Near East Foundation
The Near East Foundation (NEF), formerly the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR), then the American Committee for Relief in the Near East (ACRNE), and later Near East Relief, is a Syracuse, New York-based American international social and economic development organization.
Founded in 1915, it is the United States’ oldest nonsectarian international development organization and the second American humanitarian organization to be chartered by an act of Congress. Near East Relief organized the world's first large-scale, modern humanitarian project in response to the unfolding Armenian and Assyrian genocides. Known as the Near East Foundation since 1930, NEF pioneered many of the strategies employed by the world’s leading development organizations. In the past 100 years NEF has worked with partner communities in more than 40 countries. The foundation had organised the world’s first great humanitarian project of the United States, in the beginning of the 20th century.
Mission and focus
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The Near East Foundation's mission is to help build more sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive communities in the Middle East and Africa through education, governance, and economic development initiatives. Every member of the NEF field staff is from the region in which they work.
NEF is an operational NGO with projects in nine countries: Armenia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Morocco, Palestine, Senegal and Sudan. In these countries, NEF works with disadvantaged social groups including people coping with conflict and climate change, facing exclusion from civic life, and isolated by their environment.
Working with local partners, NEF programs directly improve lives by helping vulnerable people overcome poverty and other challenges through development initiatives that deliver short-term solutions and build change in the long-term. The organization has four core program areas: Peacebuilding, Civic Engagement and Education, Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, and Microenterprise Development.
NEF activities are rooted in its "Knowledge, Voice, and Enterprise" framework. This holistic approach is guided by the principle that to take a leadership role in the development of their communities and countries, individuals require opportunities and tools: the knowledge to participate in civic and economic life, a voice in public decisions that affect their wellbeing, and a means of making a meaningful living.
Current projects include: environment and natural resource management; agriculture and rural development; urban development and rehabilitation; micro-finance, community-based and bank-guaranteed lending; micro-enterprise promotion and income generation; employment and job creation; human resource development and civil society building; leadership and institutional development; girls and women's development and education, basic education and literacy.
Project partners include local and international non-governmental organizations, bilateral and multilateral donors, foundations, financial institutions, and government ministries.
The Near East Foundation was founded in 1915 in response to Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr.’s reports of governmental atrocities against Ottoman Armenians. Morgenthau referenced the deportations of intellectuals and requested urgent and immediate assistance. Former missionary and educator James L. Barton and philanthropist Cleveland Hoadley Dodge led a group of prominent New Yorkers in forming the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR). The Committee raised $60,000 for direct relief at its first meeting on September 16, 1915. The money was wired to Ambassador Morgenthau for distribution. Cleveland H. Dodge personally financed the Committee’s operating expenses in order to ensure that all funds went to direct relief. ACASR then embarked upon an unprecedented grassroots campaign to raise money and awareness across the United States. The campaign combined striking imagery, passionate celebrity spokespeople, and captivating stories from the field to inspire Americans from all economic backgrounds to become citizen philanthropists. The organization also briefly used the name American Committee for Relief in the Near East in 1918–1919; that name appears on many of the Committee's most iconic posters.
In August 1919, the Committee received a Congressional charter (the second humanitarian organization to receive this recognition, after the American Red Cross) and was renamed Near East Relief. From 1915 to 1930, Near East Relief saved the lives of over a million refugees, including 132,000 orphans who were cared for and educated in Near East Relief orphanages. Near East Relief also mobilized the American people to raise over $116 million for direct relief. Nearly 1,000 U.S. citizens volunteered to travel overseas. Near East Relief workers built hundreds of orphanages, vocational schools, and food distributions centers. Overseas relief workers were responsible for the direct care of orphans and refugees, including the organization of vast feeding and educational programs. Thousands of Americans volunteered throughout the U.S. by donating money or supplies and hosting special events to benefit Near East Relief’s work.
The organization created the International Near East Association, which then dedicated Sunday, December 2, 1923, as an International Sunday of the Golden Rule. The “Golden Rule Sunday” as it became known, encouraged people to eat something simple—namely staple menus typically served in orphanages—and offer the money they saved as a donation to the orphans of the Armenian Genocide. The Sunday of the Golden Rule was celebrated in many parts of Europe, Australia, and America. President Calvin Coolidge urged the American people to express a spirit of sacrifice and generosity on December 2, 1923 as part of the larger philanthropic effort.
In 1930, Near East Relief was renamed the Near East Foundation (NEF)  to reflect the organization's shift in focus from emergency relief to long-term social and economic development. NEF expanded its geographic focus to include North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the area now known as the Middle East. NEF launched the Near East Relief Historical Society in 2014 in an effort to preserve and share the organization’s history.
During almost a century of service, NEF has partnered with communities in 40 countries to improve millions of lives, and has played a crucial role in establishing the American philanthropic tradition.
The relief effort that launched the organization in 1915 was the first broad national appeal of its kind to solicit funds from the American public, and it was unique in its use of media outlets and support from celebrity spokespeople and citizen volunteers alike. This effort grew and gave birth to what is now known as “citizen philanthropy” – appealing directly to the public to support humanitarian work overseas. This model of philanthropy is used today by a majority of non-profit organizations around the world.
When NEF established the practice of working in tandem with foreign governments and local organizations to improve the lives of citizens, it was nearly unprecedented. NEF has since provided the model for many of today’s well-known development organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Peace Corps. It has also left a legacy of enduring development institutions it had helped create that continue as centers of innovation and service, including the American University of Beirut’s Faculty of Agriculture and Food Science, American University in Cairo’s Desert Development Center, Agricultural College of Rezaiye and Ahwaz Agricultural College in Iran, Center for Development Services in Egypt, and dozens of others.As an example of its legacy, one of the oldest basketball teams in Greece, Near East B.C. took its name in order to honour the foundation, since it helped Greeks refugees after the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations.
Partnership with Syracuse University
In 2010, the Near East Foundation moved its headquarters to Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. At Syracuse University, NEF engages faculty and students in its international development work through strategic partnerships with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and the Whitman School of Management. NEF works frequently with experts in the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC).
- Near East Foundation - Armenia
- Near East Foundation - Egypt
- Near East Foundation - Jordan
- Near East Foundation - Lebanon
- Near East Foundation - Mali
- Near East Foundation - Morocco
- Near East Foundation - Palestine
- Near East Foundation - Senegal
- Near East Foundation - Sudan
- Near East Foundation - United Kingdom
- Near East Relief Historical Society
- World Service Commission
- President: Charles Benjamin
- Senior Vice President and CFO: John Ashby
- Vice President Operations: Simona Ceci
- Vice President Program Development: Brandy Westerman
- Chair of the Board: Robert J. Solomon
- Armenia Country Director: Arpine Baghdoyan
- Mali and Senegal Country Director: Yacouba Dème
- Morocco Country Director: Mahmoud BChini
- Palestine Country Director: Salah Abu-Eisheh
- Sudan Country Director: Musa Gismalla
- Near East Foundation, United Kingdom, Programme Director: Rabih Yazbeck
- ASKS FOR $5,000,000 TO SUCCOR ARMENIA; American Committee Starts Biggest Undertaking of Mercy Since Relief of Belgium., New York Times, October 4, 1916
- Historian of the Present - Thomas De Waal on Armenian Genocide Ellison Centre, Washington
- Armenian students in California to honor ‘Golden Rule Sunday’
- Protestant diplomacy and the Near East:missionary influence on American policy, 1810-1927, Joseph L. Grabill