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.

EXECUTIVE STAFF

Jerry White

Executive Director

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 teaches religion, violence, and strategy as a Professor of Practice at the University of Virginia.

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, 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.

GLOBAL SUPPORT OFFICE STAFF

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

Director of Institutional Advancement

In October 2016, Biff Barnard joined URI as its Director of Institutional Advancement, having served as a member of URI’s Senior Advisory Council since 2003.  Biff served as URI’s Acting Executive Director from September 2021 through July 2022, and, on August 1, 2022, resumed his position as the Director of Institutional Advancement. His primary responsibilities are Fundraising (individual and institutional donors) and Partnership Relations.

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

URI Director of Global Partnerships

Other Job Titles: 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.

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 Consultant

Sally Mahé, Senior Consultant 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 Consultant, Sally 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.

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.

Alla Tarasenko

Junior Accountant

Alla Tarasenko is a professional with vast experience in e-commerce, telecommunications, and non-profit areas. She loves puzzles and riddles and, working as an accountant, Alla solves them every day. She likes digging into a bunch of numbers and turning it all into a set of meaningful reports. Alla received a master's degree in business administration and a master's degree in law from the Ukrainian National University. She moved with her family from Ukraine to the US several years ago. Alla lives with her husband and two sons in the Bay Area. In her free time, she likes traveling with her family across the United States and the entire world. They have already visited more than 15 states and 30 countries. Alla’s motto is to make our world a better place to live for everyone. So, it is a great pleasure and joy for her to work in an organization with which she can share her passion and strive towards a common goal.

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.