Executive Staff and Global Support Office

The Global Support Office (GSO) is the core staff team that supports the URI network of Cooperation Circles and is responsible for the overall implementation of communications, fundraising, finances, and administration for URI.

Please use the search box below to meet the GSO Staff.


Jerry White

Executive Director URI and URI Foundation

Social Entrepreneur, Senior Ashoka Fellow, and humanitarian activist Jerry White furthers his peacebuilding journey by joining United Religions Initiative as Executive Director.

Jerry White is an author, diplomat, and humanitarian activist known for leading high-impact campaigns, three of which led to international treaties: the Landmine Ban Treaty, the Cluster Munitions Ban, and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 1984, White lost his lower right leg while hiking in an unmarked minefield in Israel. He worked closely with the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and shares the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. White wrote of his experience helping thousands of war victims build resilience in “Getting Up When Life Knocks You Down.”

White studied religion at Brown University, theology at Cambridge University, and business at the University of Michigan. He has an honorary degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine and was a Professor of Practice for seven years at the University of Virginia, teaching courses on religion-related conflict, strategy, and social entrepreneurship. His latest book is "Religicide: Confronting the Roots of Anti-Religious Violence" (2022).

Jerry White and his wife Kelly live in Washington, DC, and have four adult children.

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.


Larissa Abaunza

Human and Women's Rights Associate

Larissa Abaunza joined URI’s violence prevention team as our first Human and Women’s Rights Associate. Through this new position, Larissa will support URI's mandate to reduce religiously motivated violence worldwide. 

Larissa first engaged with human rights work at the age of five. Having “grown up” in the offices of Amnesty International, where her mother served as a director, she has dedicated her life to grassroots human rights and social justice advocacy. Larissa received her BA in International Relations, with a concentration in Genocide, Human Rights, and Holocaust Studies from Claremont McKenna College, culminating in her award-winning thesis, titled "Rape and Sexual Violence Used as a Weapon of War and Genocide." In 2018, Larissa was selected as a Fulbright recipient through the U.S. Department of State where she conducted research into the educational segregation and racial discrimination of Roma children and communities in Eastern Hungary. Upon her return to the United States, Larissa pursued an MA in Human Rights Studies from Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, focusing her studies on the intersection of gender and terrorism, specifically on how women and girls are the keys to combatting violent extremism. Her graduate thesis examined the motivations of women combatants in Nicaragua's Sandinista movement and Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers. Larissa specializes in open-source research, data, and policy analysis, as well as rigorous qualitative and quantitative research. Some of her other research and advocacy interests include gender dimensions of technology, indigenous feminism in Latin America, post-conflict transitional justice, and racial disparities in maternal healthcare in the US. Involved with charitable organizations in Ecuador and Nicaragua (where her family is from), she is a native Spanish speaker and loves traveling and reading.

Pamela H. Banks

Director of Finance and Administration

Pamela Banks joined URI in March 2011 originally as a Fiscal Consultant tasked with completing the annual audit, and then transitioning to the finance department. In July 2011, she accepted the position of Director of Finance and Administration. In 2000, as corporate finance was going through various changes, Pamela discovered non-profit service was a better fit for her skill set and was personally more rewarding. Her background includes 20 years of accounting experience, with the last 10 years being exclusively in not-for-profit service. She has directed not-for-profit finance in social service programs in Alameda, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.

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.

Diana Conan

Director of Development and Outreach

Diana Conan serves as URI Director of Development and Outreach collaborating on the strategic direction and overall activities of the development department, managing key events for URI such as the Circles of Light gala and the Leadership Face-to-Face meetings, and overseeing the Communication department's external strategies.  Diana serves as the staff liaison for the URI Foundation. Diana joined URI in 2013 as its Annual Fund and Events Manager, and was promoted to Associate Director of Development, then Director of Development.  Diana was born and raised in France and earned her BA degree from Barnard College in New York City, USA. Diana currently lives between San Francisco and Mount Shasta, and enjoys learning about diverse religious traditions and cooking various cuisines.

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.

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.

Lejla Hasandedic-Dapo

Individual Membership Coordinator

Lejla Hasandedic-Dapo is a psychologist, psychotherapist, lecturer, activist, peacebuilder, and volunteer from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently, she is doing her Ph.D. in psychology at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, in Turkey. She was URI Youth Ambassador and, since 2013, she has been working as United Religions Initiative (URI) Europe CC Liaison Officer. Also, she is the co-founder of Youth for Peace, an organization that positioned itself as one of the most prominent youth-led organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, working in the field of peacebuilding. As she is very passionate about peacebuilding and interfaith work, she became a non-violent communication trainer, Learning to Live Together trainer, PPA and KAICIID fellow. In March 2022, Lejla joined the URI Global Staff team as the Individual Membership Coordinator.

Aida Iranzadeh

Senior Accountant

Aida Iranzadeh studied Finance and Accounting in Malaysia and Business Administration at the University of Chicago Illinois. She worked several years as an accountant in the international tourism industry prior to moving to the US to further her education. She joined the URI as a Senior Accountant in December 2021 and is very excited to have the opportunity to contribute to a company whose core values are very well aligned with hers and to make a positive impact. She is fluent in Farsi, loves mountains, and enjoys painting, biking, and skiing. She had her first oil color exhibition in Oakland in 2016 and is currently working towards her passion for collage, abstract, and acrylic colors. Aida is a Bay Area resident and lives with her husband and 11 years old toy poodle.

Emerson James

Special Projects and Systems Coordinator

Emerson James (they/them) calls Northern Utah home. They have a BS in Environmental Stewardship from McPherson College and an MS in English with an emphasis in Creative Nonfiction from Utah State University. While at McPherson College, they were introduced to the Church of the Brethren and the denomination’s deep commitment to pacifism and nonviolence. Since, they have been called to the particular role of faith-based action in movements towards social and environmental justice. They currently serve as a part-time lay leader for Cache Valley Unitarian Universalists in the role of Director of Ministry and Religious Education. They are certified by the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies as an eco-chaplain.

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

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.

Akidi Sharon Regina

Communication Officer

Akidi Sharon Regina is a communications specialist with over 4 years of experience in the non-profit sector. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Communication from Makerere University. Akidi specializes in communications for development, creative storytelling, advocacy, promoting and maintaining organization image, branding, and multimedia production. She is enthusiastic about using her skills to tell people’s stories of change, peacebuilding, youth empowerment, and the well-being of children. Akidi joined URI Global staff team in March 2022 as a Communications Officer. She looks forward to sharing her experience, and contribution to global URI’s mission. Akidi enjoys good conversations, photography, traveling, and learning about new cultures. She lives in Kampala, Uganda.

Reuben Shank

Director of Learning and Impact Strategies

Reuben Shank (he/him; Patwin lands/Davis, CA) serves as the Director of Learning and Impact Strategies. He collaborates with the senior management team and the Global Programs Team to co-create innovative impact strategies that advance just peacebuilding and transformative healing across our religious, indigenous, ancestral, and cultural differences. He loves to co-design transformational learning programs and cultures of deep partnership and shared growth. Growing up in a minority Christian pacifist tradition (Mennonite) in Belgium, Reuben brings 25 years of deep commitment to the hard and rewarding labors of fighting for justice, building peace, and nurturing the learning, healing, and thriving of each and everyone, especially those most impacted by the intersecting painful crises of our times. He has facilitated collaborative learning and strategic projects at the grassroots level in South America, West Africa, and the US; in academic centers in the US and the UK; and in multi-sector national and international change-making organizations. In these projects, he invites all to courageously lean into our sometimes difficult differences, tend to our healing, and gently generate new powerful possibilities for ourselves, our communities, and our world. Reuben looks forward to speaking with you in French, Spanish, or English (and will try to learn any other language you speak). He loves the silence of wide open spaces as much as the inner soul, and renews himself by playing joyfully with his human and canine friends in high mountains, snow, and warm waters.

Alanna Sousa

Communications Associate

Brazilian-born and raised in the world, Alanna Sousa (she/her) embraces diversity as a personal value. Committed to change-making and dedicated to elevating the voices of those who are left voiceless by social inequalities, for over 15 years, Alanna has been working with humanitarian causes, with&within underprivileged communities, in Brazil and other countries around the globe. Since 2019, she's incorporated art into career, presenting her work through photography and videography.

She connects with spirituality through Umbanda and Xamanism, a personal journey that guides her activism toward the importance of preserving the environment and Indigenous Peoples' lives and rights. Alanna Yara Sousa is an artist, activist, and storyteller currently serving URI as Communications Associate. 

Alice Swett

Director of Global Programs

Alice Swett has spent most of her career applauding, mentoring, and training youth and adults working for positive social change. Prior to joining URI, Alice managed the City of Boulder, Colorado’s Youth Opportunities Program/YOAB for 16 years. She also served as a Trustee of the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County. In 2013 Alice was grateful to be named a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, which enabled her to receive a Master’s Degree in Peace Education from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. She spent time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Theatre et Réconciliation, using participatory theater as a tool for community transformation. She loves vegetarian food, intercultural exchanges of all types, ragtime piano, and being outdoors.

Lauren Van Ham

Climate Action Coordinator

Raised in the Midwest, Lauren Van Ham's professional life began as a performing artist in NYC before attending interfaith seminary in California. After ordination (1999), Lauren served as chaplain in both healthcare and corporate settings, and seminary Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute. Her passion for spirituality, art and Earth's teachings construct her focus in eco-ministry, grief & loss, and sacred activism. She is a guest writer for “Progressing Spirit,” an online publication exploring theology, spirituality and public events. She holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and Naropa University. Lauren is a spiritual director and serves as guest faculty for several schools in the Bay Area.

Karen Volker

Director of Partnership and Violence Prevention

Karen Volker was born and raised in California before starting her international journey of diplomacy and violence prevention. She joined URI in January 2023 after a ten-year stint at Cure Violence Global (CVG), a community-based violence prevention nonprofit, and a 26-year career at the U.S. Department of State as a member of the U.S. Foreign Service. At CVG, Karen specialized in adapting the model to different social and cultural contexts and different types of violence.  While at the State Department, Karen spent over a decade overseeing the implementation of U.S. foreign assistance programming in a variety of regions undergoing transition (including Central & Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Middle East).  Other areas of focus include countering violent extremism and multilateral diplomacy, especially vis-a-vis the European Union. Although Karen has devoted her professional life to promoting pluralism, defending human rights, and preventing violence, she has always found time to volunteer in her community and pursue her passion for holistic health and nutrition. Karen enjoys meeting and connecting people.

At URI, Karen focuses on expanding URI's partnerships and brings intentionality and effective practice to sharpen URI’s mandate to reduce religiously motivated violence worldwide. Karen represents URI at the United Nations, seeking to strengthen and expand relationships with partners as well as influencing global policies to advance interfaith cooperation, prevent violence, and promote cultures of peace, justice, and healing. Karen lives in Maryland, has two grown children, and loves spending time outdoors. In 2019, she summited Mt. Kilimanjaro and now looks forward to tackling her next big challenge: growing and energizing the world’s largest grassroots network of interfaith peacebuilders.