Photo credit: Jeff Napolitano

Photo credit: Jeff Napolitano

mehlaqa samdani

Mehlaqa Samdani is the executive director of Critical Connections, which she founded in 2013. She also serves as a peacebuilding associate at the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, where she is implementing a project to address sectarian violence in Pakistan. 

Previously, Samdani worked as an adjunct fellow with the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and a research analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York where she focused on women’s empowerment in the Muslim world. She has researched and worked in various conflict and transitional settings such as Pakistan, the Sudan, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Israel/Palestine. She has also been involved with civil society-based peace initiatives between India and Pakistan. 

Samdani’s writings have been published in the New York Times, Foreign Policy (AfPak Channel), Christian Science Monitor, Daily Times (Pakistan) etc. and she has been invited as a guest on NPR, KCBS and news channels in Pakistan. She is a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and has an undergraduate degree from the University of Denver. She lives in Longmeadow, MA, with her husband and two children. 



bernie pelletier

Bernie Pelletier is program director at Critical connections. He recently retired (2012) from a career as an actuary for Travelers Insurance where he was the Chief Actuary for the International Department. He graduated from Manhattan College in 1975 with degrees in Mathematics and Peace Studies. His actuarial career made full use of both skill sets – and he continued to develop both disciplines.

In 2007 he received a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Trinity College in Hartford. Currently he is enrolled in Master’s program at RPI Hartford in the Environmental and Energy Engineering cohort.Since he has retired from the actuarial career he has devoted himself to the mission of Sustainability – which encompasses environmental, economic, and social elements. Critical Connections’ goal of resilient and sustainable communities aligns perfectly with the third “leg” of sustainability.



leif maynard

Leif Maynard is program associate at Critical Connections. He was born and raised in Northampton, MA. He is a rising junior at Amherst High School, where he co-leads a group advocating for Syrian refugees. He is particularly interested in foreign policy and cross-cultural understanding, and is excited to work on promoting nuanced dialogue in the community.