The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women is a non-profit education and leadership development program working to create the next generation of women leaders in Afghanistan. The Initiative is exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.


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©2019 The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women.   All rights reserved.

Leadership Academy 2018: Building Bridges Through Service Leadership

May 20, 2018


The Initiative's annual weeklong Leadership Academy in Washington, DC is a capstone experience of workshops inspired by The Initiative’s mission and core values led by nationally and internationally recognized experts in their fields. Special emphasis is given to the areas of diversity and inclusion to give the women in our program, who represent a number of politically polarized ethnicities in Afghanistan, an opportunity to create a supportive network which will sustain them throughout their lives and careers.


Students also receive a series lectures on leadership principles and empowerment; media and communications; as well as workshops on academic and professional road-mapping and resume and cover letter writing to prepare students for their participation in The Initiative’s Summer Internship in Afghanistan program.


Click on the agenda (right) for details:


The theme of Leadership Academy 2018, Building Bridges Through Service Leadership, provided our students with insight into a wide variety of public and private sector endeavors currently underway in Afghanistan including ways they can pay forward the US undergraduate education and leadership training they are receiving through The Initiative to support those efforts during the school year as well as each summer and after graduation in Afghanistan.


As in years past, students had the opportunity to interact with leading US academics, journalists, policy- and lawmakers from the United States Institute of Peace, the United States Department of State, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, the US-Afghan Women’s Council, United States Congress, and the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.





Two very special highlights of Leadership Academy are the Annual Flower Ceremony for graduating seniors and the Annual Afghan Dinner and Awards during which we honor an outstanding member of our community as well as present the Kobra Ahmadi Memorial Award for Academic and Leadership Excellence. Graduating seniors Azada Ahmadi (Meredith College 2018), Marzia Hosseini (Montclair State Universtiy 2018) and Fereshta Noori (Smith College 2018) were honored by members of the freshman, sophomore and junior classes during this year’s Annual Flower Ceremony.


This year’s Annual Afghan Dinner and Awards event was hosted by His Excellency Ambassador Hamdullah and Lael Mohib and sponsored by Shahin Mafi and Christine Warnke. The Initiative honored Ellen B. Kagen of Georgetown University’s Center for Child and Human Development and presented the Kobra Ahmadi Memorial Award to Fereshta Noori (Smith College 2018). Hajar Hussaini (Russell Sage 2019), The Initiative's Poet Laureate, offered a prose dedication entitled Bide Majnoon and Suhaib Khan, Northwestern Universtiy NEXT Program extern, recited the blessing for our Iftar.





Our very special thanks to The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women Advisory Board, the Leadership Academy 2018 Planning Committee (Ellen B. Kagen, Suhaib Khan, Naheed Vadsaria, Daphne Wales, and Latifa Woodhouse) as well as our hosts and presenters for making this year's gathering such a huge success!




Ambassador Steven E. Steiner

United States Institute of Peace

The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women | Advisory Board

Ambassador Steven E. Steiner is the gender advisor for the U.S. Institute of Peace. He previously served in the Department of State’s Office of Global Women‘s Issues and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. He also was the director of the Department's Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative. Ambassador Steiner served for 36 years in the United States Foreign Service. He completed tours of duty at the US embassy in Moscow and the State Department’s Offices of Soviet Union and West German Affairs and served as the deputy director of the Department’s Operations Center, its 24-hour crisis management facility. He served from 1983 to 1988 as director of Defense Programs on the National Security Council Staff. He was named by President Reagan as the US representative to the Special Verification Commission, the implementing body for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and was named by President Bush in September 1991 to serve as the US Representative to the Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission, the implementing body for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Ambassador Steiner received the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award in 2002, Presidential Meritorious Service Awards in 1990 and 1992, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s Superior Honor Award in 1993. In May 1983, he received the Department of State's Superior Honor Award for his work on European security issues. Born in Pennsylvania, Ambassador Steiner received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Yale University in 1963 and a Master’s Degree in International Relations from Columbia University in 1966. He is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations, The Washington Institute on Foreign Affairs, and the US-Afghan Women's Council, and he serves on the Board of the Council for a Community of Democracies.


Belquis Ahmadi

United States Institute of Peace | Senior Program Officer

The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women | Advisory Board

Belquis Ahmadi has over 20 years of experience working in Afghanistan on issues related to gender, human rights, civil society development, rule of law, governance and democracy. Ms. Ahmadi’s extensive experience includes senior management positions under large USAID programs in Afghanistan, evaluation of USAID gender and democracy and governance programming, and analysis and design of gender and human rights programming, and training and mentoring Afghan civil society and government candidates. She has also published extensively on democracy, governance and women’s rights in Afghanistan. From November 2010 to March 2014, Ms. Ahmadi worked on the USAID-funded Regional Afghan Municipalities Program for Urban Populations Regional Command East (RAMP UP), implemented in 14 provinces. In this role, Ms. Ahmadi managed the technical work of the program to ensure high quality results and deliverables. In addition, she developed core skills training modules to integrate and mainstream gender in all aspects of governance, service delivery, and leadership to over 200 municipal officials in fourteen provinces. From 2006 to 2009, Ms. Ahmadi served as senior human rights advisor in Afghanistan. In this role, she provided leadership and management oversight of resources, including budget, planning, and program monitoring; designed and implemented activities promoting women’s rights through the use of religious arguments, providing analysis of the Shiite Personal Status Law, as well as providing advice and guidance in drafting of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women; and oversaw the preparation of training materials for programs. From 2000 to 2004, she served as program coordinator for Global Rights Partners for Justice in Washington DC, managing their Afghanistan program. From 1987 to 1999, Ms. Ahmadi worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross, CARE International, and the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) in Afghanistan. Ms. Ahmadi earned her LLM in International Human Rights Law from Georgetown University Law Center and her LLB of Law from Kabul University.


Palwasha L. Kakar

United States Institute of Peace | Senior Program Manager

Palwasha L. Kakar is the senior program officer for religion and inclusive societies at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). Kakar joined USIP after four years with The Asia Foundation where she was the Afghanistan director for Women’s Empowerment and Development. Prior to joining the Foundation, Kakar led the Gender Mainstreaming and Civil Society Unit in the United Nation Development Program's Afghanistan Subnational Governance Program managing a small grants program for Afghanistan's civil society initiatives. Kakar also served as program manager for The Gender Studies Institute at Kabul University. She has experience working with the World Bank Group on gender, social justice and environmental issues surrounding their various projects in the region. Kakar moved to Afghanistan 2004 to work with the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), an independent research organization, on women's participation at the local levels in the National Solidarity Programme (NSP). Before moving to Afghanistan, she was the director of the Newton Peace Center (currently Peace Connections) a faith-based civil society organization. An Afghan-American, she has experience teaching and researching religion, gender, security and local governance. Kakar has published research regarding women’s participation in local governance, Pashtunwali-Afghan customary law, Afghan women's identity, and social spaces in Afghanistan. Her research has taken her to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. She earned a Master's degree focusing on gender, politics and religion from Harvard University’s Divinity School and a Bachelor's degree in Religion and Global Studies focusing on peace and conflict from Bethel College in North Newton, KS.


Hodei Sultan

United States Institute of Peace | Program Manager

United States Responsible for the successful development and implementation of multiple aspects of the Afghanistan and Pakistan program including administration, planning, financial management, design and implementation of USIP’s gender and training programs in Afghanistan.




Ambassador Alice Wells

United States Department of State | Acting Assistant Secretary

Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs | Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary

Alice G. Wells, a career Foreign Service Officer, assumed her duties as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia on June 26, 2017. She previously served as the United States Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; a senior adviser in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in the Department of State, as Special Assistant to the President for Russia and Central Asia in the White House (2012-2013); Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Clinton (2011-2012); and Executive Assistant to Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns (2009-2011). From 2006 to 2009, Ambassador Wells served as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at U.S. Embassy Moscow, and previously worked as Director of Maghreb Affairs and as Acting Director of Egypt and North African Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Ambassador Wells also served as a political officer at U.S. Embassy New Delhi, U.S. Embassy Islamabad and U.S. Embassy Riyadh. Ambassador Wells has a B.A. from Stanford University and a joint M.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles/Rand Corporation. She speaks Russian and has studied Arabic, Urdu and Hindi.


Rahima Kandahari

United States Department of State | Office of Global Women’s Issues | Acting Director

Rahima Kandahari is a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State for the past 18 years. She is the Senior Advisor and Director of Operation for the Office of Global Women Issues. Before this, she served as a Public Diplomacy Officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Office of Press and Public Diplomacy. Rahima has served as the Media Team Lead in the Strategic Communication Office of U.S Embassy Kabul. Other overseas tours include Bagram, Afghanistan, Jeddah and Copenhagen. Rahima's expertise and interests are in the South-East Asia on the subjects of strategic communication, gender issues and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).  She is fluent in Dari, Farsi, and Hindi. Rahima holds a Computer Science degree from American University Washington DC, and Master of Art in Strategic Security Studies from National Defense University, College of International Security Affairs.




Ellen B. Kagen

Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development | Senior Policy Director

Ellen B. Kagen is a Senior Policy Associate of the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development where she directs the Georgetown Leadership Program. She is the editor of a leadership training curriculum that focuses on leadership within complex organizational change and community transformation. Ellen has 25 years of experience working at the national, state and local levels on leadership development and managing collaborative change processes. At the heart of Ellen’s work is a focus on innovation and the creation of breakthrough strategies that sustain the evolution of constructive change. Ellen has been recognized for the creation of an innovative coaching and consultation model called Transformation Facilitation, which strengthens leadership effectiveness in reaching goals. A civic activist, Ellen is the inaugural recipient of the International BBYO One Voice Award for her leadership in enhancing youth engagement and activism in communities worldwide. She holds an MSW in Social Strategy from the University of Maryland and a Certificate in Leadership from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She is a Fellow of the Wexner Foundation Leadership Program. Ellen is a contributing author in The Leadership Equation, Leadership Function and Styles and The Work of Leadership in Systems Change edited by Phyllis Magrab and Gary Blau and published by Brooks Publishing. In 2014, Ellen conceived and delivered the US Afghan Women’s Council Rising Afghan Women Leadership Initiative at the Georgetown University Doha, Qatar conference.


Dr. Phyllis Magrab

Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development

Dr. Phyllis R. Magrab is Vice Chair of the US-Afghan Women’s Council at Georgetown University.  She is Professor of Pediatrics, a well-known pediatric psychologist, and director of the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, a component of the Department of Pediatrics which brings together policy, research, and clinical practice for the betterment of children and their families, especially those with special needs. Dr. Magrab is also a consultant to UNESCO and holds a UNESCO Chair, and leads an international health and literacy effort.  There is an Endowed Chair in her name at Georgetown University, the Phyllis R. Magrab Chair, which is dedicated to the continuation of her work on behalf of vulnerable children.


Megan Wong

US-Afghan Women’s Council | Executive Director

Megan Wong is the Executive Director of the US-Afghan Women’s Council.  She has worked on women and children’s rights in diverse capacities throughout her career at the U.S. State Department, including spearheading US policy engagement on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, advocating for women’s human rights globally particularly in the Middle East North Africa, and as a member of U.S. delegations to the UN Human Rights Council and the Commission on the Status of Women. Prior to joining the Federal government, Megan was a professional writer and also previously served as a Legislative Aide to members of the California State Assembly and Senate.  She has lived in Syria, Armenia and Italy, holds a BA in history from the University of California at Davis and a Master’s degree in International Relations from Yale University.




Congresswoman Niki Tsongas

US Representative | D-MA Third District

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas was elected to the United States House of Representatives in a 2007 special election, becoming the first woman in twenty-five years to serve in Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She represents the Massachusetts Third District, holding the same seat that was held three decades earlier by her late husband, former Congressman, Senator and presidential candidate Paul Tsongas. The Third District spans across portions of Essex, Middlesex and Worcester counties. The Third District has a proud tradition of military service, and Congresswoman Tsongas honors that tradition, as well as the military family she grew up in, by serving as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. In this role, she has championed the fight to combat and prevent sexual assault in the military; authored numerous pieces of legislation that provide modern, cutting-edge resources, to our service members; and worked to support veterans transitioning to civilian life. She has also led the push for modernized body armor and is working to support the unparalleled innovation taking place at Massachusetts military installations. In 2017, she was elected by her peers to serve as the Ranking Member of the largest subcommittee, the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. Congresswoman Tsongas also serves as a senior member of the Natural Resources Committee. In addition, she has made supporting small businesses a priority and encouraging the growth of the state-of-the-art manufacturing and technology companies that have become a trademark of the region. The Congresswoman has made accessibility a hallmark of her Congressional office.  With offices in Lowell, Lawrence and Fitchburg, and office hours in Haverhill and Marlborough, she has worked to make it as easy as possible for residents to connect with her about any issue of concern to them or to get assistance with problems they may have when dealing with federal agencies.




Suhaib Khan

Northwestern University Class of 2019 | NEXT Program Extern

Suhaib Khan joins us at Leadership Academy 2018 as part of Northwestern University’s Externship Program (NEXT), a one- or more-day shadowing program offering current Northwestern students the opportunity to accompany alumni on the job in order to learn more about different professional fields. Students spend time observing and often working alongside their alumni hosts in order to gain insight into the practical aspects of potential careers. Suhaib, who hails from Chicago, Illinois is a junior majoring in Economics and Political Science at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Suhaib has assembled an impressive catalog of activities and awards while at Northwestern incl