Ilir Zherka, the Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange, is a life-long human and civil rights activist. Ilir came to the U.S. as a political refugee. He took part in an IREX exchange in Albania after law school. He also helped to establish the Hope Fellowship program, a women's leadership exchange established to promote development after the Kosovo War.
Under Ilir's leadership, the Alliance is expanding its engagement with the media, Congress, and the Administration. Most recently, he was the Executive Director of the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC). At NCoC, Ilir played a central role in developing the Service Year exchange designed to dramatically increase the number of national service positions in the U.S. Previously, he was the Executive Director of DC Vote, where he created and led a coalition of 100 nonprofit advocacy organizations focused on promoting full DC representation in Congress. Ilir also co-founded and led the National Albanian American Council (NAAC). NAAC successfully advocated for U.S. intervention to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
Ilir gained political experience working in the Clinton Administration and re-election campaign. He also served on Capitol Hill for Congressman George Miller. Ilir has taught emerging leaders at Georgetown University and is an associate with the Human Systems Dynamics Institute. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Ilir has served as an advisor to four presidential campaigns and the Ad Council. He is also a judge for the NAB Service to America Awards.
Ilir is the author of Winning the Inside Game: the Handbook of Advocacy Strategies. As a recognized community leader, he was selected to join Leadership Greater Washington and has received numerous awards, including the Exponent Award, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Leadership Award, and the John F. Kennedy Public Service Award. Washingtonian magazine featured Ilir in an in-depth profile, describing him as a “chief strategist” and a “cool tactician.” For his work at DC Vote, October 26, 2012 was named “Ilir Zherka Day” in the District of Columbia.
Ilir graduated with distinction from Cornell University and received his law degree from the University of Virginia.
Associate Director for Government Relations
Lisa Heyn has served as Associate Director for Government Relations since March 2016. She first joined the Alliance as Policy Fellow, then served as Policy Specialist, and later as Senior Policy Specialist. Lisa holds a Masters degree in Regional Sciences North America, Public Law, and Scandinavian Studies from the University of Bonn, Germany. During her studies, she spent a year abroad as Language Assistant of German at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin. Earlier on, she gained international experience as a high school exchange student in the UK and as a Daycare Assistant in Canada in 2005.
Lisa is originally from Bonn, Germany, and speaks German, English, and Swedish.
Oriana Piña joined the Alliance as the Communications Manager in May 2016. She previously worked for the Elliott School of International Affairs, and completed internships at the U.S. House of Representatives and the Atlantic Council. She received her Master’s degree in Global Communication from the George Washington University, where she focused her research on public diplomacy and exchanges in Cuba. Prior to that, she spent a year in Seoul, South Korea working as an English teacher. While pursuing B.A. studies in International Affairs at the Florida State University, she participated in study abroad programs in Angers, France and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Oriana is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, but grew up in Florida, and speaks Spanish and French.
Manager for Public and Member Affairs
Laine Cavanaugh is our Manager for Public and Member Affairs. She joined in June 2016 after graduating from American University with a M.A. in International Communication and a concentration in Transnational Education. During her time in graduate school, Laine completed internships at IREX and World Learning. She also traveled to Kenya to conduct original fieldwork in non-formal schools surrounding Nairobi. Prior to graduate school, Laine participated in City Year, an AmeriCorps program, where she was a mentor for underserved youth in West Philadelphia. As an undergraduate at Ursinus College, Laine had the opportunity to study abroad in Wollongong, Australia while pursuing her B.A. degree in Media & Communication Studies.
Laine is originally from Reedsville, Pennsylvania, and has achieved research proficiency in Arabic.
Sydney Thompson works as the Alliance’s intern for fall 2016. She is currently enrolled in the UCDC Washington Program and is a fourth year undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis pursuing a degree in International Relations with a focus on East Asia. In the summer of 2014, Sydney worked with Global Partners Institute in Japan as a High School empowerment program instructor. Just recently, she has returned from a year abroad in Seoul, South Korea where she studied at Yonsei University and worked as an interpretation instructor for Sakyadhita International, an organization that connects and empowers women in Buddhist communities throughout the Asia Pacific. Passionate about bringing diverse cultures together, Sydney hopes to one day work with the student exchange and cultural affairs department at the US embassy in Seoul.
Sydney is originally from Monterey, California and speaks Korean.