Who We Are
Moreeb Dune in the Rub' al Khali or "Empty Quarter" in the southern part of the Arabian Pennisula
Quasar International Institute reflects the personal journeys of our team, and especially our two Co-Founders - Executive Director, Dr. Zeyad Alshammari, and Board President, Carol Loftur-Thun. They met several years ago after meeting at a mutual friend's home. Their shared vision and friendship mirrors the mission and goals of QII.
Dr. Zeyad Alshammari - A Life of Firsts
Ouasar International Institute’s Executive Director, Zeyad Alshammari, has been “first” many times. Yet without the chance to study and learn in the United States, he might not have found his calling to build bridges between Arabs and Americans on cultural, social, political and economic fronts. Now he wants to share his experience with Americans and Arabs by promoting peace and people-to-people experiences. Quasar International Institute’s vision is Zeyad’s calling.
Zeyad grew up in Ha’il, a city in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Ha’il is known for as the home of the Christian Arab poet Hatin al-Tai, renowned for his generosity, whose generosity from even beyond the grave is the 270th night story in the Arabian Nights. In the 19th Century, Ha’il was the capital of the Emirate of Jabal Shammar led by the House of Rashid, known for tolerance towards different sects of Islam. Ha’il is the traditional seat of the Shammar tribe.
Zeyad comes from a tight-knit family of seven brothers and eight sisters, and in Saudi Arabia life revolved around his family. “I am very proud that my family is part of the most famous tribe in Saudi Arabia, the Al Shammari tribe, but I had a very narrow view of the world since my life revolved around my family,” says Zeyad. Yet his family has a long history of hosting Westerners. The English kingmaker, Getrude Bell - known as “El Khatun” or Lady of the Court and as “Queen of the Desert”- traveled to Ha’il in 1914, and Zeyad’s great great grandfather Al Hailam ibn Khlaif was her rafiq, or traveling companion.
I am who I am today because of the opportunity to learn and grow here in the U.S. I really learned to respect & love the American people. It truly expanded my horizons.
With his father’s support, Zeyad was the first in his family to study abroad. He won a King Abdullah Scholarship to get his undergraduate degree from Tennessee Tech University, his masters degree from Kansas State University, and his doctorate from Howard University in Washington, DC. Zeyad was the first scholarship recipient to study political science, and the first to receive his doctorate in Political Science, International Relations, and Public Policy.
Coming to America, he also learned to be independent both in living and thinking. “The first time I did my own laundry, I ruined all of my clothes. Then a very kind Christian Palestinian woman helped me and showed me how to separate whites and colors,” says Zeyad. He discovered Saudi culture was poorly understood by Americans, so he founded the first Saudi Students Club of Tennessee so students could become Saudi cultural ambassadors. Although Zeyad is Sunni, he chose a Shia as a roommate. Zeyad further honed his leadership skills as captain of the soccer and volleyball teams. He became friends with a wide range of Americans, and even considers some to be his second family. “I found most of the American people are down to earth and friendly, and now I have a much broader perspective of the world,” remarks Zeyad.
Zeyad interned with the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, where he met one of his greatest influences, Dr. John Duke Anthony. He then served with U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former Republican Chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The U.S. Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia congratulated Zeyad on becoming the first Saudi and first Gulf citizen to be trained in the U.S. Congress.
Since those student days, Zeyad has also served with the United Nations, American Bar Association, and US Defense Language Institute. In 2017, Zeyad was awarded his doctorate and was named as one of the top “Top 100 Most Influential Geopolitics Experts Worldwide” by Richtopia.
Carol Loftur-Thun - A Life of Servant Leadership
With over 20 years of experience in nonprofit start-ups, re-starts, and turnarounds, Carol provides nimble and pragmatic leadership to turn challenges into opportunities, and vision into results. She served in interim and permanent CEO and COO roles with 11 regional and international NGOs including The Women’s Center, Free the Slaves, and Women Empowered Against Violence. Carol also served as executive producer of the Diplomacy-at-Risk TV series on public access channels with interviews of American ambassadors.
Born in Ecuador to missionary parents, Carol grew up speaking Spanish before she spoke English. The daughter, granddaughter and niece of missionaries going back 5 generations, Carol draws on her faith to be a servant leader. She listened to her grandfather’s tales of shooting crocodiles to save villagers in the Philippines, and protecting a girls’ school in Bejing by himself during an attack in the Warlord Era in China. Quakers say “let your life speak,” or as Carol’s mother says, “live your beliefs, rather than preaching them.” With a focus on nonviolence and peace, and tolerance for all faiths, Quakers even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.
Carol started out her career in international development, hospital market research, and marketing and managing high end catering for clients like ExxonMobil and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But her passion has been leading NGOs focused on domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, mental illness, suicide, hunger, homelessness, and healthcare. Carol has led efforts to raise over $31 million dollars to support these charitable causes.
It's not enough to just think outside the box. You have to think all the way around a problem, seeing it from different perspectives to drive innovation & reach your goals.
As Executive Director of Health Tech Access Alliance, she co-presented at the CyberMaryland Conference, and provided leadership coaching for healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. At Free the Slaves, she managed operations in seven countries as well as offices in DC and LA, and on her watch, CNN International agreed to cover modern slavery for an entire year. At My Sister’s Place, she led the agency to become the first in Washington, DC to adopt a public health approach to domestic violence, and launched an innovative program for fathers at-risk of domestic violence, which garnered coverage by WJLA, NBC4, Good Morning America, the Washington Post and BET. As CEO of The Women’s Center, she led the largest private provider of mental health services in Northern Virginia with over 4,000 clients and 90+ staff, and planned the annual women’s leadership conference for 800 women. With her leadership, CrisisLink was named one of the region’s best-run charities by The Washingtonian and Catalogue for Philanthropy, and was featured by CNN, MSNBC, Kojo Namdi, and the Washington Post.
Her ability to connect with people across cultures and across divides defines her approach to business and life. Just as a holistic perspective is invaluable in addressing societal issues, Carol also incorporates it into her leadership by “thinking 360.”
Carol has lived in Lebanon, and studied in India through the Fulbright Program. She graduated from Davidson College, and pursued her MBA at George Washington University. Carol received her certificate in leadership coaching from Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.