Central Eurasia Leadership Academy
CELA applicants must be aspiring professionals between the ages of 28 to 42. They must be citizens of one of the following countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, who are proficient in English and working in business, government, education and civil society.

CELA 17 Leadership Academy

Program Overview

The program is designed in the belief that leadership is learned, not taught. Consequently, plenary sessions are interactive and experiential, including several simulations and exercises. The plenary sessions are complemented with facilitated Learning Group sessions with five to seven participants each. The Learning Groups provide an opportunity for guided reflection and exercises that take the participants to deeper insight.

The program is built on the following five pillars. Each pillar builds on and reinforces the previous pillars.

1. Understanding Yourself
Effective leaders understand their strengths, values, beliefs, and world views. They are constantly learning, unlearning, and relearning in the face of a complex and rapidly changing world. With that in mind, the CELA Leadership Academy takes participants on an inner journey of leadership to understand what got them where they are today to help them get where they want to be next in their lives and careers.

2. Understanding Others
Leadership is about influencing others, so effective leaders not only understand themselves but can also understand others – their strengths, values, beliefs, and world views. In the process of understanding oneself, participants will gain insights into understanding others to lead them more effectively.

3. Understanding Systems
Leadership occurs in the context of human systems, whether with others individually, in teams, or as part of an organization, industry, community, country, or globally. Leaders need to assess the nature of the system they are dealing with and act accordingly.

4. Understanding Power and Authority
Power and authority are inherent in human systems. Leaders need to understand how they relate to, negotiate with, and assert their own power and authority and how they respond to the power and authority of others.

5. Various Skills and Tools
The program covers related skills and topics such as emotional intelligence, resilience, storytelling, crucial conversations, strategic decision-making, negotiation, and managing change.

The annual 10-day Leadership Academy is the entry point and foundation of the CELA Network. CELA Fellows participate in one of the best globally available high-level executive education leadership programs for professional and personal growth and receive insights from business luminaries, educational speakers, and unique cultural opportunities.

CELA is part of a 33-nation global network spanning North America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. These affiliated networks have grown rapidly over the past 35 years and continue to expand to develop better leaders worldwide. Our CELA members are the innovators and the agents of change – the ones who make a positive difference in their societies and across the globe.

Over 2/3 of recent CELA academy graduates are working in the field of business and entrepreneurship, and applicants in that field are particularly encouraged to apply. Women are strongly encouraged to apply, as CELA has a long history of gender equality in the program.

Faculty & Facilitators

Take a look below at just some of the stellar facilitators and instructors you will engage with during the course of the Academy. Keynote speakers also attend, and are different for each Academy.

  • Said Alshanfari
    MELA - Oman

    Al Shanfari has a wealth of experience working in leadership roles in marketing and communications across Oman and the wider region. His professional experience includes progressing through various management positions during his eight-year tenure in Ooredoo Oman, including Director of Business Marketing. Most recently, he held the role of General Manager of Marketing Communication and Performance at Omantel.

    Al Shanfari successfully completed Oman’s National CEO Program in 2017, which prepared Oman’s brightest talent to compete in the global marketplace with an aim to build the next generation of Omani leaders. Bringing the leadership skills and experience he gained from the CEO program, Al Shanfari aims to promote Oman and OCEC as a hub for regional and international conferences and exhibitions, as well as a venue for live events and showcasing the natural beauty and rich culture of Oman.

    Al Shanfari holds a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Hull and a double Bachelor’s from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Computer Management and Information Systems, as well as Business Administration and International Business. He has further completed additional leadership and management courses from the London Business School and the IMD Business School.

  • Victor Antonio


    Author, speaker, and sales trainer, Victor Antonio has earned a B.S. Electrical Engineering, an MBA, and built a 20-year career as a top sales executive, which included becoming President of Global Sales and Marketing for a $420M company. As Vice President of International Sales in a Fortune 500 $3B corporation at the time, he was selected from over 500 sales managers to join the President’s Advisory Council for excellence in sales and management.

    He has shared the stage with top business speakers: Rudy Giuliani, Paul Otellini (CEO of Intel), and John May (CEO of FedEx Kinkos). He is the author of 13 books on sales and motivation, and recently launched his Sales Mastery Academy learning platform with 300+ sales training videos.

  • Andrea Bednar
    SIBF - USA

    Andrea’s mission is to provide conscious business leadership that effectively utilizes the brilliance of the mind, executes with extraordinary success, and comes from the heart. She’s designed and delivered leadership development programs to thousands of executives. Projects include transforming trauma and measurable performance of 9000 refinery employees after a tragic accident; refocusing and repurposing an oil & gas major in Alaska after a spill; bringing leadership to mining in Malaysia; aligning all stakeholders on budget, scheduling and safety of a $1B Canadian project; creating effective communication between Aboriginal People and a mineral harvesting company; and bringing Iraqi and American companies together to run a $20B project in Iraq. Due to her interest and passion for inquiry, she has led salons all over the world. In addition, she is one of the co-founders of Executives for the Extraordinary – Education for Everyone (E4E) in Asia. She is a board member for PASS Consulting and she is VP for the Leadership Academy on SIBF’s Executive Board. She is a certified Master Integral Coach, and certified in Complexity Decision Making and in 360º feedback assessments. Andrea lives in Texas with her husband, Tim, their seven grandchildren and Hewbie, the Great Pyrenees

  • Jan Bowler
    SIBF - USA

    Jan Bowler spent 30 years as a Human Resources practitioner in the U.S. — ten years at the executive level in small private and public companies and twenty as a solo consultant to entrepreneurs. She has designed and delivered management and leadership training in Poland, trained Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine, and facilitated executive teams who were defining or shifting their strategies.

    Jan retired from HR in 2007, then spent eight years as first, Operations Manager, then President of her late husband’s financial research business before selling it in 2015.

    She attended CELA 11 as a guest and facilitated at CELA 12 and 13. An avid traveler, she hopes to visit all the countries in the region. So far, she has been to Georgia and Mongolia with plans for Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 2019. When not travelling, she resides in beautiful, mountainous Durango, CO where she hikes, bikes, volunteers for non-profits and plays Scrabble with friends

  • Paulette Carnicelli Pidcock

    SIBF - USA

    Paulette Carnicelli Pidcock is a certified executive leadership coach and Founding President of Pidcock Coaching Partners, LLC. Drawing on her decades as a successful corporate lobbyist and leader in Washington, DC, Paulette has created her coaching business to make a difference in the lives of her clients. She brings extensive, real-life experiences and expertise to her strategies, skills, and knowledge of what contributes to effective and transformational leadership.

    Paulette spent her corporate career as a government relations executive for three multi-billion dollar energy and utility holding companies (PPL Corporation, PG&E Corporation and BGE Company), where her leadership skills, policy expertise and relationship prowess earned her respect within her corporations, industry associations, professional organizations and on Capitol Hill.

    Paulette earned her Leadership Coaching Certificate from Georgetown University and is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ACC). She holds an MA degree from the University of Maryland and a BS degree from California University of Pennsylvania.

    Paulette has created and facilitated leadership programs for mid- level career professionals – in Washington. As a Member of the SIBF she has served as a Volunteer Leadership Facilitator SEALA (2015-2018), CELA (2015-2017), MELA (2018) – and US (2014-2017). Paulette serves on the SIBF Board.

  • Emil Gasimli
    CELA - Azerbaijan

    Emil Gasimli is the Chief of Marketing and Business Development at the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOCAR). In this capacity, Emil is responsible for the coordination of marketing campaigns as well as the business development activities of the company in the Caspian region and beyond. He has also been part of different negotiation groups within the Southern Gas Corridor project. Prior to his current position, he spent 5 years working in different IT consulting companies as well as for BP, coordinating their IT projects and activities in Azerbaijan.

    Emil holds a BA in Finance and Accounting from the State Oil Academy in Baku and Georgia State University, USA (2007), an MBA degree from the University of Louisiana (2009), and an MBA degree from the State Economics University in Baku (2010). He has also completed the Advanced Foreign Service Program at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy (ADA, 2010). He has earned a Master Certificate in Project Management from the School of Project Management of ESI International in partnership with George Washington University (2015), and has completed the Rumsfeld Fellowship Program (2016). Recently, Emil completed the Leadership: Organization and Action program of Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education

  • Bobby Henebry

    SIBF - USA

    Bobby Henebry, CFA in CEO of Henebry Blockchain & Cryptocurrency Consulting, LLC, which mines crypto and consults for blockchain startups. Previously, he worked for 11 years at SeaBridge Investment Advisors, eventually becoming a partner. SeaBridge advised wealthy individuals, family offices, and foundations on global allocations among stocks, private equities, and hedge funds. He helped raise over $200M of new assets for the firm.

    Previously, he was also employed at Georgia Tech’s Office of Technology Licensing, which managed all intellectual property developed on campus. In addition, he was on a team of entrepreneurs that won the 2006 GT Business Plan Competition, and subsequently he placed third in a national elevator pitch competition.

    Bobby earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (2003) and an MBA focusing in entrepreneurship (2006), both from Georgia Tech. He is a CFA Charterholder, a graduate of both the Landmark Forum and Advanced Course, a graduate of the SIBF Leadership Academy, and has served as a facilitator at MELA 8, 9, and CELA 13.

    In his free time, his passion is music (writing, recording, and performing)! He traveled extensively within the U.S. (45 states) and abroad (45 countries).

  • Ginny Jackson
    SIBF - USA

    Ginny Jackson is Vice-President and significant shareholder of Statement Systems, Inc., an 18-year-old company in Dallas, Texas. SSI specializes in performing highly complex data parsing/processing and printing/distribution of complex, highly-personalized variable communications for clients such as Federal Express, JPMorgan Chase, Dell and many other Fortune 1000 companies.

    Ginny is active in the SMU Tower Center Forum, World Affairs Council, CELA (Central Eurasia Leadership Academy), the Society of International Business Fellows, Dallas Social Venture Partners, Dallas Women in Philanthropy and is on the Board of the Golden Retriever Rescue of North Texas. She graduated from Occidental College in Pasadena, CA, with a B.A. in Languages.

    Ginny’s hobbies include cooking (as much as possible, as often as possible, for as many people as possible), reading and all sorts of sports and outdoor activities. She enjoys attending a wide range of arts and cultural events, especially dance and literary events. Ginny and her husband, Steven Raab, share their home with their three Golden Retrievers – Hudson, Cooper and Bo – and two cats.

  • John King


    Cultural Flow Architect & Rogue Scholar John King is co-author of The New York Times #1 best-selling Tribal Leadership, which changed the trajectory of thinking about Organizational Culture.

    Internationally recognized as a senior teacher, coach, and program leader, John’s executive clientele has been featured on all major television networks and in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes.

    Recently, John conducted leadership seminars in Kabul, American University in Yerevan, New Vision University in Tbilisi, and Ground Zero in Tashkent.

    John is on Faculty for CELA at American University in Bulgaria, the Middle East Leadership Academy (MELA) in the Gulf Region, and the Southeast Asia Leadership Academy (SEALA). He delivers The Cultural Map, Triads and Strategy, for the University of Arizona, Southwest Leadership Program (SWLP). John is Professor Emeritus at the Moscow International Leadership Academy (MILA).

    John is a facilitator of The Samurai Game®, conducts an intensive seminar regarding the establishment and sustainability of Communities of Honor, entitled, The Gatherings @ Santa Fe, and is currently developing his next two books, Tribal Possibilities: Aha!, Duh!, Wow!,and, The Way of the Cultural Hero: Virtue Character, and Destiny.

  • Michael Kouly

    MELA - Lebanon

    Michael Kouly is a distinguished international speaker and influential thought leader known for his captivating talks at international conferences, corporate retreats, universities, and national strategy conferences across numerous countries. With a focus on thought-provoking insights, inspiring leadership concepts, and actionable strategies, Michael has been recognized with prestigious awards and honours, including Time Magazine and Reuters and participation in esteemed panels like the Abu Dhabi President's Government Excellent Awards and Dubai Government Leadership Awards.

    Michael's impact extends beyond the stage, as he has developed globally acclaimed executive programs, such as the Global CEO Academy (GCA), Cambridge Institute for Global Leadership, and Kouly Institute. These programs have empowered thousands of top corporate and government officials, equipping them with cutting-edge insights and skills for navigating today's dynamic business landscape.

    As a strategic advisor, Michael Kouly has provided invaluable guidance and counsel to top-level executives and state leaders, contributing to the success and growth of various organizations. His unique approach and transformative strategies have fostered cultures of excellence and innovation, shaping the future of leadership on a global scale.

    Michael Kouly stands as a highly respected keynote speaker and thought leader, acknowledged for his thought-provoking contributions to the business and leadership communities. Through his acclaimed executive programs and strategic guidance, he continues to make a substantial impact, empowering leaders and organizations to thrive in an ever-changing world. Michael studies at Harvard, Princeton, UCL, AUB, Maastricht and Michigan universities. He is the author of 15 books, including two Amazon best-sellers.

    Michael can be reached at teammichaelkouly@michaelkouly.com

  • Clark Plexico

    SIBF - USA

    Clark Plexico brings years of practical experience to the field of global leadership. He has served as an educator, entrepreneur, state senator, corporate executive, consultant, country director, and non-profit CEO. In addition, he has worked and lived in Europe, the Middle East, and Central and Southeast Asia for almost twenty years.

    Mr. Plexico is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In addition to being a speaker for international forums and organizational retreats, he offers coaching, facilitating and training in three overlapping strategies for successful leadership: Leadership Development, Cross Cultural Communications and Negotiations, and Public Policy Advocacy and Governance.

    Mr. Plexico’s work has the goal of enabling individuals to become more effective leaders locally and globally, and to enable organizations to create environments where such leaders can flourish to the benefit of the individual, organization and society.

    He also writes guest columns for newspapers from the perspective of an American living and traveling abroad. Clark’s hobbies are traveling, writing, photography, hiking and kayaking.

    Mr. Plexico is an original facilitator and founder of CELA. This marks the 15th time that he has served as facilitator or faculty member for the various academies in the network.

  • Steven Raab
    SIBF - USA

    Steven Raab is the Chairman of The InSource Group which provides a variety of Information Technology services and highly qualified Information Technology professionals to its commercial clients on a contract basis. The Insource Group was a three-time qualifier in the SMU Cox Business School of Business Dallas 100, has received numerous other awards, and previously was recognized as one of Texas’ fastest growing Women-Owned Businesses.

    Mr. Raab began his technical career at IBM, where he held various line and staff management positions in sales and vertical industry markets over a period of 17 years. He also has been the founder and President of his own custom home building company, Executive Vice President of Real Estate and Real Estate Lending for Champion Savings & Loan, and EVP of Real Time Financial Systems, Inc.

    He is the past President and member of the board of The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, past Board Chair and Board member of Social Venture Partners Dallas, board member of Social Venture Partners International. Steven served as a facilitator at MELA, CELA and SEALA programs.

    Steven is keenly interested in geopolitics, international security, and foreign affairs and in that pursuit, he is a member of The Tower Center Forum at SMU, World Affairs Council of Dallas/Ft. Worth and Dallas Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Raab is a Fox Hunter and is also interested in social innovation, travel, hand and shot gun sports (particularly skeet/sporting clays) and reading.

    Steven is currently pursuing a Bachelors inf International Relations and Political Science at Southern Methodist University.

  • Julie A. Skaggs

    SIBF - USA

    Julie A. Skaggs currently serves as Securities Examiner with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the primary overseer and regulator of the U.S. securities markets. Julie began her career as a tax lawyer and practiced law at the international law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton. She was in-house counsel and VP Human Resources at Coca-Cola Enterprises, and then joined Invesco Capital Management, a large multinational investment firm where she helped develop their retirement plan business and became COO of Invesco Capital Management. She has also served in leadership positions at medium and smaller investment firms, has successfully raised capital and worked to develop entrepreneurial firms.

    She received a BME, summa cum laude from Murray State University, JD from University of Kentucky College of Law, and LLM (Taxation) from University of Miami College of Law. Julie has served as a facilitator for five MELA academies and two CELAs as well, and continues to mentor graduates of the academies. She has a daughter, Kate, who is a risk analyst for a management consultant firm in Washington, D.C., and Ben, a college student, who is majoring in cybersecurity and plans to study Russian.

  • William (Bill) P. Starnes
    SIBF - USA

    Bill Starnes is a retired co-managing partner of Trammell Crow International. He currently devotes his time and energy to various philanthropic activities, with an emphasis on leadership development based on insights gained from a career spanning academia, international business, and the nonprofit sector. In 1984, Mr. Starnes joined the commercial property division of Trammell Crow, a major real estate developer, owner, and operator of industrial, office, commercial, and multi-family residential properties as well as hotels, hospitals and wholesale merchandise marts. He became a partner in 1989 and co-managing partner of Trammell Crow International (TCI) in 1997 with assets then totaling over $350 million. Mr. Starnes was responsible for determining overall business strategy, opening new markets, and overseeing the overall administration of the business. He oversaw the opening of new offices in Japan, China, the Netherlands and Hungary. In 1998, Mr. Starnes became a member of the Society of International Business Fellows, where he has served as Managing Director from 2001 to 2005, volunteer curriculum coordinator for SIBF’s Global Leadership Academies from 2006 to the present, and Chairman of the Board in 2013.

    Mr. Starnes completed graduate studies at Yale University and an undergraduate degree from Rice University in Houston

  • Meade Sutterfield
    SIBF - USA

    C. Meade Sutterfield is an angel and private equity investor primarily in emerging telecommunications and healthcare IT entities with 35 career investments and is very involved in the Atlanta start-up ecosystem.

    From 1985-1993 he was concurrently a founder and President of PowerFone, Inc and Johnson Communications Corporation, both wireless carriers. These companies were merged into the rollup which created Nextel Communications. He was previously an executive with Kimberly-Clark, Alliance-Wall and Scientific-Atlanta in Europe and the US.

    Meade’s education includes a BEE from the Georgia Tech (1972) and a MBA from Harvard University (1974), both with honors. He attended Georgia Tech (GT) on a football scholarship.

    Meade is a past Chair of the GT Alumni Association, currently on the GT Foundation Board, Advisory Boards for the Electrical Engineering School, and Flashpoint Incubator. He was also President of the Harvard Business School (Alumni) Club of Atlanta.

    He is a past Chair of the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF) and a Past Chair of the Global Network Foundation (GNF) of SIBF. In 2002, he was the founder of the Central Eurasian Leadership Alliance (CELA) and has participated in every academy and most reunions, resulting in travel to every country in the region. He was also extensively involved in the founding of sister academies MELA and SEALA, where he has served many times as a facilitator.

    He is married to Susan and they have four married children and nine grandchildren. Meade has a passion for tennis.

  • Susan Sutterfield

    SIBF - USA

    Susan Sutterfield has 20 years of experience as a hospital nurse with a focus on physical rehabilitation and pulmonary medicine. She has a BS in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She continues her medical work part-time on an international research study which focuses on Type 1 diabetes development in children. Mrs. Sutterfield’s other main interests are international travel, history and politics. She also enjoys cooking and regular exercise. In addition to living in France, she has traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America. Through the Central Eurasia Leadership Academy (CELA), she has participated in all of the Academies, 12 of the 15 reunions and, as a result, visited all of the ten member-countries from the South Caucasus through Central Asia.

    She and her husband, Meade, have four adult married children and are the proud grandparents of nine grandchildren.

  • Susan Simons

    SIBF - USA

    In 2017, Susan Simons started two small businesses: event space management and fashion accessories companies. Both of these businesses were born out of a belief that people thrive when they are connected, appreciated and confident.

    Ms. Simons’ passion is facilitating in leadership development academies. Since 2011 she has participated in 13 such immersive programs in four regions- Central Eurasia (CELA), Southeast Asia (SEALA), Middle East (MELA), and the US (SIBF-LA). Supporting the growth and development of the individuals, organizations, and communities she works with drives every aspect of her work.

    Ms. Simons began her career creating Internet business and marketing strategies for regional and mid-size companies. She then co-founded and was CEO of Clinetic, a pioneering electronic medical technology company. She served in government as an elected member of the Charleston County School Board. In the public sector, Susan has consulted with and served on the boards of numerous nonprofits. Ms. Simons received her BA from Brown University and her MA from The Fletcher School, Tufts University. She resides in Charleston, SC with her husband, John Hagerty. Their three children are scattered around the globe.

Do you have any questions? Find answers below!
What is the CELA Academy?
  • The CELA Academy program is the annual 10-day Leadership program offered by the Central Eurasia Leadership Alliance. It serves as the entry point and foundation of the CELA Network. Participants, known as CELA Fellows, undergo high-level executive education leadership program aimed at both personal and professional growth. They also gain insights from business luminaries and educational speakers, and partake in unique cultural experiences.
Who should apply for the CELA Academy program?
  • While professionals from all sectors are welcomed, over 2/3 of recent CELA academy graduates are from the business and entrepreneurship sectors. Applicants in this field are particularly encouraged. Furthermore, women are strongly urged to apply given CELA's long-standing commitment to gender equality.
What is the history and impact of CELA?
  • Founded in 2002, the Central Eurasia Leadership Alliance (CELA) stands as the top network for Central Eurasia's leaders. It focuses on enhancing leadership skills, expanding professional networks, and positively impacting families, businesses, and communities. With 16 academies, over 600 Alumni, 30 Annual Reunions, and 2 Global Network Summits, CELA has solidified its role in fostering partnerships across multiple fronts.
How does CELA compare with other leadership networks?
  • CELA is a part of a vast 46-nation global network that spans North America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. These affiliated networks, in existence for the past 35 years, aim to develop world-class leaders. CELA members are renowned for being innovators and change agents, driving positive change in their societies and globally.
What benefits do CELA Fellows receive upon graduation from the Academy?
  • Graduates become a part of the broader CELA Network, giving them opportunities to connect with a vast range of leaders from different sectors. They can attend Annual Reunions, participate in Global Network Summits, and engage in various initiatives that can boost their personal and professional development.
  • Interested candidates can visit the CELA official website for application details and deadlines. Given the program's prestige, early applications are encouraged to ensure thorough consideration.
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