Washington, DC – IRI today announced six staff appointments. Gretchen Birkle will return to IRI as the Director of the Women’s Democracy Network; Stephanie Blanton has been promoted to Regional Director for Africa Programs; Shawn Sullivan has been hired as Regional Director for Latin American and Caribbean Programs; Paul Fagan has been named Deputy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Programs, Kimber Shearer joined IRI in July 2005 as Deputy Director for Asia Programs; and Sondra Govatski joined IRI as Grants Administrator in April 2005.

Gretchen Birkle will return to IRI in June of 2006 to fill the newly created position of Director of the Women’s Democracy Network, which was launched in March 2006.  In this role, Birkle will oversee IRI’s initiatives to empower women for greater participation in their country’s political and civic life.  Currently, Birkle serves as Senior Coordinator for Global Democracy Strategy in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), a position she has held since June 2004.  In that role, Birkle has coordinated the department’s democracy promotion strategies in priority countries around the world. She also has overseen the implementation of DRL’s human rights and democracy funding and programs.

Prior to joining DRL, Birkle worked for more than five years at IRI as Deputy Director for Eurasia Programs. She also served as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), where she covered defense, foreign affairs and energy issues.  Birkle developed her expertise on international energy policy through her work at Ogilvy, Adams & Rinehart, and began her work in international affairs as an editorial assistant at a regional business magazine where she wrote extensively on investment risks and opportunities in the former Soviet Union.

Birkle graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a major in political science and has a master’s degree in international relations with a specialization in Soviet studies from The Johns Hopkins University, Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.  She speaks Russian and has carried out extensive fieldwork in Belarus and Ukraine.

Stephanie Blanton was appointed Director for Africa Programs in May after serving as Deputy Director for Africa Programs since January 2006.  As Director, Blanton will manage the institute’s programs in Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Somaliland, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.  Blanton joined IRI in June 2003 and has served as Resident Country Director in Sudan and in Malawi, and as Resident Program Officer in Nigeria.

In Sudan, Blanton opened IRI’s field office in southern Sudan and managed a political party strengthening, legislative development and coalition building program.  While in Sudan, Blanton coordinated an orientation training program for the southern representatives to the new National Assembly of Sudan established as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Blanton moved to Sudan after spending more than a year in Lilongwe, Malawi, where she opened IRI’s field office and oversaw a pre-election political party strengthening program.  She also developed a post election program for the political parties that included a mentoring program for political party leaders and a university youth outreach program for the political parties.  In Nigeria, she was part of IRI’s election observation mission for Nigeria’s 2003 elections.

Before joining IRI, Blanton served as the Deputy Policy Director for the U.S. House of Representatives Rules Committee working on trade and foreign relations policy issues.  She also served as a Professional Staff Member for the Rules Committee and as a Legislative Aide to Representatives David Dreier (R-CA) and Tom Ewing (R-IL).

Shawn Sullivan will join IRI in June as Regional Director for Latin American and Caribbean Programs.  In that role he will oversee IRI’s programs in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela and the division’s Regional Political Party Renovation Program.

Prior to joining IRI, Sullivan served as a Special Assistant in the Office of Legislative Affairs at U.S. Department of Defense.  In this capacity, he was responsible for developing Congressional engagement strategies on a wide range of issues including Iraq and Afghanistan, monitoring legislative developments and responding to Congressional inquiries.  In 2004, Sullivan served as the Senior Field Representative for the Bush/Cheney 2004 presidential campaign in New Mexico.

From 1995 to 2003, Sullivan served at the U.S. Department of State where he held numerous positions including serving as the Political/Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Angola, the Political Advisor to the NATO Commander General in Kosovo and as the Latin America regional political-military officer in Washington DC Sullivan also served as the Senior Legislative Analyst for the Republican Leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Sullivan received a master’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of New Mexico and is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.  He has received numerous awards and commendations from the U.S. Department of State and NATO.

Paul Fagan was named Deputy Director for Latin America and Caribbean Programs in April 2006, where he assists with the management of IRI’s programs and staff in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Prior to this, Fagan was the Acting Deputy Director for Africa Programs at IRI from August 2005-March 2006. Fagan is a veteran IRI staff member.  He served overseas as IRI’s Resident Program Director for Zimbabwe from 2003-2005 and Resident Program Director for Kenya 2002-2003.  He joined IRI in 1995 working in Washington, D.C., in the Eurasia division where he worked as Program Officer for Georgia and Azerbaijan.  A graduate of The George Washington University, Fagan has a bachelor’s degree in international affairs.

Kimber Shearer joined IRI in July 2005 as Deputy Director for Asia Programs, where she assists with the management of IRI’s programs and staff in Asia.  Prior to joining IRI, Shearer served in the Office of European Union (EU) and Regional Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  While there, she was responsible for managing relations with the EU on selected global issues. S hearer also served as the Senior Editor for Europe and Eurasia for the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and served as the Regional Coordinator for asylum issues in DRL.  During her time at the State Department, Shearer served on three overseas assignments in Tbilisi, Georgia; The Hague, The Netherlands; and Baku, Azerbaijan. Shearer has experience working on political campaigns in the United States, is a former Presidential Management Fellow (PMF), and a lawyer admitted to the Maryland Bar. A graduate of LaSalle University in Pennsylvania, Shearer has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a juris doctorate from University of Baltimore School of Law.

Sondra Govatski joined IRI as Grants Administrator in April 2005.  In that position she is the central coordinator for all grant activities of IRI.  Prior to joining IRI, Govatski served as Program Coordinator for DRL from March 2002 to April 2005.  In that position she oversaw the administrative and fiscal management of economic support funds for worldwide programs and was instrumental in improving the bureau’s grant-making operation.  During her time, DRL assistance increased from $12 million to more than $100 million annually.  Govatski also served as the Program Manager for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, where she managed more than $10 million of academic exchange program grants specific to Eurasia.  As a Training Specialist with the Academy for Educational Development from May 1996 to June 1998, Govatski managed Eurasia programs funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in Russian Area Studies from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.  She has studied Russian language at the Institute of Steel and Alloys in Moscow and the Herzen Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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