Q&A: Pact welcomes Gina Volynsky as head of private sector practice

December 16, 2021


Gina Volynsky has more than 25 years of experience in international development, including 14 years of living and working in emerging economies. She has dedicated much of her career to collaborating with the private sector to address development challenges, which included heading a team working for USAID on private-sector engagement, and designing and managing multi-country programs for the UNDP that created the infrastructure to partner with multinationals. Volynsky’s career has also included time at the World Bank, a private financial services company, the State University of New York's Center for International Development, and running her own import-export business. Volynsky has an MBA and a bachelor's degree in economics and is fluent in Russian.

She joined Pact on Dec. 6. As senior director for the organization’s private sector practice, Volynsky works to build new partnerships between Pact and corporations and foundations to create positive social change around the world. In this Q&A, she discusses her career, why she came to Pact and the private sector’s role in international development.

Q: What made you want to join Pact?
I am at a point in my career where I am very selective about where I work, and I was excited and honored to be chosen to join Pact. Over the years, I have heard about Pact and its reputation for quality initiatives with a long-term view of truly partnering with local communities and implementing technically deep and holistic programs. Also, I am passionate about working with the private sector because ultimately, they are the ones that create jobs, goods and services that communities need. Pact has made significant contributions to various sectors from mining to the environment to health by helping companies operate more sustainably and responsibly. My decision was sealed during the interview process when I met my future team and colleagues in various departments and countries. I was inspired by their intelligence, creativity and dedication to their mission.

What do you hope to bring to this role?
This role is focused on increasing the scale and impact of the excellent work that Pact has done across its private sector practice. We will do that by expanding our portfolio of work with corporations and foundations, building on a solid foundation. I bring expertise in fostering and managing development partnerships with the private sector from my time with USAID, UNDP and others. This is coupled with experience managing and driving business development efforts. My goal is to work with my colleagues to develop a strategy to harness and grow Pact's partnerships so they reach even more people and make a greater positive impact. It is important to recognize what we have learned through the years, the amazing tools and initiatives we have developed, and what we have to offer in thought leadership to other development professionals and our partners. I want to continue to create meaningful and significant global and comprehensive collaborations with companies that address their commercial needs in ways that bring to the communities we serve sustainable social, environmental and economic prosperity and security.

What role do you think the private sector has in global development?
Global development depends on the private sector, and there is no development without a strong and responsible private sector. The private sector provides the jobs and the incomes that people need to feed and take care of themselves and their families and to realize their potential as entrepreneurs and professionals. The private sector develops, produces and sells the goods and services that communities need, from clothes, food and shelter to health and financial services. Pact has done amazing work partnering with the private sector to both operate more responsibly and to harness its capabilities to increase livelihoods, improve the environment, provide clean energy and protect workers.

"Prosperity and safety are arbitrarily determined by geography and circumstances. Our work in international development is not a luxury, but a responsibility, and we have to keep learning and improving how we do it."

What are some the biggest lessons you’ve learned about global development?
My first assignment in international development was 25 years ago for Deloitte in the former Soviet Union, a country I left as a child with my parents and only two suitcases. Russia was in a deep recession with high unemployment and crime. Had I not emigrated, I may not have had the same opportunities to reach my goals, which taught me very early on that prosperity and safety are arbitrarily determined by geography and circumstances. Moreover, that our work in international development is not a luxury, but a responsibility, and we have to keep learning and improving how we do it. 

My experience has also given me a long-term view, and I know that when we design and launch programs, from the onset we need to have a strong sustainability strategy. What is our exit plan? What will we leave behind that is worth more than the money and the labor we spent? What will be there the day the project ends? We cannot leave that to chance. We need to evaluate, plan and find and support the right local partners.

To accomplish true sustainability and impact, we need to be partners to the local community, the government, civil society organizations and, most important for my role, the private sector. I have learned that we cannot operate in a vacuum. We need partners so that our programs benefit from the knowledge of all stakeholders, and to put them in the forefront so that we are building local capacity that will last.

What are some accomplishments you’re especially proud of?
I am most proud of the relationships I have built with people, and hearing from them years later about how the work we did together has impacted their lives. I was particularly touched when a few years ago, I was contacted by a young woman from the Urals who found me on LinkedIn and went to the effort of writing me a long letter about how our program to support women entrepreneurs gave her mother the confidence and tools to grow a printing business that she now runs with her daughter.

I am also especially proud when I see that the work I've done continues to go on and grow. For example, while at the UNDP's Regional Center for Eurasia over a decade ago, I raised funding for and established a multi-country program to partner with the private sector on development initiatives. Our partners included large firms like Pepsi and Vodaphone on initiatives from recycling to the prevention of human trafficking. This program has grown from a pilot into an established UNDP way of operating in the region.