By: Sanya Mansoor, Niagara Intern and Student at Northwestern
“I always consider the Niagara Foundation as the Niagara family.”
Sherif Soydan, President and Chief Executive Officer at the Niagara Foundation, smiles widely as he talks about his fond memories and achievements with the Niagara Foundation.
The company has continued to grow rapidly throughout its nine years of existence. “We had around 200 subscribers to our programs in 2004 and now in 2013 we have more than 11,000 subscribers in the greater Chicago area.” He goes on to share more impressive statistics, “Right now we are serving in 9 states with 22 chapters and organizing different programs in 35 different locations.”
However, Soydan insists that Niagara’s true success transcends its impressive statistics. “Our friendship is our success. Our trust is our success. Touching peoples’ hearts and lives is our success. Not just the numbers but the people.”
He then describes two of his favorite memories associated with the Niagara Foundation. His face lights up as he recounts the stories of how excited he was when he first hired Aleksa Maria Hacker and Brendan Dowd.
The Niagara Family – Clockwise from top left: Brendan Dowd, Sherif Soydan, Hakan Berberoglu , Mevlut Hilmi Cinar, Aleksa Hacker, and Cassidy Herrington
“In 2006 there was a young girl interning with us. She helped us a lot, all days and nights,” he recalled. “We both knew that we have a common destiny and now Aleksa is our director for the Center for Public & Global Affairs.”
He continues to praise Hacker and her achievements, especially her role as head of the internship program. “After she started to head this internship project, one of the Aha moments we got was receiving 800 applications, just for summer internships.”
The Niagara Foundation takes pride in creating a truly welcoming and intellectual space. “Dialogue is not an easy process. We believe that we should provide everyone a seat in our hearts and in our space,” Soydan says.
The Center for Public & Global Affairs aims to achieve this very goal through its Niagara Forums. These forums bring renowned experts to the Niagara office for informal public events. “In the last year we had around 40 distinguished speakers spotlight trends and exchange ideas; these speakers included some opinion makers, diplomats and civic leaders,” Soydan says.
The Niagara Foundation also celebrates unique individuals and organizations committed to the pursuit of two of their core values, peace and dialogue, Like the Niagara Forums, this event, the highly reputed Peace & Dialogue Awards, is also headed by the Center for Public & Global Affairs. This year it will take place on Sept. 16 at the University Club of Chicago. “The movers and shakers of Chicago will be present,” Soydan assures.
Dowd is another one of the Niagara Foundation’s prized recruits; he is currently the director of the Center for Cultural Exchange & Interfaith Collaboration. Soydan met him through their mutual involvement at the Catholic Theological Union.
One of Dowd’s most important contributions to the Niagara Foundation is the recently developed “Abraham’s Tent” initiative. This initiative brings together people of different faiths under one roof to foster new interfaith friendships.
“I think at Niagara we have small initiatives that are very meaningful. You are organizing small home set-ups for Muslims, Christians and Jews and you cannot find this valuable information while you are reading books,” Soydan explains.
Another event under the Center for Cultural Exchange and Interfaith Collaboration puts a strong emphasis on cultural immersion and exploration. The program, named “Intercultural and Educational Trips to Turkey”, offers participants the chance to travel to one of various locations in Turkey, where they build friendships based on dialogue. The trip includes intimate home visits; professional networking and extensive guided historical and cultural exploration.
“We live together and work together for a better future,” Soydan concludes. The Niagara Foundation has been working hard to foster new intercultural and interfaith relationships for almost a decade now. Soydan has no doubt that the future will only see more developments and success.