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Sonia Zambakides

Senior Leader, International Development

Professional Status
Open to opportunities
About Me
I am a highly experienced leader in international affairs, with a passion for leading teams to make a real and lasting difference. My belief in development motivates me and drives my ability to make genuine change.

I lead large-scale operations with responsibility for hundreds of staff, and their welfare, with substantial budgets. This includes directing global missions, building country and regional programmes and running large scale emergency response programmes. My experience spans international organisations, senior donor and diplomatic engagement, and top tier commercial consulting.

I am currently the Crown Agents Fund Director and Asia and Middle East Regional Director. Prior to this I was London-based leading Crown Agents' global Humanitarian and Stabilisation team. From 2006 to 2017 I worked in East Africa and the Middle East, building, running and representing large scale, high-value country and regional programmes.

I am an innovator, who designs and delivers instruments that are designed for impact for the beneficiaries they serve. While my career spans the full humanitarian - to- development spectrum, I believe we should focus on responding to, and resolving, protracted crises which require sensitive, adaptable and multi-skilled approaches. I achieve results in these situations and have long been an advocate of designing interventions that have fluidity between multiple strands running in parallel (such as humanitarian response, recovery and resilience) in order to meet needs in often fast-changing landscapes.

My results speak for themselves:
  • In Myanmar, I lead the UK's main humanitarian response programme, a multi-sector fund providing £70 million in funds to over 50 national and international organisations, including in response to COVID and the ongoing military coup.
  • In Lebanon, I built a $45 million country programme, leading a team of more than 600 people.
  • In Somalia, I led a multi-sector programme valued at $60m over 18 months, reaching even the hardest parts of the country.

I build outstanding and high performing teams, often drawn from my extensive network of contacts. I have a talent for working in an inclusive manner with people of all backgrounds. I value diversity by recognizing the differences and using these to draw out individual and team strengths. I empower my teams and organisations to achieve their potential, often in high pressure situations and achieve loyalty through doing so.

It is this combination of innovation, ambition, experience and leadership that make me an ideal leader in international development and I look forward to my next challenge.
  • English - mother tongue; Bosnian/Croatian - fluent.
  • French - beginner (currently engaged in refresher language course)
  • To lead and manage the £91 million HARP Facility, which is the main instrument for the UK Government’s humanitarian and resilience portfolio across Myanmar.
  • I built an entirely new team and led a change management process from January 2019 which resulted in growth from 12 to 53 partners, 70% of whom are local organisations.
  • Funds disbursed cover the most urgent needs in Myanmar, including significant funding for WaSH as well as food, cash and voucher assistance, protection and disaster response.
  • As a direct result of changes I implemented, to the organisation's structure, portfolio performance and team, the UK government twice extended the budget and duration of the HARP Facility contract, taking it to the maximum permissible under the contract rules.
  • Under my leadership, HARP-F is at the forefront of both the COVID and subsequent post-coup humanitarian response in Myanmar, supporting local partners to access funding and respond to the rapidly increasing needs
  • HARP-F provides leadership in knowledge brokering across national and international bodies in Myanmar and the region, with a particular focus on demonstrating the impacts of localisation
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Director, Humanitarian and Stabilisation

Crown Agents
May 2017 to December 2018
  • To re-launch Crown Agents' credentials in humanitarian and stabilisation programming, building on the organisation's 25-year history of running the UK Government Conflict, Humanitarian and Security Department Operational Team (CHASE-OT).
  • To develop and manage innovative programmes around the world for key donors and governments, such as the HARP Facility in Myanmar:
  • Retaining Crown Agents' presence in top tier crisis response contexts: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Kenya/Somalia, SE Asia. Strengthening crisis response credentials across the organisation, to enable a whole-of-company approach.
  • Use Crown Agents unique 183 year footprint with governments of developing countries around the world to support them to find, resource and implement solutions to humanitarian and stabilisation challenges
  • Research, develop and roll out products to support frontline humanitarian actors such as start to end humanitarian supply chain, fund management, remote management systems and tools
  • Co-led on developing 'Humanitarians Behind the Headlines':
  • Took immediate action to turn around poor performing legacy programmes and rebuild client confidence in Crown Agents' crisis response credentials.
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All of Syria Strategy and Programmes Adviser

International Medical Corps
December 2014 to May 2016
  • This was a senior leadership role designed to troubleshoot strategy, delivery and reputational challenges for the International Medical Corps at a challenging time for their work in Syria and the region.
  • Hired by International Medical Corps as a senior Strategic Adviser to reform their All of Syria Strategy and programmes. This encompassed all programming inside Syria as well as the programmes in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq/KRI and Jordan. A key component of the work was to support programmes transitioning from first phase emergency response to a chronic humanitarian situation.
  • Having successfully delivered the All of Syria strategy, I was commissioned to bring IMC teams across Syria and the Region together to improve communication, systems and processes including monitoring and accountability.
  • Alongside my strategy development role, IMC turned to me to lead on in-country donor and agency relationships during a highly challenging period for the organisation. I did this successfully until January 2016.
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Country Director

Save the Children Lebanon
May 2013 to November 2014
  • My appointment came at a critical time for Save the Children reputationally in Lebanon and for the country and regional programme. I was required to build a country team and portfolio responding to Lebanon's long-standing crisis, exacerbated by the needs of Syrian refugees.
  • I started as the Country Director in May 2013 and scaled up the programme from $5 million to $45 million by December 2013 to respond to immediate and longer term needs of Syrian refugees and host populations in Lebanon.
  • I was required to build up the Save the Children Lebanon programme from small interventions to a high-value multi sector portfolio. I established a new country office, led in recruiting and appointing the entire Lebanon Country Office SMT and then supported in building the teams underneath them. At peak capacity there was a staff of 450 people full time and 250 people part time.
  • Built a new team, structure, system, ethos and delivery mechanism focussing on both medium-to-long-term needs as well as urgent humanitarian assistance. The portfolio I constructed delivered on Save the Children's core competences around child protection and educations, whilst delivering predictable assistance for diverse beneficiary groups across the Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian communities. Further details on request due to need for confidentiality of this programme.
  • Over 2013 I took the lead in repairing fractured donor and Save the Children member relationships ensuring all concerns were addressed and then successfully achieving buy in to the vision and strategy for the coming 18 months.
  • Significantly strengthened the reputation of Save the Children Lebanon with internal donors, UN, Government and INGO's and extensive external representation, including media and high level visits to fundraise and build confidence in the country office ability to respond to the needs appropriately and accountably.
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Response Team Leader/Humanitarian Director

Save the Children Somalia
February 2010 to April 2013
  • I led Save the Children's $60 million famine response in Somalia during 2011/12. Due to the sheer scope and scale of this response and the fact the existing country programme was continuing to deliver its development work, I was mandated to establish and lead an entirely new and seperate team to run all aspects of the response, including fundraising, media, programmes, HR, operations, finance and grants.
  • Over 18 months, Save the Children under my leadership disbursed 40 live grants. I developed systems which enabled accountable and successful spend evidenced by efficacy of delivery and no donor disallows over this period of time.
  • I held primary responsibility and accountability for my budget, as well as fundraising, donor relationships and the implementation of the response programmes.
  • Developed a new and high performing team who delivered exceptional results for children over 18 months during the famine. For example, successful fundraising led to a cash grant programme which reached 10,000 households within 3 weeks of securing donor approval in a highly insecure environment.
  • Leading member of the crisis management team. I played a key role in this team during a kidnapping in Somalia which had a fast and positive result.
  • I was the focal point for all Save the Children International members in this response taking the lead on fundraising, advocacy and ensuring clear communications.
  • I engaged in extensive media representation acting as the in country spokesperson and have accompanied high profile journalists to Somalia. This included preparation and delivery of press statements/briefings, leading on international press visits and frequent press and broadcast interviews.
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Humanitarian and Development Consultancies - varied

United Nations and international NGO's Sudan, Kenya, Somalia
January 2007 to January 2010
Nairobi - Darfur - Somaliland
  • United Nations Human Settlements Programme Sudan (UN-HABITAT Sudan). I co-ordinated a team of local consultants and university graduates to carry out an economic profile of two cities in Darfur. This led to the development of a local economic development and micro enteprise programmes.
  • United Nations Development Programme for Somalia (UNDP Somalia). I worked with the Armed Violence Reduction team on the Community Safety Strategy for Somalia. I co-ordinated and ran training/workshops for local government representatives and worked with local NGO's to build capacity to deliver a Community Safety programme. The programme sought to reduce and prevent armed violence through the involvement of State actors in a partnership with the local communities and NGOs.
  • I provided support to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Division of Early Warning & Assesment (DEWA) for changeover in global programming for 2010-2012. UNEP was changing to a matrix system and had for the first time to develop programmes using results based management methodologies.
  • I developed procedures in monitoring and evaluation, project management and implementation for the changeover strategy.
  • I trained and coached management and teams in change management, and developed staff capacity to support the development of two year global, regional and sub-regional projects.
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Country Director

Cradle international NGO
September 1992 to July 1997
Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • I was a founder member of Cradle and led operations in Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1992 to secure safe delivery of humanitarian aid to children affected by the conflict.
  • I established logistics and supply chain protocols for aid coming from Ireland to Mostar and subsequently managed them. Commodities procured included communications (such as HF/VHF radios and satellite phones) and field site/office/warehouse establishment.
  • I was responsible for developing and implementing life saving programmes such as nutrition and health in partnership with local organisations.
  • I held responsibility for security management, including rapid security assessments to inform programmes on how to adapt and ensure safe delivery of services in a highly volatile environment.
  • I developed a network of local NGO's, local administrations, international NGO's and community representatives to promote collaboration of services.
  • I represented and advocated for the organisation in the field and gave regular briefings to the Irish Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • I supported local NGO's and community groups to secure funding and implement programmes in a post-conflict environment.
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  • Establishment and leadership of large headquarters and country teams. I am a motivational leader who takes decisive actions, applies positive affirmation and promotes accountability. I value diversity and have a talent for working inclusively with people of all backgrounds. I have long-standing knowledge and experience of human resources, including legal understanding of recruitment, personal development, safeguarding and disciplinary procedures.
  • I have a proven track record in mobilising stakeholders to agree complex advocacy strategies and approaches. This skill has been built over more than 20 years, starting at the Irish and European level where I was a key activist in the successful movement to recognise rape as a war crime. As the Country Director in Lebanon I worked on the development and implementation of the No Lost Generation movement.
  • Extensive experience representing organisations professionally and at the highest levels. I am adept at preparing press materials, statements and briefings and have organised and led international media visits. I have successfully given press and broadcast interviews. I am comfortable engaging with senior political figures, ranging from heads of international agencies and donors to ministers.
  • I have an incisive knowledge of programme cycle management, built on more than 20 years experience designing, implementing, monitoring and reporting on programmes across a range of sectors. I am an experienced financial manager who takes full and direct accountability for high-value budgets (up to $100 million in the most recent case). I have extensive monitoring and evaluation experience and promote innovation based on learning.
  • I am an instinctive leader, who responds to beneficiary and client needs, often responding swiftly but effectively. I have a demonstrated capacity to mobilise resources, (re-)structure teams and operate within national and international frameworks and conventions. I have a proven ability to remain calm and focussed under pressure and to both communicate and implement the actions necessary to achieve impact and results.