I came from an interracial family, which was not well received in Kansas in the mid- to late-1960s. My mother, stepfather and I ended up in Washington state because of racial issues and a custody battle we were losing.
It was through that experience that I began to have a real passion and commitment to people of all races and cultures. The next 40 years became a real journey of engaging in issues, industries and organizations that are committed to global change.
My mother really got me started when she pushed me to be an exchange student in New Zealand. She knew that the experience was one she could not provide, but which would have a lifetime impact on me.
She was right.
I lived with a host family among the Maori people and realized that people all around the world were affected by poverty, hunger and economic disparity.
My journey continued. I had another opportunity to see different cultures as a Rotary ambassador scholar to the University of Edinburgh School of International Business in Scotland.
I later went to work for a member of Congress, Don Bonker, who was from the state of Washington and also the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs international trade subcommittee. Working on his staff was this wonderful opportunity to bring to bear my graduate studies and my passion for international affairs from the policy perspective.
I eventually started my own company called TRADEC, a trade and development consortium. It was focused on helping to support the development of new markets for U.S. companies, particularly small- and medium-sized companies.
I worked on creating openings for a number of industry sectors, including housing, aerospace and agriculture.
In the private sector, you can be very involved with helping to develop new markets and helping companies access new markets, but that work was still removed from actually seeing global health projects on the ground. I wanted to be connected with more direct service delivery work that was a passion for me.
There’s something about knowing that the women of Zambia are going to be in a better place because of the HIV prevention program that you worked on.
That’s where the nonprofit sector has really come into play.
I spent five years at World Vision US, integrating what I learned in the public and private sector into global health issues. We reduced child mortality and made strides with a meningitis vaccine. From there, I went to work at a global health nonprofit called PATH, where I oversaw the advocacy, communications and parts of the fundraising.
As I now have been asked to become the chief executive at Global Impact, my role is to bring my experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to look at raising the awareness and funds for the entire nonprofit sector.
Less than 4 percent of Americans donate to international causes. We are a giving society, but international causes are still a very small part of that giving. What if 10 percent gave? For me, that’s a metric that can make a difference.
Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Chief executive of Global Impact, an Alexandria-based nonprofit that raises funds to meet humanitarian needs around the world.
Career highlights: Vice president for external relations at PATH; senior vice president of World Vision US; president and managing director of APCO Seattle; founder of TRADEC (Trade and Development Consortium).
Education: BA, History, University of Puget Sound; MBA, University of Edinburgh School of International Business; Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, University of Puget Sound.
Personal: Lives in Alexandria with spouse and three children.