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Near East Foundation makes historic move to Syracuse University

June 08, 2010

Sara Miller
(315) 443-9038

Syracuse University and the Near East Foundation (NEF) have announced a historic affiliation that joins the national research university with the oldest nondenominational international development organization in the United States. The affiliation brings together SU’s rich mix of academic programs, institutes and other resources with NEF’s 95 years of experience in social and economic development to find creative solutions to the challenges of vulnerable communities in the Middle East and Africa. 
NEF has relocated its headquarters to the SU campus in Syracuse while remaining an independent organization. This unprecedented affiliation between a major higher education institution and an international nonprofit development organization places SU and NEF at the cutting edge of innovative philanthropic partnerships. 

SU Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric F. Spina points out that the University’s new relationship with NEF is both natural and deeply reciprocal. “We know, as NEF does, that the challenges facing communities across the Middle East and Africa are complex, demanding cross-sector collaboration to address them,” Spina says. “NEF’s presence on the SU campus will facilitate precisely that, stimulating mutually beneficial engagement between our faculty—which already has extensive interests and expertise in those regions—and the foundation’s existing community of experts. At the same time, we will create extraordinary opportunities for our students to test what they learn by tackling global issues in their local contexts.” 

Violet Jabara Jacobs, a longtime NEF donor and friend, facilitated this affiliation with a $3 million endowment gift. “Her gift is a vote of confidence for this new phase of NEF’s journey,” says Shant Mardirossian, NEF chairman. “We all are grateful for her support.” 

Mardirossian also commended William Sullivan, assistant dean at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, and Alex Papachristou, NEF’s outgoing president, for their vision and tireless effort to make this affiliation a reality. And he welcomes Johnsie Garrett as vice chairman of the board, extending a long tradition of leadership from the Dodge family. 

Founded 95 years ago, NEF pioneered large-scale humanitarian relief from 1915-30, providing relief to Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians facing persecution during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, and community-based economic development from 1930 until today. NEF’s work served as a model for social and economic development institutions around the world, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps and the United Nations Development Program. Today, NEF works in the Middle East and Africa to improve conditions of vulnerable communities confronting the effects of chronic poverty, conflict, migration and climate change. These communities include marginalized social groups (young people in Morocco’s peri-urban slums and residents of “poverty pockets” in rural Jordan); villages isolated by their environment (Berbers in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, Malians facing an encroaching desert, Egyptian farmers relocated from the Nile Delta and rural Armenians cut off from economic opportunity); and people affected by conflict (Palestinians in the West Bank, Iraqis in Jordan and Darfurians in central Sudan). 

NEF assists its local partners to participate more fully in the development of their countries—to build the lives they envision for themselves. NEF supports these groups at three levels: increasing access to knowledge necessary to participate fully in civic and economic life through education, job training and literacy programs; helping amplify their collective voice through community organizing and institutional strengthening initiatives; and creating economic opportunities through enterprise development, micro-credit and improved agricultural and natural resource management. 

NEF and SU are working together to create opportunities for the SU community through internships and research. NEF will offer SU students opportunities to put their education into practice through service learning activities in the United States and participation in on-the-ground development work abroad. Moving forward, SU and NEF will work together to develop jointly implemented projects involving students and faculty in grassroots development efforts. 

NEF will continue to have a limited presence in Manhattan, where it has been based since its founding in 1915. It will maintain all of its six international offices, staffed by local teams, in Egypt, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Palestine and Sudan. Also, NEF recently returned to its historical roots in Armenia, where it is working in partnership with Armenian-based organizations to promote enterprise development in remote rural areas. 

NEF’s new president, Charles Benjamin, will be based at SU. Benjamin has more than 20 years of experience in social and economic development in the Middle East and Africa. At SU, Benjamin will work with a small staff focused on administration, development and program management. He will also teach courses in development theory and practice at the Maxwell School. 

“NEF has always prided itself on being a learning organization,” says Benjamin. “The fit with SU, with its strong commitment to social engagement, is perfect. Now more than ever we need thoughtful approaches to the problems of the Middle East and Africa. And we anticipate that the SU community will shape NEF’s work in important ways—bringing new skills and creative solutions to the people we serve, identifying new program areas, and analyzing our work with a new rigor.” 

Based on its history of academic and research ties in international relations, its two-way institutional philosophy of Scholarship in Action and emphasis on insight that drives change, and its ever-expanding catalog of programs of opportunity for student and faculty engagement with the world, SU is the ideal location for NEF, according to Benjamin. Academic centers such as the Moynihan Institute in the Maxwell School will provide rich opportunities for collaboration with NEF to help address challenges and explore effective strategies for the development of civil society. The Moynihan Institute’s mission of exploring international and global concerns raised by an interdependent world of diverse cultures, economies and political systems is paralleled in NEF’s grassroots work abroad. 

For more information on NEF, visit:, or contact Benjamin at

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