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

Biff Barnard

Senior Advisor

In October 2016, Biff Barnard joined URI as its Director of Institutional Advancement, after serving as a member of URI’s Senior Advisory Council since 2003.  Biff was appointed URI’s Acting Executive Director on September 2, 2021, and remained in the position for 11 months, and on August 1, 2022, he resumed his position as the Director of Institutional Advancement.  On January 1, 2023, he assumed the role of Senior Advisor, supporting the Executive Director and the Global Program's team.  

Prior to 2016, 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 served on the San Francisco 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 is the Founder and President Emeritus of the United Religions Initiative. Bishop Swing had the original vision of URI in 1993 in response to an invitation from the United Nations, which asked him to host an interfaith service honoring the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. Bishop Swing, along with 50 others, shaped the URI purpose (to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings). URI is currently the largest interfaith grassroot organization.

Bishop Swing Bishop Swing served as the 7th Episcopal Bishop of California from 1980 until his retirement in 2006. In that capacity, he was a national and international leader in response to the AIDS crisis, co-founded Episcopal Community Services to address San Francisco’s homeless problem, and co-founded Community Bank of the Bay to support local businesses and the economy.

He is married to Mary Taylor Swing and has two children and three grandchildren.

Books by Bishop Swing: 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

Regional Director for Africa 

Other Job Titles: URI Representative at the UN (Africa office)  and the African Union, 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.

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 Advisor

Sally Mahé, Senior Advisor and 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 Advisor, Sally supports the Communications Team, is on-call for consultation, and makes core URI values, practices, and 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 several recurring blog series on the URI website.

Sarah Oliver

Global Youth and Learning Coordinator

Sarah began her journey with URI in 2016, working as the Youth Coordinator for the URI Southern African region. In this role, she designed and facilitated interfaith and leadership skills training programs with youth from Cooperation Circles across South Africa, Malawi, and Mozambique. Sarah worked with CCs to develop the Girls Not Brides Campaign addressing early child marriage particularly in Malawi. In 2019, Sarah joined the Global Support Office, stepping in to coordinate the global youth network of URI. In doing so, she initiated projects of global connection for young people across the network, such as the URI Youth Connection Café’s, regional facilitator training programs, cross regional youth camps, and the youth capacity building and seed grant program. The aim being to enhance meaningful youth engagement and leadership across the network. In 2023, Sarah joined the Learning and Impact Strategies team, where she now serves in designing and facilitating collective learning experiences to advance our URI Purpose, with ongoing attention to URI's youth programming. 

As an experienced facilitator, Sarah is passionate about connecting issues of interfaith dialogue, youth leadership, peacebuilding and social justice. Locally in Cape Town, South Africa, Sarah volunteers with the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, the African Climate Alliance and ChangeWays: Centre for Collaborative Justice - as a reminder that in a global network like URI, it’s important to always have one’s feet on the ground!