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 a