It is our great pleasure to introduce Central Asia Institute’s new executive director, Alice Thomas!
Earlier this week, Alice also sat down with CAI Communications Director, Hannah Denys, to talk about her vision for Central Asia Institute and why she’ll be a powerful advocate for CAI’s beneficiaries and supporters. Here’s what Alice had to say:
Hannah: Alice, your name might sound familiar to friends of CAI…
Alice: Yes, many of you may already know me from my time on CAI’s board of directors. I joined the board in 2017 and served as the chair of the development committee and as a member of the strategic planning committee.
Hannah: What in your personal background drew you to CAI’s mission?
Alice: I grew up in a family of four girls, was raised by a single, working mom, and attended an all-girls school for 13 years. I’ve seen first-hand the power of girls’ education and the enormous contribution women make to their families, communities, and nations. It has been a great blessing and privilege in my life to have been empowered by education and to have had so many amazing female role models. When I was growing up in this environment, I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, if I worked hard and put my mind to it. I feel that every child deserves that opportunity, to have an education, to learn, to have a chance at a better future.
Hannah: Tell us a little bit about your professional background.
Alice: Sure, Hannah. I come to CAI with close to 20 years of experience working for international, non-profit organizations focusing on a range of challenges including armed conflict, poor governance, and environmental degradation. A main thread running throughout my career is advocating for people around the planet who are marginalized – whether they be refugees, those devasted by disasters, or communities affected by environmental pollution.
Hannah: Tell us about some of the places you’ve worked? Have you ever had the opportunity to work in Central Asia before?
Alice: Yes, I started my international work in Uzbekistan supporting local civil society organizations and promoting good governance. I’ve also traveled to Pakistan several times and other parts of South Asia. My work has taken me to many other parts of the globe – especially in Asia and Africa – and to many poor, underdeveloped, and insecure places.
What I have loved most about this work is the people I’ve met – especially women from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. We’ve recognized our common values and humanity. Being able to connect, to share a good laugh and sometimes a few tears, with people from completely difference backgrounds despite the fact that we come from different cultures and speak different languages … well, these have been among the most meaningful experiences in my life.
Hannah: Why make the switch from refugee and environmental issues to girls’ education?
Alice: I don’t see it as a switch. I see my role at CAI as a continuation of the work I’ve done throughout my career, which is to empower individuals to be agents of change and to work to remove barriers that prevent them from realizing their full human potential. It all starts with education. Girls especially, once educated, can be a solution to so many problems, including improved health, economic opportunity, more sustainable use of natural resources, and peace.
Hannah: What are your top priorities for your first 100 days on the job?
Alice: My first priority is to get out there and meet with many of our wonderful supporters, without whom none of this would be possible. I also plan to get out to the field and meet our grantee organizations and beneficiaries, the children and women whom we support and who are the real superstars. Finally, I want to balance time away with time here at CAI’s office in Bozeman, Montana where I have the privilege to lead a fantastic, extremely dedicated team, and to work to support them in their efforts.
Hannah: What excites you the most about this new role?
Alice: The opportunity that new leadership brings to re-energize the staff and our supporters, and to double down on our commitment to the mission despite the challenges. I’m excited to meet CAI’s supporters, and to share stories and updates from our projects and beneficiaries in Central Asia. I look forward to sharing our vision and bringing more people to the cause.
There are so many problems in the world. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. Sometimes people cannot help but to look away. But in my case, the only way that I personally have been able to confront all the sadness and injustice in the world is to jump into the fight.
One of my favorite quotes is by Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I truly believe that together we can do anything. So, let’s get busy and change the world!