Our Staff

Karuna Center is led by a staff team that works in partnership with peacebuilding organizations and colleagues worldwide.

Core Office Team

Karuna Center is based in Western Massachusetts (U.S.A.)—but the team works remotely from diverse locations.

Polly Byers, M.A.
Executive Director

Polly Byers joined the staff of Karuna Center in July 2020, bringing more than 30 years of experience working both within and outside of government channels to support peacebuilding practices and to increase local collaboration and ownership of aid and peace processes. 

Full Bio

For more than thirty years, Polly Byers has worked to support peacebuilding practices and improve international development and humanitarian aid policy. Working from within and outside of government channels, she has driven efforts to make aid more responsive to communities impacted by violent conflict. As Executive Director of Karuna Center, Polly is looking forward to focusing intensively on her commitment to supporting the capacity and resilience of conflict-affected societies in order to foster peace and reconciliation.

Polly’s career has focused on developing collaborative approaches to increase local ownership of aid and peacebuilding efforts. She worked within the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop the agency’s first integrated strategy for Sudan, combining relief with development assistance to support local Sudanese capacity and resilience despite intense conflict and political turmoil. Polly also led successful U.S. efforts to stop the sale of “blood diamonds” traded to fund violent conflict, helping to establish the first international diamond certification system. Later, Polly helped draft USAID’s first policy on fragile states, calling for better analysis of the sources of fragility and more strategic program responses, and played a lead role in increasing and improving the agency’s support to conflict-affected areas.

Polly also served as the Executive Director of CDA Collaborative Learning, an NGO focused on improving the effectiveness of organizations working in conflict-affected areas, and integrating the concept of Do No Harm into aid programs. Do No Harm practices seek to analyze and avoid the potential for international aid to unintentionally have negative consequences on local communities.

Ms. Byers holds an MA from Yale University in International Relations, a BA from Wesleyan University, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco.

Jennifer Hall-Witt, Ph.D.
Senior Program Manager

Jennifer joined the Karuna Center as a Senior Program Manager in 2022. She has trained as a peacebuilder and has a combination of experience in managing programs and grants, bridging ideological divides, bringing a trauma-informed lens to interpersonal work, and engaging in academic research and teaching.

Full Bio

Inspired by Karuna Center’s founder, Jennifer decided to shift the direction of her work towards peacebuilding after a long career as a professor of history and women’s studies, where she developed expertise in curriculum development, contemplative pedagogy, and a range of subjects in gender studies, colonial studies, and cultural history. As a Program Officer at Mass Humanities, she managed grants for public humanities projects, ran online programming, and managed a number of partnerships and programs, including a family reading program for underserved families. Jennifer also has substantial experience in bringing a trauma-informed lens to interpersonal work, having completed extensive training in helping clients in her private practice build nervous system resilience after trauma. In addition, she has contributed to domestic peacebuilding as a Director of Volunteer and Alliance Engagement at Braver Angels, an organization devoted to bridging the political divide.

Jennifer has a BA in history from Northwestern University, a Ph.D. in history from Yale University, and a masters degree in Peace and Justice Leadership from the School for International Training.

Laura Anderson
Communications Manager

Laura Anderson joined Karuna Center in 2010 with experience in not-for-profit communications and fundraising.

Full Bio

Laura Anderson joined Karuna Center in 2010 with experience in not-for-profit communications and fundraising. She has been in the position of both grant-maker and grant-writer for grassroots organizations, worked in video and other visual media, and been involved in various community-based organizing projects. She has a BA in Social Justice and Media of Communication from University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Troy Caruana
Program Manager

Troy joined the Karuna Center as a Program Manager in 2023. He is a development practitioner, researcher, and teacher who brings experience in monitoring, evaluating and learning, gender equity, education, and inclusive development.

Full Bio

Troy joined the Karuna Center as a Program Manager in 2023. He is a development practitioner, researcher, and teacher who brings experience in monitoring, evaluating and learning, gender equity, education, and inclusive development.

Daniel Colm Simpson
Levinger Peacebuilding Intern

Daniel is a multilingual researcher, translator, and writer with specialist training in the politics and societies of Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia. His academic background includes a triple MA in international relations, political science, and Eurasian studies. In his most recent writing and researching roles, Daniel has aimed to lend a voice to groups facing adverse circumstances: Ukrainians near the frontline and Uyghurs in Central Asia.

Jessica Miller
Bookkeeper

Jessica joined the Karuna Center team in June 2014. She has years of bookkeeping and office management experience in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.

Senior Peacebuilding Associates

Olivia Stokes Dreier, M.P.A., M.S.W.

Senior Peacebuilding Advisor and Former Executive Director of Karuna Center

Olivia Stokes Dreier has extensive international experience in conflict transformation, including the development, design, and delivery of multi-year programs in peacebuilding, inter-communal dialogue, reconciliation, and conflict-sensitive development for diverse stakeholders.

Full Bio

Olivia Stokes Dreier is a former Executive Director and lead trainer at Karuna Center. She has extensive international experience in conflict transformation, including the development, design, and delivery of multi-year programs in peacebuilding, inter-communal dialogue, reconciliation, and conflict-sensitive development for diverse stakeholders.

Since 2002, Ms. Dreier has designed and led programs in over fifteen countries, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Central African Republic, Kosovo, Macedonia, Georgia, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda, and Senegal. She frequently conducts conflict assessments, and has consulted with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank on conflict-sensitive development. From 2002-2012, Ms. Dreier also directed the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) Graduate Certificate Program at the School for International Training (SIT) in Brattleboro VT.

Earlier in her career, Ms. Dreier worked with the Gandhian movement in India on rural development and non-formal education for two years. After returning to the United States, she served as a community mental health practitioner for over 20 years, working with individuals, families, and groups from both narrative and systems orientations. Ms. Dreier holds a B.A. in Psychology from Yale University, a Masters in Social Work from Smith College, and a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  She has professional proficiency in French, and speaks conversational Hindi and Urdu.

Maria Jessop, M.A.

Senior Peacebuilding Advisor, Washington, D.C.

Maria Jessop has over ten years of international and U.S. experience using mediation, facilitated dialogue, and capacity-building programs to bridge divides, find solutions, and catalyze groups for peaceful change from the grassroots to the national level.

Full Bio

Maria Jessop is a Senior Peacebuilding Advisor with Karuna Center in Washington, DC. and also consults independently. She has nine years of international experience and ten years in the U.S. using mediation, facilitated dialogue, and capacity-building programs to bridge divides, find solutions, and catalyze groups for peaceful change from the grassroots to the national level.  She has conducted programs in over fifteen countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Haiti, Iraq, the Central African Republic and many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Mirsad “Miki” Jacevic, M.S.

Senior Peacebuilding Advisor, Washington, D.C.

Mirsad “Miki” Jacevic is Vice Chair at the Institute for Inclusive Security, Director of the Bosnia program at Global Youth Connect and a professor at various universities.

Full Bio

Mirsad “Miki” Jacevic is Vice Chair at the Institute for Inclusive Security, Director of the Bosnia program at Global Youth Connect and a professor at various universities. He directed the conflict resolution programming in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan, and previously managed country programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, and Liberia. He was instrumental in building an inclusive Afghan Peace and Reconstruction Programme, Liberian post-conflict development strategy, Colombian transitional justice and disarmament structures, and Pakistan police reform initiatives. In addition, he has worked in Guatemala, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, and has extensive experience in various aspects of post-conflict reconstruction in his native Balkans region.

Mr. Jacevic has overseen Inclusive Security’s training programs and strategic consultations around the globe and led the development of strategic partnerships with UN Development Programme, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Organization of American States, among others. He was the primary author of the Institute’s groundbreaking curriculum, based on several decades of experience in teaching conflict analysis and resolution around the world, and has overseen creation of curricula on advocacy for sustainable peace, inclusive security sector reform, and creation of government policies on UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

Mr. Jacevic has been at the forefront of Inclusive Security’s efforts to design and implement high-impact national action plans (NAPs) across the globe. Over the last five years, he worked closely with the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in designing their new NAP. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Mr. Jacevic led a comprehensive assessment of the country’s plan at the request of the Agency for Gender Equality of BiH and continues to provide comprehensive technical assistance for the development of BiH’s new plan and corresponding monitoring and evaluation system. Mr. Jacevic was also part of Inclusive Security’s assessment that evaluated the impact of Liberia’s NAP at the direct request of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In Indonesia, he supported members of our Women Waging Peace network as they drafted and launched their country’s plan. In addition to leading specific country engagements, Mr. Jacevic assists in shaping the program’s strategic vision and guides development of the NAP team’s curricula.

Originally from Sarajevo, Mr. Jacevic assisted efforts to stop the bloodshed and promote post-war reconciliation.  He directed the Emerging Leaders Project at the State of the World Forum and managed global reintegration efforts for child soldiers at Search for Common Ground. He and his wife co-founded Global Youth Connect, an organization dedicated to mobilizing young people to prevent genocide. As the director of its Bosnia program, for the last decade he has led delegation of international students on a month-long tour of Bosnia, including annual commemoration of the genocide at Srebrenica. He is a PhD candidate at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and he teaches at American University, Prescott College, and the School for International Training, with a special focus on transitional justice and monitoring/evaluation of peacebuilding programs. He and his wife, Guatemalan human rights leader Eva Contreras Morales, have two teenage children.

© Karuna Center for Peacebuilding
PO Box 727, Greenfield, MA 01302 USA
PHONE: +1 413.256.3800

Registered 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization