Story & Mission


When Tragedy Meets Passion

September 11, 2001 was the major catalyst in Tom Etzel's commitment to peacebuilding. His 25 year-old niece, Katie McCloskey was on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower. Tom’s high school friend, Ken Waldie, was aboard that jetliner. In the days following the tragedy, when many Americans were thinking of war and retribution, Etzel's thoughts were traveling on a different path. He began to wonder if there was someway peace could be achieved by improving relationships among people of different viewpoints.

Upon completing his Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, in July of 2010, Tom successfully established GPBF.  Bearing special significance, the effective date of incorporation for GPBF was September 11, 2010.

GPBF operates under the premise that changing attitudes, perceptions and relationships are essential to peacebuilding, and doing this at the grassroots level will contribute to sustainable peace.  

GPBF’s mission is to contribute to the building of global peace by supporting organizations and projects that restore, rebuild, and transform relationships that have been broken due to prejudices, stereotyping, hatreds, and fears that may have accumulated over generations.

We hope you join us. 


GPBF is supported by an exceptional governing board, comprised of members dedicated to grassroots peacebuilding around the globe.



Shannon Brudder

Shannon is the Director of Business and Proposal Development at the Institute of International Education (IIE) - an NGO dedicated to advancing international education and access to education worldwide. She has more than a decade of experience designing and implementing programs that promote tolerance and mutual understanding in conflict-affected environments around the world - including the Balkans, North Caucasus, Yemen, Rwanda, and South Sudan. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she focused on conflict management and mitigation, and is a passionate believer in the transformational power of grassroots peacebuilding. She and her husband live in Alexandria, VA.

Amaka Azikiwe

Amaka currently serves as a Political Affairs Officer in the United Nations Operations and Crisis Centre (UNOCC) analyzing and reporting on political and security developments in Africa, as well as, providing sound political and operational judgements for senior UN decision-making purposes. Prior to this role, she worked in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) from 2013-2016 during which she served as a Political Affairs Officer providing substantive support to the Malian peace process and coordinating the Mission activities on issues pertaining to the Sahel region. Since joining the United Nations in 2001, Ms. Azikiwie has worked in the Security Council Affairs Division in the UN Department of Political Affairs and several UN Peacekeeping missions in Africa. A native of Nigeria and born in Morocco, she holds a MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University and a BA from Hunter College. She specializes in the areas of conflict prevention and the pacific settlement of disputes in the Horn of Africa, as well as, the Western and Central regions.


Michael Kunz

Michael is the Senior Director of Programs for Counterpart International, a non-governmental organization committed to equipping individuals, organizations and communities to become solution creators in their own families, communities, and countries. Michael has successfully led projects promoting good governance, food security, environmental preservation, education, and healthcare within Central and Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia. Kunz currently resides in the Washington, DC area with this wife and two children. Michael holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Washington and a M.A. in International Relations from Tufts University Fletcher School.


Ruth Lande

Ruth has an extensive background in mission-driven organizations. Her career started in Vermont as part of the founding of an eco-friendly products catalog, and for the last 20+ years in healthcare administration. Ruth currently serves as the Senior Vice-President of Patient Revenues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the world’s oldest and largest private cancer center. Ruth holds a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College, and a Master’s degree in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She currently resides in New York City.



Bujar Hoxha

Bujar has dedicated his life to serving those in need. More specifically, Bujar has over 16 years of experience designing and managing multifaceted socio-economic development programs in the Middle East and the Balkans. Bujar currently serves as the Director of Programme Operations for Save the Children International in Iraq and holds an MA in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.



Ed Cipriano

A graduate from Muskingum University with a teaching certificate and Bachelor’s in History, Ed joined the Peace Corps where he taught for over two years in Bogata, Colombia. Ed currently serves on the advisory and the visitor boards of the University Center for International Studies (UCIS) at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to his professional life, Ed has volunteered as a coach for the Mt. Lebanon, PA girls 5th-8th grade recreation basketball program for the past 20 years. Ed and his wife Kitty currently reside in Pittsburgh and have two children, Melinda and Candice and a son in law, Bill.



Beatriz vergara

Beatriz comes from an extensive background in economic and business development, international trade and entrepreneurship. During her time at the Economic Development Agency of Tenerife, Spain, Beatriz led projects involving agro-business, urbanization, renewable energy, tourism, and cultural, leisure and health. Prior to devoting her career to economic development, Beatriz ran the Tenerife World Trade Center (TWTC), where she developed and implemented strategic plans, which would lead to a strong network of member companies for TWTC. Beatriz currently holds the position of Creative Director and Managing Director of her own jewelry company, Hissia.


steve lord

As managing principal in consulting practice Strategist Group LLC, Steven Lord currently assists clients with rapid strategic assessment and evaluation of global opportunities, product development, and operational efficiency. Steven Lord has founded and led several companies in the financial information technology, investment research and asset management sectors in both the United States and Europe. Prior to founding Strategist Group, he served as Chief Executive Officer of Knobias, Inc., a publicly traded pioneer of highly specialized financial software platforms favored by institutional equity trading desks around the world. Steven Lord earned a Masters degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a Bachelor's degree in Business from the University of Vermont. 




Our advisors come from various industries. Their skills and expertise create value for the GPFB team as we tackle the challenges that come with identifying and supporting grassroots peacebuilding organizations around the world. 

Caitlin professional photo.jpg

Caitlin Miller

Caitlin has a background in nonprofit work in the fields of health and human services. She has a focus in grant writing. She has successfully sourced funding for foundations such as the Lupus Foundation of Pennsylvania and the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh. Caitlin earned her undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a Master’s degree from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She also studied abroad in France and speaks fluent French. She currently resides in Pittsburgh.


Jessica Berns

Jessica Berns is the Founder and Principal of Jessica Berns Consulting. She creates strategies, designs programs, develops partnerships, and operates at the intersection of content and communications. She is motivated by a vision of a safer, more just, and more equal world.

The majority of Jessica’s work has taken place within the NGO sector, and her areas of expertise include strategic planning, program design and implementation, and communications. She has a special interest in civil society network and partnership development, which she first developed as a Program Officer working with the Latin American chapters of Transparency International, the anti-corruption NGO in Berlin, Germany. More recently, as Program Director of Coexistence International at Brandeis University, an initiative focused on strengthening the coexistence field, Jessica facilitated the creation of a network of coexistence practitioners in West Africa.

With an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in Spanish, and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, Jessica has spent much of her professional life working and living abroad, in Latin America, Europe, and West Africa.


May Salameh

May is the Project Manager for Middle East and North Africa, DAI. Formerly, she was the Executive Director of INJAZ Yemen until April of 2011. Originally from Jordan, May began operations in Yemen in December 2009 following three years in Bogota, Colombia as Junior Achievement's Operations Manager in Latin America. Prior to her work in Latin America, she was a fundraising and marketing consultant in INJAZ Al-Arab's regional office in Amman, and a monitoring and evaluation specialist with INJAZ Jordan.

May has also worked with UNHCR on Iraqi refugee issues. May is fluent in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish and holds a Master's degree in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 


Tom Etzel

Founder & Executive Director


Tom’s Story… 

Our life experiences shape us. After losing two loved ones on 9/11/2001, I was moved to transform my grief and loss into something positive, tangible and driven by hope. I feel very fortunate in that I was able to respond to human violence in an altruistic manner. 
My 25-year-old niece, Katie McCloskey was on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower. My high school friend, Ken Waldie, was aboard that jetliner. In the days following the tragedy, when many Americans were thinking of war and retribution, my thoughts were traveling on a different path.  I began to wonder if there was some way peace could be achieved by improving relationships among people of different viewpoints.  I searched for over five years before I would understand how to go about accomplishing my dream of bringing people together for peace. I was attending a graduation ceremony in December of 2006 when the keynote speaker, an alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, addressed the assembly on the subject of global peace. The speech inspired me and I contacted the Fletcher School to inquire about their international programs. I discovered that the tuition for their mid-career one-year graduate program cost $62,500. I initially ruled-out this option because I still had a child in college.

 Throughout 2007 I kept going back to the thought of attending the Fletcher School.  In May 2008 I visited the Fletcher School and I was encouraged to apply for admission. At this stage I had a passionate spiritual calling to take action.  Throughout 2008 I consulted with clergy, mentors, friends and family about taking on this academic and financial challenge at the age of 54. I was humbled by the support I received. Shortly thereafter, I applied and was accepted at Fletcher. I borrowed $40,000 and family, friends and church community members contributed the remaining $22,500 to pay the tuition. I began studies in July 2009 with a purposeful intent to find a vision for building peace on a global scale. My thesis was entitled “The Impact of Grassroots Diplomacy on Peace Building.” The Fletcher School education formed the cornerstone for the Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF). After graduation in July 2010, I established GPBF. Bearing special significance, the effective date of incorporation was September 11, 2010. I was compelled to have GPBF focus on changing the attitudes and perceptions of youth and children to stop the cycle of hatred and fear that has previously passed down from generation to generation.   

Tom holds the Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, cum laude, from Duquesne University.

Tom is a Certified Public Accountant and Investment Advisor. He has been the Principal of his own tax and investment advisory practice for the past 25 years. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife, Phyllis Etzel. Tom and Phyllis have three children, Kristen, Katie and Mark; a son-in-law, Aaron; a daughter-in-law, Nikki; and grandsons, Elliott, Sullivan and Hobson Thomas. 


GPBF is a member of the Peace and Security Funders Group (PSFG) and the Alliance for Peacebuilding(AFP); and registered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  These organizations provide collaboration, education and networking opportunities for GPBF.

about psfg

The Peace and Security Funders Group is a network of public, private and family foundations, and individual philanthropists who make grants or expenditures that contribute to peace and global security. PSFG maintains an informed, engaged and collegial community of funders, whose numbers and investments in the field are steadily increasing. 


About AFP

The Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) is the institutional home for the peacebuilding community—a network of over 100 organizations working to resolve conflict and create sustainable peace in 153 countries. 



One of the many things USAID does is to help societies prevent and recover from conflicts.