The AHA Foundation is thrilled to announce that after an extensive search, George Zarubin has been chosen to lead the Foundation as our new Executive Director. George is a seasoned, international, senior executive with 20 years of philanthropic and non-profit experience in Washington, DC, Eastern Europe and Eurasia and 10 years of legal private practice in California and Russia. He has a proven track record of elevating the organizational capacity of foundations and nonprofits and in this process, changing hearts and minds through organizations such as Salzburg Global Seminar, Eurasia Foundation, and the Soros Foundation Kazakhstan.
Amanda Parker, AHA’s Senior Director, recently spoke to George to find out about his past work and his plans for the future of the AHA Foundation.
Amanda: In your past professional roles, you led several foundations through strategic reinvention and scaling up of their reach and impact. What were the biggest challenges and what did you learn while overcoming them?
George: The biggest challenge has usually been persuading the organizational leadership, the Board and core staff members that change is required because earlier fundamentals have changed, and new opportunities have arisen. Most people don’t like change, so a thoughtful, open, inclusive and facilitative dialogue is usually the best way to garner support and obtain buy-in.
Amanda: In the past 25 years, you lived in 5 countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Bulgaria and of course, the US). How have experiences with different cultures changed you and have they informed the way you approach professional challenges?
George: One thing that you learn quickly living overseas is that every culture is extremely different, even if that difference is not apparent immediately. Working with non-profits, foundations and international development organizations to foster social, legal or economic change, requires understanding those cultural differences and building and designing your programs from the bottom up, so that the cultural context informs how programs are implemented.
Amanda: What do you look forward to as you start working for the AHA Foundation?
George: I look forward to engaging with a very successful non-profit that now is considering how it can grow and expand its programs. I really enjoy engaging in strategic, thoughtful and analytical discussions on program design and how to measure success. I also like speaking to donors about how their support can bring about social change.
Amanda: What is your vision for the AHA Foundation in the next year? In five years?
George: My vision for the AHA Foundation is to nurture our existing programs for greatest impact while also starting new programs that support some of the actionable ideas of our Founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. To nurture existing programs, it is important to be self-critical and evaluate your successes and failures in order to re-focus efforts on the most impactful activities. For new programs, I believe that it’s important to conduct good upfront assessment of the possibilities and identify where opportunities exist to strategically obtain results and impact.
Amanda: Which past professional experiences/skills do you plan to rely on while achieving that vision?
George: Strategic program design and identifying strong metrics to measure impact are critical skills for all non-profits! They can be extremely difficult when your goal is social behavioral change. So thoughtful, honest, ongoing reflection about the programs and re-adjusting the implementation approach to adjust to unexpected roadblocks are critical tools.
Amanda: What is your favorite quote?
George: I love that Margaret Meade quote “Never underestimate what a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can do to change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Amanda: What message would you like to give to AHA supporters, donors and advocates?
George: To the AHA supporters, donors and advocates, I would like to say that AHA has only begun and touched the tip of the iceberg in addressing our mission and program mandate areas. Your support has allowed us to do that, but we would love to speak to each and every one of you to thank you for your previous support, to explain how we plan to move forward and to request your partnership in addressing the underlying issues that are critical to solving the challenges we face!