiring Leaders), both Cooperation Circles of URI. Within these programs, Sarah strives to create spaces of trust, dialogue, and learning across religious and cultural divides. In July 2019, Sarah took on the role of URI Global Youth Coordinator, expanding her work to connect, support, and inspire youth engagement globally in URI’s network.