The Challenges Forum International Secretariat
The Challenges Forum International Secretariat (CFIS) is the executive body of the Challenges Forum and acts on the behalf of the whole Challenges Forum Partnerhip. Since 2003, the CFIS is hosted at the Folke Bernadotte Academy – Swedish Agency for Peace and Security, and located in Stockholm, Sweden.
CFIS leads, plans and coordinates the daily work of the Challenges Forum Partnership. CFIS is responsible for developing the agenda and proposals for the Challenges Forum and for supporting the Partnership in reaching the strategic objectives decided by the Partners’ Meeting. The Director leads CFIS’ work and reports to the Partners’ Meeting.
Dr. Björn Holmberg holds Ph.D. in Peace and Conflict Research from Uppsala University, Sweden. He was Secretary General and Coordinator of Swedepeace Foundation (2009-2017), working on dialogue, mediation, conflict management, peace operations, and security sector reform in numerous countries in Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Latin America with national and multilateral partners. He served as Deputy Head of Mission at the Swedish Embassy in Guatemala (2006–2008) and Coordinator and then Head of the Division for Peace and Security (2001-2006) at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). He was also Vice Chair of the Network on Conflict, Peace and Development Cooperation of the OECD-DAC, Paris (2005–2006) leading policy and doctrine development. Dr. Holmberg headed the UN Secretariat´s Regional Small Arms Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean stationed in Lima, Peru (1999–2001). He was commissioned as an Officer in the Army Reserve at the Swedish Infantry’s Officer Academy in 1989 and is a trained UN peacekeeper and UN military observer. He speaks Swedish, English and Spanish.
Sharon Wiharta has extensive experience in the practice, policy and theory of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Most recently, she served in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in 2016-2018 as the Policy and Best Practices Officer and latterly as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff. Until she joined the Challenges Forum in 2012, she headed the project on Multilateral Peace Operations at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) where she focused on issues such as the geopolitics of peacekeeping, and enhancing local ownership in rule-of-law transitions. She also served as a consultant for Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) in 2012 on strengthening civilian capacities in peace operations. Sharon has published widely, including Peace Operations: Trends Progress and Prospects (eds. 2010, Georgetown University Press). She holds a M.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies from Uppsala University, Sweden.
Benoît Pylyser has for the past 15 years worked in various UN positions with peace and security, humanitarian coordination and sustainable development. Most recently he served as Political Advisor to the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region supporting the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) to address root causes of conflict and facilitate political solutions, inter alia, to protracted displacement in the region. Prior to this Mr. Pylyser served as Humanitarian Advisor to the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) providing liaison between the humanitarian community and the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) in view of optimizing humanitarian access and strengthening the humanitarian-peace-development nexus. Mr. Pylyser also served as Desk Officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in New York and as Humanitarian Affairs Officer in Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and the Regional Office for Southern Africa in Johannesburg. He started his career with the UN Development Program (UNDP) Rwanda as Associate Program Analyst on Access to Justice. Mr. Pylyser holds a Masters in European Public Administration from the University of Leuven and a License in International Relations from the University of Ghent. He speaks French, English, Dutch and Swedish.
Maria Bedford holds a Masters degree in Political Science from the University of Gothenburg. Ms. Bedford joined the Challenges Forum International Secretariat team in 2015. Prior to this she worked for the Swedish National Police Board (2012-2015) as a project manager. Ms. Bedford also spent three years working in the area of change management at Oxfordshire County Council (2009-2011). In addition to her Master studies, Ms. Bedford has studied Crisis Management, International Cooperation and Counter Terrorism at the Swedish National Defence College. She also holds a PRINCE2 project management qualification.
Fanny Wellén holds a Master degree in Political Science with a specialization in International Relations and Conflict Resolution from Copenhagen University and a Bachelor degree in Peace and Conflict from Malmö University. She has previously interned at the Swedish Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. During her internship she participated in and supported the work of both the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) as well as the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). During her internship she mainly focused on the peace process, the Swedish feminist foreign policy and the regional context of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. Previous her studies Ms. Wellén worked as a Financial Language Editor at an international financial company in Argentina. She speaks Swedish, English and Spanish.