Ruchira Gupta is a filmmaker, grassroots organizer, educator and activist. After completing her Emmy-award winning documentary,
The Selling of Innocents, Ruchira Gupta founded Apne Aap Women Worldwide, where she has served as President since 2002.
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@ Communications Officer
Mădălina Boț is pursuing an MA in International Relations at Central European University in Vienna and supports the communications strategy and implementation of the International Forum for Understanding and its various projects, such as MESPERO: Impact for Resilience and SDG2030.me. She is interested in the specificities of lived experience and human rights, which she has been exploring in various Romanian NGOs and as an intern of leading public institutions.
@ International Forum for Understanding
Mădălina Bot is interested in what could be done with those glimpses of agency in countless structures and systems – is there any place for an honest empowering of individuals? Her background in a diversity of Romanian NGOs and public institutions kept her searching for concrete answers to this generic research question. Currently pursuing a Masters in International Relations at Central European University (CEU), Vienna, she focuses on those lived experiences that are usually left out from institutional analysis. Mădălina also works as Communications Officer for the International Forum for Understanding.
Laurent Ziegler (MA) is the author of the print publication »Die Erinnerung an meine Kindheit«, an autobiographical analysis of traumatic experiences of childhood trafficking and ritual abuse, captured in paintings, drawings, text and photography. In his artistic work Laurent also focuses on installation and performative work. He studied Political Science at the University of Vienna and completed educational programs in contemporary dance and film. Laurent collaborates with artists in Europe and Japan and in 2009 initiated an arts-in-education program for photography in Sri Lanka (One World Foundation). For several years he led courses on perception and memory at the NDU New Design University in Austria. His work is internationally represented in group and solo exhibitions. Laurent is a current member of Künstlerhaus Wien and Bildrecht LLC.
He is a Member of the International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (ISTAC) which assists the work of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in combating trafficking in persons.
Hyab is an academic with a PhD entitled The Realities of Eritrean Refugees in a Carceral Age from the University of Glasgow, where he currently works as an academic coordinator for CUSP N+. He has extensive experience in undertaking fieldwork, interviews, critical evaluation and interpretation, as well as computer-based data analysis and evaluation. He is constantly working to update his skills and apply knowledge from a broad range of areas to his research activity. He is a highly motivated researcher with a special flair for critical thinking and writing skills, and brings unique experiences and perspectives to migration-related policy development and implementation. His recent publications include ‘Refugee trafficking in a carceral age: A case study of the Sinai trafficking’ (2021, Journal of Human Trafficking) and ‘Commentary’ (2020, Language and Intercultural Communication). Hyab is currently working on a number of co-authored journal articles and a Special Issue. For more details, please see Hyab’s personal website.
Heather Wokusch is the Executive Director of MESPERO: Impact for Resilience and of SDG2030.me; she serves as the Director of Development for the International Forum for Understanding. Her career in organizational development, human resources, education, cross-culture, and media has spanned five continents and multiple fields. After completing an advanced degree in Clinical Psychology in her native USA, Heather carried out development work in the Philippines, then spent decades in Japan and Europe consulting academic institutions and international business groups. A firm believer in Impact Tech and the democratization of knowledge, she is an expert in virtual learning. Heather also provides consultation on topics connected to organizational development (including digital transformation, leadership development, employee engagement, change management, strategy, and globalization).
Ms Hassina Syed was first female in the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). Fully committed to making Afghanistan a self-reliant economy, Ms Syed is fluent in Pashto, Farsi, English and Urdu, crossing all ethnic lines. Her entrepreneurial experience includes farming, food distribution, mining, plus the legendary Gandamack Lodge Hotel in Kabul. Ms Syed established the Afghan National Organisation for Women (NOW) and became a member of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum in Davos. She has travelled to the US giving keynote speeches at the White House and State Department. She has led social and trade missions to Germany, Pakistan, Poland, Italy, China, Iran, India, United States, Spain, Switzerland, Kosovo, Dubai, and participated in training in Jordan, Nepal, UK, and Sri Lanka. Her work is famous for its assiduous peace-building, education, conflict transformation across cultures, and human rights and gender equality.
Les Simm founded the International Forum for Understanding and serves as its Executive Director. Les works in the business sector, with governments, the UN, INGO’s and other entities in areas ranging from security risk management and business resilience to humanitarian operations and disaster relief. He has expertise in nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control and verification, security sector reform and countering transnational organised crime. Having trained as a psychiatric nurse in his early career, Les has long-term interest in mental health and wellbeing. Les is a passionate supporter of the SDGs with a particular focus on project implementation and making a demonstrable and direct impact on people’s lives.
Ishaan Shah is a 19-year-old international anti-human trafficking, gender equality and climate action young leader. In 2017, he founded Stolen Dreams, a youth-led organisation working with global stakeholders to drive concrete actions around countering trafficking in persons through education, advocacy, and policy. Ishaan is the first Youth Focal Point for the Review and Implementation of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and a UN Women National Gender Youth Advocate. Ishaan spends much of his time with survivors, organisations, policymakers, journalists, and lawyers, learning from the best minds in the world on these issues and always recognising intersectionalities.
Aigerim Seitenova is a human rights professional from Kazakhstan with more than three years of experience in the civil society sector of Kazakhstan with particular focus on human rights and peace education, youth and feminist activism.
She worked as the Head of the Department of Programmes in local NGO ‘Wings of Liberty’ based in Astana, Kazakhstan. Her interests center on the most efficient ways of increasing human rights knowledge by engaging and empowering young people, raising awareness about different human rights violations on the local, regional and global levels. Aigerim is an expert for the OSCE #Perspectives20-30 where she contributed to the chapter on human rights and peace education. Her interests also focus on critical analysis of the international human rights law in particular feminist and the so-called TWAIL (Third World Approaches to Law) critiques. She also collaborated with UN Women in Kazakhstan by coordinating the Civil Society Advisory Group.
An alumni of EU Global Campus Master’s Programme in Human Rights and Democratization in the Caucasus, Aigerim is currently finishing her postgraduate degree in International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex as a Chevening Scholar.
I am a North Korean escapee, a human rights activist, and the co-author of.The Hard Road Out.
I am a survivor of forced marriage and human trafficking. I escaped twice from North Korea, enduring imprisonment in North Korean gulags, and many near-death experiences. Today, as a human rights activist, I exemplify tremendous courage as I advocate for the rights of North Korean women and children. My work continues to place me in danger on a daily basis.
I am the winner of the NatWest Chairman’s Award AWA in 2018, the Amnesty Brave Award 2020, and The Sunday Times Alternative Heroes in 2021.
I currently live in the UK with my family, and was a conservative candidate for local elections in the UK 2022 – a first for a North Korea refugee.
Originally from Somalia, Suad has also lived in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, and Austria. She speaks six languages: Somali, Arabic, German, English, Hindi and Urdu.
Suad graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Karachi. She works as a Social Medical Consultant (including psychological counseling) at Diakonie Österreich and as an Assistant Consultant at the Austrian Red Cross. She is a certified counselor regarding female genital mutilation (FGM) issues and is active in related community outreach. SDG 3 is especially important to Suad.
Suad is a sought-after panelist and presenter, known for her storytelling skills in a variety of areas. She has spoken at the United Nations on interreligious topics, contributed to a migration and health panel at European Forum Alpbach, and contributed to high-level events including at the Diplomatic Academy Vienna, the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens and at an International Peace Day celebration hosted by the Second President of the Austrian Parliament.
Suad aims to spread awareness about refugee and migration issues, to improve the healthcare and pharmaceutical systems in developing countries, and to empower women. She often quotes Oprah Winfrey: ‘You become what you believe.’
Suad is the Founder of the Somalia Health Club which is a space to help the global Somali community meet with Somali health professionals and ask questions regarding medical topics, especially in relation to Covid-19 and vaccines (Instagram).
Miriam is the advocacy manager at Freedom United, the world’s largest community taking action against modern slavery. She coordinates Freedom United’s advocacy and campaign work whilst leading successful advocacy efforts on a range of global modern slavery issues. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Politics at the University of Bath specialising on the rights of indigenous peoples. Miriam holds a Master’s degree in Human Rights from the University of London, focussing on the rights of sex workers within the UK’s anti-trafficking framework.
Joanna is co-founder and Executive Director of Freedom United, a mass global community against all forms of modern slavery. Joanna is also a trustee at Labour Behind the Label Trust – campaigning for garment workers’ rights. As Chair of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative UK, she received an innovation award for the newly created Commonwealth 8.7 Network on modern slavery. Joanna is a contributing author and her international human rights experience spans the UK diplomatic service, academia, and philanthropy, managing multi-million dollar budgets. Joanna holds a Master’s degree in Human Rights from the University of London.
Dr. Ella Cockbain is an Associate Professor at University College London (UCL), and a visiting research fellow at Leiden University. Her research focuses on human trafficking, labour exploitation and child sexual abuse. She believes in the need for nuanced, evidence-informed and context-sensitive responses to complex social phenomena. She is the former co-chair of the UK’s Modern Slavery Strategy and Implementation Group on prevention, and a current member. A previous ‘Future Research Leaders’ fellow of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Ella currently leads a major ESRC-funded programme of research into human trafficking. She also heads up the Research Group on Human Trafficking, Smuggling and Exploitation at UCL.
Up until recently, I was a migrant worker in Qatar, working as a security guard. After witnessing (and experiencing) various labour abuses within the country, I decided to speak up anonymously, and through a series of events, I got acquainted with civil society organisations advocating for migrant rights in the Gulf, and they helped me raise my voice even more. Eventually, this led to my arrest, interrogation, and detention in solitary confinement.
Fortunately, civil society, international media, and members of the public stepped in and campaigned fiercely & tirelessly until I was released, but not before paying an exorbitant ‘fine’.
While shaken by the experience and disgusted at the injustice, the ordeal only strengthened my resolve to carry on advocating for migrant rights, and human rights in general.
I then registered MigrantDefenders.Org, an NGO founded and led by former migrant workers to advocate for migrant rights.
Nour is doing her M.A. in Public Administration at Central European University. She previously studied at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus and graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy at Damascus University. Through her scientific academic study and artistic work, she strives to understand society from different viewpoints.
Having gained experience ranging from theater and dance to social work and journalism, her goal is to support the establishment of sustainable educational projects focused on empowering young people. In that regard, Nour has conducted numerous contemporary dance workshops with internal refugee children in Syria.
She was featured by the Austrian broadcaster ORF on the occasion of the International Day of Peace and UNHCR for International Women’s Day. Her theater piece ‘Not a Fate’ – about peace-building among youth in conflict situations – was performed at an event hosted by the Second President of the Austrian Parliament. She has spoken on numerous high-profile panels on refugee and migration issues highlighting young, female voices such as at European Forum Alpbach 2018 alongside former UN SG Ban Ki-Moon and former Austrian President Heinz Fischer.
Layla Barakeh is a humanitarian worker and disaster-management specialist based in Syria. She specializes in mental health and psychosocial support and livelihood training. Layla is the Director of Humanitarian Community Life (HCL), a capacity-building initiative for humanitarian settings in Syria and Yemen.
Peter Bach is a consultant, global executive and producer. He has worked, written and made films in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Jordan, United States, Estonia, Latvia, Pakistan, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia. In New York he produced and directed for PBS and BBC the documentary film ‘Bottom Line’. In the UK he made ‘The Man Who Sculpted Hares’ for BBC Four and has written features for the Telegraph, Guardian, Standard, Scotsman, Mail on Sunday. Today he writes regularly for CounterPunch in the US. In feature films he has led large digital teams for Danny Boyle, Michael Winterbottom, Harold Pinter and Ridley Scott. He also represented the UK film industry in Los Angeles.
Kendall Alaimo is an international activist, a clinical educator, a professionally trained artist, and a survivor of child trafficking and re-exploitation. What survived is her voice and she is using it around the world to innovate clinical care for complex trauma survivors. Kendall is an expert in child sexual abuse prevention and versed in medical modalities for complex trauma recovery.She has spoken both domestically and internationally in her mission to educate, support and provide hope to populations affected by the fallout of all types of trauma through her Trauma Talk. During her address at the 2021 United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on Combating Trafficking in Persons she stated, “Lets come together, let’s work together and let’s bring these survivors home.” As an Artist, she is known for using her iconic Red Seats. Her artwork and activism has recently been featured on CNN International. Kendall is the founder of The University Alliance on Human Trafficking.
When I left Kenya, I was told that I’d be working an office job, but upon arrival, my passport was confiscated at the airport and I was essentially subjected to modern day slavery working as a domestic worker.
I worked long hours without pay, in different households, appalling living conditions, no food, and was a victim of verbal and physical abuse.
After raising complaints to the Kenyan and Bahraini recruitment agencies, they didn’t intervene and I had to run away from those conditions, and after a couple of months of living under irregular status, I went to the police station, where the LMRA (Labour Market Regulatory Authority) intervened, and I was able to get back my passport and return to Kenya.
Upon my return to Kenya, I was connected to Malcolm Bidali, and we registered MigrantDefenders.Org, an NGO dedicated to advocate for migrant workers’ rights in the Gulf.
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@ Director of Development
Heather’s career in public speaking, organizational development, human resources, education, cross-culture, and media has spanned five continents and multiple fields.
After completing an advanced degree in Clinical Psychology in her native USA, Heather carried out development work in the Philippines, then spent decades in Japan and Europe consulting academic institutions and international business groups.
A firm believer in Impact Tech and the democratization of knowledge, she is an expert in virtual learning. Heather also provides consultation on topics connected to organizational development (including digital transformation, leadership development, employee engagement, change management, strategy, and globalization).
Heather is also the Executive Director of MESPERO: Impact for Resilience and of SDG2030.me.
Malaika Oringo is the founder and CEO of Footprint to Freedom (2019), a survivor-led organization. She is a talented advocate and speaks up against human trafficking and stands up for victims’ rights and works to strengthen the survivor’s inclusion and engagement. She has spoken on various stages throughout Europe, such as in Paris, Geneva, Athens, London, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Raised in Uganda in harsh conditions and exploited in the Netherlands, she has devoted her life to fighting against human trafficking. She believes that since survivors are the most significant stakeholders in the fight against human trafficking, they should sit at decision-making tables from community level to national level and international level. She has lobbied at the European Commission and spoken at the European Parliament about the gaps in the current approach human trafficking. She also advised on the best practices that can provide victim centered trauma informed and survivor centered approaches to improve response to survivors and victims’ needs.
She is a Member of the International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (ISTAC) which assists the work of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in combating trafficking in persons.
Rania Ali is an award winning journalist, public speaker, and human rights defender from Syria. Having made her first award-winning documentary with the Guardian in 2017, she works with several NGOs as a campaigner highlighting to governments the importance of protecting human rights defenders worldwide. She is an advocate for human rights generally and refugee and women’s rights specifically, engaged in that pursuit for the past five years. She has dedicated herself to speaking on many international platforms for said issues.
Currently, Rania Ali is pursuing a degree in international relations thus expanding her expertise in areas related to post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation.
@ Founder and Executive Director
Les works in the business sector, with governments, the UN, INGO’s and other entities in areas ranging from security risk management and business resilience to humanitarian operations and disaster relief. He has expertise in nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control and verification, security sector reform and countering transnational organised crime.
Having trained as a psychiatric nurse in his early career, Les has long-term interest in mental health and wellbeing.
Les is a passionate supporter of the SDGs with a particular focus on project implementation and making a demonstrable and direct impact on people’s lives.