Leila Bekri is executive director of International Focus, where she works closely with the organization’s board, staff and partners to foster multicultural understanding. Since assuming her current role in 2020, Leila has led International Focus through a strategic plan, staffing expansion and organizational restructuring to better align the group’s activities with its vision and goals.
Leila’s career spans more than 20 years in international educational and cultural exchanges in the nonprofit sector in Raleigh and the surrounding Research Triangle area. She has managed numerous short and long-term programs and built strong partnerships with local, national, and international stakeholders. She works closely with the U.S. Department of State on its premier professional exchange program, the International Visitor Leadership Program. IVLP has brought hundreds of emerging leaders from around the world to N.C. to learn from area business leaders, journalists and government officials.
In recognition of her role in expanding awareness of cultural diversity, The News & Observer named Leila as a “Tar Heel of the Week.” International Focus also has won various awards and nominations for peace, diversity, mentorship, and programming excellence under her leadership.
Leila holds an M.A. in International Studies from North Carolina State University and B.A. in legal studies from the Faculté des Sciences Juridiques, Politiques et Sociales de Tunis. She enjoys the arts, road trips, and volunteering with local nonprofits. A native of Tunisia, Leila is fluent in English, French and Arabic.
Maria Adoskina (PhD)
Director of Special Projects
Dr. Maria Adoskina (PhD) emigrated from the Russian Federation in 1993 with her PhD in Philology and Linguistics from the Institute of Linguistics at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Maria became involved in International Focus in 1999 where she would become the Program Director for Community Connections and Open World Programs. Maria has directed more than 43 successful programs via Community Connections, Open World, Youth Leadership Programs, and the Young Leaders of Americas Initiative. In her free time, Maria loves her dog and family and has recently had a new grandchild born.
IVLP Program Coordinator
Maisie Rising is a California native and a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in philosophy. In high school, Maisie participated in a semester program focused on peace, justice, and sustainability, which greatly impacted her perspective and sparked a passion for cultural exchange. She believes that cultural exchange is important for fostering trust within the community, as it promotes mutual understanding and respect.
During her time in college, Maisie interned with the city council and focused on issues related to homelessness in the Bay Area. After graduating, she spent a year as an AmeriCorps Vista, working with a literacy tutoring program for disadvantaged youth. Maisie is now excited to begin a new chapter in her career as a Program Coordinator for the International Visitor Leadership Program, where she can facilitate meaningful exchanges between international communities and Raleigh.
John Thoma, retired Chief Executive Officer, joined the nonprofit Transitions LifeCare in 1991 as the Director of Finance and Information Systems. John became CEO in 2002 and served on the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees.
John graduated from Boston University with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature and has continued his education and training at the Tufts University Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and the Harvard Business School.
John is passionate about maximizing the impact nonprofit services bring to diverse communities and the importance of thriving mission-driven organizations. John is very active at the regional, state and national level, and has served on numerous boards and committees including the United Way of the Greater Triangle, the Association for Home and Hospice Care of North Carolina, and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
Samuel Josephson is a North Carolina native from Cary who is currently pursuing a double bachelor's degree in both Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in Global Governance, Human Rights, and International Law at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. At International Focus he works as a Student Fellow assisting with delegation preparation and hosting, as well a social media, website development, and newsletter development. Having an interest in international affairs and cultural exchanges, Samuel Josephson came across International Focus through personal research and joined due to an appreciation and respect for our mission. Outside of his professional life, Samuel has a dog named Lulia who he spends his time training and enjoys reading.
Kasi Kindred is the Intern with International Focus tasked with the development of the International Focus Cultural Newsletters. She was born and raised in Raleigh, NC, and received her certification in Business Administration: Advertising and Digital Media from Wake Tech Community College in May 2022. In her free time, she loves going to Wrightsville Beach, NC, listening to music, and traveling. Ever since she started at International Focus, she knew this was going to be a great internship for her because she is intrigued by learning about other countries' cultures and customs. Getting involved at International Focus has given her the confidence to take on highly skilled roles and work in a professional setting and by applying them in her future career. She is a joy to be around and appreciates everything she is learning at International Focus.
Leila was born in New York City and raised in Tunis. Her father’s diplomatic service took her family to the U.S., Europe, and West Africa before moving back to Tunisia. Being exposed to a multitude of cultures and places at an early age, she cultivated a pluralistic perspective which she later reinforced through her education, work, and passion for world affairs.
Graduate Student Fellow
Savinance Thelma Vambe (Her/She pronoun) was born and raised in Zimbabwe. However, for the past ten years, she and her family have been happy to call Winston Salem their second home. She went to Appalachian State University and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree of Science in Political Science with a concentration in Pre-Professional Legal Studies and a minor in Accounting and Criminal Justice in May 2022. She is a first-year second-semester student at North Carolina State University, currently pursuing a Masters of International Studies. In her free time, Thelma enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She loves going on walks and watching K-dramas. She is looking forward to partnering with International Focus this academic year "as this is an opportunity for me to learn, grow, and build my global understanding and respect through a professional, personal, and artistic exchange".
Ally Newby is an intern for the International Visitors Leadership Program, and she joined in June 2023. Born in Maryland, her proximity to the nation's capital inspired her to work toward a career in international relations. Ally is a senior at UNC Chapel Hill pursuing a double major in Global Studies and Political Science and a minor in Hispanic Studies. In addition to interning with International Focus, this summer she worked as an intern for an immigrant resource center in Maryland.