Our team

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Janessa Gans Wilder, Founder + CEO

Janessa Gans Wilder, a former CIA analyst, founded Euphrates on the heels of a 21-month assignment in Iraq. Janessa was liaising with top Iraqi leaders in the run up to the first elections in 2005, and witnessed first hand the clashes between Americans and Iraqis and the lack of cultural, religious, and historical understanding that pervaded both sides. Convinced that our foreign policy challenges require more than government effort, Janessa resigned from the CIA to start a grassroots movement to allay fear and restore trust between the West and Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11. Her aim is to help citizens on both sides realize their mutual humanity as the way to find lasting freedom and security. Her Middle East experience has included Arabic study in the Palestinian Territories and extended travel throughout the Arab world. After five years of government service on the Middle East and South Asia, she became a consultant to the State Department and a visiting professor of Middle East issues at Principia College. Janessa received a Master’s degree in International Policy Studies from Stanford University, and her BA from Principia College.

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Oliver Simpson, Fellows Program Manager

Oliver Simpson graduated from Principia College in May 2013 with a Mass Communication major and a Political Science minor. While at Principia, Oliver wrote for the Principia college newspaper, the Pilot, as the World Columnist, where he focused on looking at global situations with a fair and progressive eye. Coming from the UK, Oliver has a strong sense of global community. From a country that although similar in many ways is different too, Oliver is able to see how as global citizens we are all connected. Oliver decided to work with Euphrates because he loves the positive and progressive approach taken by the organisation to promote awareness and understanding about a part of the world that is so misunderstood. Oliver is interested in following a journalistic related career that helps him become a better world citizen.
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Natasha Turak, Publications Director

Natasha Turak is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Politics. Originally from Washinton, D.C., she has spent time in Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan and plans to continue exploring the Middle East. It was through meeting people there and living with families, both Christian and Muslim, that she realized the positive potential of intimate dialogue and the vast common desires that we all share, regardless of religion or ethnicity. She also discovered the predominantly moderate and conflict-averse populations that are widely ignored by mainstream Western media. Natasha hopes to promote the building of camaraderie and tolerance as an invaluable tool in breaking misconceptions and paving the way toward peace and greater understanding. Her future plans include further travel, NGO work, and studying Arabic.

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Craig Hunter, Attorney

Craig Hunter has been a Los Angeles trial lawyer for about 30 years who likes to think he breaks the traditional mold.  He received a B.A. in mathematics from Principia College and a law degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, serving as an editor of the law review.  As his daughters steered clear of the law, Craig branched out from his litigation practice to help commercial wind developers and assist a few Indian tribes in developing their economies through gaming and renewable energy projects.  He is also a commercial pilot who enjoys flying as a hobby and is a weekend sailor and surfer.

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Chuck Wattles, Chairman of the Board of Directors

Chuck Wattles has worked for many years in both international and domestic development programs for numerous non-governmental organizations and governmental agencies.  Internationally, he worked with the Education Development Center as the Washington D.C. Program Manager for a Youth Leadership Program in the West Bank and Gaza, and lived for three years in Sudan working with street children, refugee resettlement, emergency housing, and disaster relief. He’s traveled throughout East Africa, the West Bank, Israel, and Jordan. While working at Peace Corps headquarters he brought special focus to combining youth development and environmental projects. In the U.S. he has directed three nonprofit housing and community development organizations and served on the boards of two youth development organizations. He has a Master’s degree in International Administration from the School for International Training, in Brattleboro, Vermont.

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Rebecca Tobias, Vice President, Board of Directors

Rebecca Tobias is a Global Council Trustee of the United Religions Initiative and the Program Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics, which designs and facilitates interfaith and intercultural programming which serves to foster a culture of peace; and through her work has coordinated capacity-building projects with civic, faith, and social justice advocacy organizations locally, nationally and internationally. As a Fellow with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights for the Working Groups for Indigenous Populations, Rebecca assisted in the drafting of resolutions presented for the Human Rights Sub-Commission meeting held in August 2005 and since that time has served as a delegate to the United Nations for several CSO’s including the inaugural meeting of the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace.

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Kent Libbe, Chief Financial Officer

Kent Libbe brings his 35 years of business experience to the Euphrates Institute.  He earned his MBA and BS degrees from Bowling Green State University.  His work background is focused in the areas of finance and accounting but also includes eleven years serving as the President of a major regional construction company.  He also worked as a consultant to small businesses for three years, during which time he discovered that his organizational experience could benefit many smaller organizations.

His introduction to the Euphrates Institute came through his daughter who participated in a life changing three month experience in the Middle East which was led by the Euphrates founder.  This led him to attend the Euphrates Summit at Principia College in 2011.  The powerful ideas presented there naturally drew him to want to help Janessa and her strong team with their very important mission in helping solve one of the most challenging issues in the world.

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Jean Jenkins, Secretary, Board of Directors

Jean Jenkins developed a love for the Arabic language as an undergraduate at the University of WI, Madison.  This led to participating in summer Arabic language programs in Jordan and Egypt – and then earning a Master’s degree in Middle East Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  As a Georgetown student she was awarded a one-year internship with NBC News in Cairo, Egypt and later covered international affairs as a reporter for Christian Science Monitor Radio.  Among other assignments, she traveled to Israel and the Occupied Territories to cover reaction to the 1993 signing of the first Israeli-Palestinian Peace agreement.

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Eric D. Pagett, Board of Directors

Eric D. Pagett has learned about both the beauty and complexity of the global community through undergraduate studies in the United States and traveling abroad.  While on a study abroad program that was co-sponsored by Euphrates Institute, Eric became keenly aware of mankind’s need for more compassion, justice, and love.  This sparked a deep desire to better understand the relationship between the West and the Middle East and to be an aware global citizen.  Eric believes that education is the tool to heal intolerance and the consequences of ignorance.  Eric has a BA in Business Administration from Principia College.  Eric is now a Christian Science Practitioner living on the central coast of California.
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Joy Schwentker, Board of Directors

Joy Schwentker’s interest in the Middle East began when she travelled to Syria, Jordan and Israel on a Bible study tour in 1995. Since then, she has travelled to Turkey and served as a Trustee of the Crisler Library in Ephesos (Turkey). As a founding member of a Middle East Book Club in Raleigh, NC, the books read have helped educate her about the history, people, religions, culture, politics, and literature of the region. She is a graduate of Principia College, attended the Euphrates Institute Summit there in 2011, is the head of a church-related non-profit organization, serves on boards and committees of other non-profits that work with young people, and enjoys her grandchildren and travelling with her husband.