Two months after graduating from Bucknell, Colleen Zakrewsky ’91 took her first trip to Africa. Her year-long Department of State internship at the American Embassy School in Ivory Coast would prove to be influential, leading her to a career in nonprofit fundraising, marketing and communications, and serving the underserved.
“I was always curious about the world, especially while I was at Bucknell. I credit [Professor of English Emerita] Marilyn Mumford for nurturing that within me,” Zakrewsky says. “I feel that the side of me that’s committed to serve was fostered at Bucknell.”
For more than 25 years, Zakrewsky has traveled extensively throughout Africa with the American Red Cross, the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Women for Women International. In 2017, she became chief development officer for FINCA International, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that provides financial services to low-income entrepreneurs in 20 countries. The agency has now has begun distributing and financing socially impactful, innovative products and services, such as solar lamps and clean-energy cook stoves, to families living without access to basic necessities like electricity and clean water.
“If you can help develop solutions for people in hard-to-reach places, the impact is very rewarding,” says Zakrewsky. “I’m really lucky this work has become my career.”
Among the factors drawing Zakrewsky to FINCA was its focus on empowering women. “It’s particularly gratifying to see firsthand the impact a little bit of change — a hand up — can have in their lives and the lives of their children. Research has demonstrated that investing in women has a tremendous ripple effect,” Zakrewsky says.
“I’ve always loved what I do,” she adds. “It’s really about the people whose lives we’re changing and giving them voices. One of the important things I’ve contributed to is helping to lift up those voices.”