The Strong Cities Network is led, managed and facilitated by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). For 10 years, ISD have responded to the rising challenge of extremist movements and the ideologies that underpin them, delivering cutting-edge programmes built from world-leading expertise in communications and technology, grassroots networks, knowledge and research, and policy advice.
Yomn Al-Kaisi – Project Coordinator, ISD
Yomn is a Middle East and North Africa Project Coordinator for the Strong Cities Network Municipality Project in Lebanon and Jordan. She has previously worked with a think tank based in London focused on Syria and the wider Levant, coordinating workshops and events on Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding for Syrian activists and CSOs in Lebanon. She also interned at Amnesty International with the East Gulf MENA office in London. Yomn has a BA International Relations from Goldsmiths, University of London, and an MSc Middle East Politics from SOAS, University of London. She is comfortable working in both Arabic and English.
Sabine Barton – Project Manager, ISD
Sabine Barton is a Project Manager at ISD, working on the Institute’s Strong Cities Network (SCN), with a particular focus on youth engagement in P/CVE. Sabine is responsible for managing SCN regions and member engagement and training, including through city exchanges, practitioner workshops, and direct city consultations on local P/CVE strategy and practice to counter all forms of violent extremism and polarisation. Sabine is currently focussing on developing regional models for local youth engagement in Europe, Africa and MENA, including through a joint project with the Nordic Council of Minister’s Nordic Safe Cities Network. She also works on the topics of integration and cohesion, in particular through the SCN’s workstream on Refugees and IDPs. Sabine was previously involved in a research project on countering lone actor terrorism (CLAT) implemented by a consortium led by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), in cooperation with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Chatham House and Leiden University. Prior to joining ISD in June 2015, Sabine worked as a research assistant focussing on consumer rights and ethical consumption in Australia.
Jonathan Birdwell – Head of Policy & Research, ISD
Jonathan Birdwell is Head of Policy & Research at ISD, overseeing ISD’s policy work and networks including the Policy Planners’ Network and the Strong Cities Network, as well as overseeing ISD’s work on education policy and programming. On the research side, Jonathan oversees ISD’s research and primary datasets, programme monitoring and evaluation, and edits all of ISD’s written outputs. Since starting at ISD in 2015, Jonathan has overseen the launch and expansion of the Strong Cities Network from 25 to over 110 cities from every global region and growing. In addition to convening Global Summits in Turkey and Denmark, bringing together over 800 practitioners from nearly 75 countries, Jonathan leads on an exciting Strong Cities capacity building project in the Middle East, supported by the Danish Government. Overseeing a growing ISD team in the Middle East, Jonathan has worked closely with ISD Regional Manager Khadije Nasser to build six new ‘Prevention Networks’ and provide training to over 90 local stakeholders across six municipalities in Lebanon and Jordan. On research, Jonathan is currently focused on building out ISD’s unique partnerships and online analytic technology and capabilities to provide up-to-date understanding of extremist propaganda and recruitment tactics in addition to the evaluation of online campaigns and ISD’s online one-to-one interventions. Prior to joining ISD, Jonathan was Head of Programme at the UK cross-party think tank Demos, where he published over forty research reports on topics including violent extremism both Islamist (The Edge of Violence, 2010) and Far-Right (The New Face of Digital Populism, 2011). Jonathan has also written extensively on education (The Forgotten Half, 2011), social and emotional learning (Character Nation, 2015), youth social action and attitudes towards politics (Tune In, Turn Out, 2014), digital politics and marketing (Like, Share, Vote, 2014), trust in government (Trust in Practice, 2010) and religion and integration (Rising to the Top, 2015), among other topics. Jonathan holds a Master’s degree (with distinction) from the London School of Economics and Political Science as well as Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Philosophy from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Joseph Downy – Intern, ISD
Joseph is an Intern for the Strong Cities Network at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. With a background in graphic design, Joseph recently graduated with distinction from the University of Sussex with an MA in Conflict, Security and Development. He specialised in Middle Eastern Politics, Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Peacebuilding, focusing primarily on the geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War. He wrote his dissertation on the resilience of the Syrian regime in light of the civil war, which explored the structural conditions that enabled the regime to survive where other dictators fell during the Arab Spring. Prior to joining ISD, he was a Research and Communications Assistant for Children on the Edge, with voluntary experience with NGOs in the UK, Lebanon and Turkey.
Daniel Hooton – Project Manager, ISD
Daniel Hooton is a Project Manager at ISD, working on the Strong Cities Network (SCN), responsible for managing SCN regions, practice and partnership development in support of the SCN’s leadership in strengthening local capacity to counter all forms of violent extremism and polarisation on a global scale. In addition to developing and delivering training and cooperation on local action planning, regional collaboration and direct city consultations on local P/CVE strategy and practice, Daniel works to expand inter-disciplinary learning and expertise across violent extremism and urban violence prevention, including related integration and cohesion agendas. Prior to joining ISD in January 2016, Daniel worked in the UK Parliament as a researcher and policy advisor to the Shadow Minister for Communities, developing Labour Party national policy and government scrutiny on community cohesion, social exclusion and public services. He holds a Master’s degree with Distinction from the London School of Economics and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Bristol.
Nourhan Nassar – Project Associate, ISD
Nourhan is a Project Associate working across projects in the MENA region, currently focusing on youth and local government programmes in Jordan. Before starting at ISD in July 2017, she worked in the Market Risk Technology team at Goldman Sachs. Nourhan has conducted research on the drivers of radicalisation and other trends amongst youth in the Arab world. She is interested in upstream programmes which focus on collaborations between civil society, local governments and grassroots youth-led initiatives.
Khadije Nasser – Senior Regional Project Manager, ISD
As a Senior Regional Project Manager based in Beirut, Khadije Nasser leads ISD’s implementation of a Strong Cities Network Municipality Project with Lebanon and Jordan promoting the role of sub-national actors in PVE funded by the Government of Denmark. Khadije manages the team of Lebanese and Jordanian project staff including overseeing capacity building of six local Prevention Networks across the two countries. She maintains relations with mayors, Prevention Network focal points and Danish project stakeholders as well as national and international interlocutors in Lebanon and Jordan involved in formulation of national P/CVE policies. Prior to joining ISD, Khadije worked as Projects Manager and Cultural Advisor to the Danish Embassy in Beirut responsible for managing its projects and NGO relations. Earlier on she worked for national and international NGOs in the region managing prevention and advocacy projects in Lebanon and as a trainer/facilitator in Jordan. In Denmark, Khadije has managed crime prevention initiatives targeting marginalised youth in Copenhagen and integration of former prisoners. As a former Role Model and Dialogue Ambassador for the Danish Ministry of Refugees, Immigrants and Integration she has extensive experiences in working with direct interventions with youth at risk. Khadije is fluent in Arabic, English and Danish, and holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Anthropology from the University of Copenhagen.
Rebecca Skellett – Senior Programme Manager, ISD
Rebecca Skellett is a Senior Programme Manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) managing the Strong Cities Network (SCN) and working across ISD’s Policy Portfolio. Rebecca also supports ISD’s Education and Prevention activities regularly representing ISD at international events and in the media. Rebecca spearheads the Strong Cities Network (SCN), advocating for cities to have a central seat at the table in preventing and countering violent extremism in all its forms. The SCN is the first ever global city network devoted to uniting cities around the world to build social cohesion and community resilience to counter violent extremism in all its forms. The network comprises 114 cities from across 40 countries. Rebecca oversees the SCN’s activities ranging from advising cities directly, arranging global and regional training and capacity building activities engaging with mayors, municipal-level policy makers and practitioners to its long term strategies such as designing regional models for P/CVE. Previously, Rebecca worked on the front-line of the UK’s Prevent CVE Programme across several London boroughs, and has extensive experience in overseeing individual case work, conducting community engagement, developing local CVE programming, training and policy frameworks for local government and the education sector. Rebecca also advises national level policy-makers in the UK as a member of the UK Department for Education’s Expert Advisory Panel for Extremism.
Nayla-Joy Zein – Project Associate, ISD
Based in Beirut, Nayla is a Project Associate for the Strong Cities Network Municipality capacity building project in Lebanon. She is currently providing support to the Regional Project Manager in implementing the project across Lebanese municipalities. Nayla was previously a Research Assistant at McGill University, where she undertook research on issues of transitional justice in the MENA region, and women militancy and civil war in Lebanon. She recently interned at the Carnegie Middle-East Centre where she worked extensively on women radicalisation. She holds a B.A in Political Science and Philosophy from McGill University, Canada.