Janessa Gans Wilder envisions a world with less conflict and one in which people engage with others who are not like themselves.
Wilder is the founder and CEO of the Euphrates Institute, an organization that aims to promote peace through understanding. A St. Louis-based chapter recently opened.
Wilder’s path to founding the peacebuilding nonprofit is an interesting one. Prior to establishing it in 2005, she worked as a CIA counterterrorism and counterinsurgency analyst.
“It’s not a normal trajectory,” she said.
Wilder’s position with the CIA began just months before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. “I was working on a different part of the world and after 9/11 happened I was immediately transferred to a taskforce working on Afghanistan.
“I did that from 2001 to 2003 but all the while wishing I could actually go to the country,” Wilder said.
The trip to Afghanistan never materialized but in 2003, she volunteered to go on a 90-day trip to Iraq that turned into a nearly two year stay. Her motive was to gain a greater understanding of the people who lived in the country and not just learn what she could by working in a cubicle.
“I was so struck by the disconnect between what I had been living, breathing, sleeping, working which was Middle East politics issues and the ‘war on terror’ and how relevant those were to every single American from the gas we put in our cars to the birthplace of our religions, to the soldiers we send over to fight,” she said.
Indeed, Wilder said that when she returned the U.S. she observed people not caring and not understanding what happens in that part of the world.
“It’s so much easier to just throw military might at a problem,” she said. “We have to talk about keeping our military but let’s also throw some money and support behind building democracy.”
Throwing money at non-military endeavors – such as building understanding – is one of the key tenets of the Euphrates Institute.
Wilder will be speaking more about the subject in a speech titled “Turn the ‘Other’ Into a Brother,” at 7:30 tonight at the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves United Church of Christ.
What: Turn the "Other" Into a Brother
When: Friday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: First Congregational Church of Webster Groves United Church of Christ
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