The Layalina Advisory Group is comprised of some of the best and brightest minds in foreign policy, business development, film and law, among other fields. Their contributions, investments and insight have been invaluable to the mission of Layalina.
Rayya Salem, Managing Director+
After having grown up in Houston and graduating from Rice University (’07) with a degree in Economics and Political Science, she completed a two-year stint in an accounting firm and set off to Beirut. She spent two years as a business journalist at Executive Magazine before moving to London to work at the Lebanese Embassy. Her role in research and planning in the commercial department supported the overall goal of increased bilateral trade between the UK and Lebanon.
In Houston, Rayya sits on the Roundtable at the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. Two of her longtime heroes are Former Secretary of State James Baker III and his devoted wife Susan Baker, not just for their public roles but for their personal convictions and guidance.
Natasha-Christina Akda is an attorney with her own practice. She has special expertise in providing counsel to entrepreneurs and businesses in all aspects of their corporate development in both domestic and international markets. She is a Member with the New York State Bar and is proficient in Lebanese-Arabic and French. Additionally, Natasha-Christina currently serves on the boards of the American Task Force for Lebanon and the Rene Moawad Foundation. Natasha-Christina received her Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs and her Juris Doctorate from the George Washington University.
Michael Braeuninger is the Director of Development and Outreach for the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) in Washington, DC. He is an alumnus of The American University where he earned a master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution; and Saint Louis University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Prior to his current position, Michael was the program manager for American Red Cross International Services in Saint Louis, MO where he worked with local refugees through the Restoring Family Links program; created a nationally recognized curriculum for promoting awareness of International Humanitarian Law in partnership with the Whitney R. Harris Law Institute at Washington University; and managed major fundraising campaigns for international disaster response and global health initiatives.
Diane McMahon is Manager, Global Policy & Issues at Bechtel. McMahon manages corporate affairs’ global policy efforts concerning climate change, business & human rights, economic development, transparency. McMahon also leads global stakeholder engagement efforts with varying government-affiliated entities.
Prior to Bechtel, McMahon advised U.S. and Indian companies for twenty years. She served as Vice President for Albright Stonebridge Group, worked for European Command at the U.S. Department of Defense facilitating public-private partnerships in security and defense sectors, was Chief of Staff of the U.S. – India Business Council within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and held a number of positions in Washington, DC at think tanks, in Congress, and for the New Zealand Embassy.
McMahon travels extensively in India, working closely with the Indian art community in New York and Bollywood & Hollywood on the co-production of films, and in the wellness and tourism sector in India.
Stephen Whisnant founded Stephen Whisnant Strategies, LLC in early 2014 and currently serves as managing director. Prior to establishing his own firm, he served as Director of Philanthropy and Advisor to the National Democratic Institute in Washington, D.C. and as an independent consultant. Prior to serving this international NGO he was a Managing Director for the United States Olympic Committee and also served as the Campaign Director for the “Building for Peace Campaign” of the United States Institute of Peace.
Whisnant has an extensive background in fund development and general management and senior leadership positions in nonprofit work. Prior to joining USIP he served as VP of Development and Investor Relations at Venture Philanthropy Partners and served full-time as Senior Director of Development and Non-Profit Initiatives.
Whisnant spent fourteen years in higher education as a senior development officer and advisor. In 1993 he opened the doors of World T.E.A.M. Sports, an international sports nonprofit. He gained political fundraising experience during his tenure as the first-ever Executive Director of the Presidential and Democratic Party Victory Fund in support of the 1988 presidential race.
He holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina and a Master’s in Education from Harvard University. In addition to serving as the Past Chairman of Kartemquin Films’ Board of Directors, he serves as a trustee for many sports oriented organizations and was a founding director of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.