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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.
  • 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
Company website

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.
Company Description
Crown Agents is an international development company that partners with governments, aid agencies, NGOs and companies in nearly 100 countries. Taking on clients’ fundamental challenges, we make lasting change to the systems and organisations that are vital for people’s well-being and prosperity.

We bring an agile and resourceful approach to complex development issues.
Company website

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.

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.
Company Description
Save the Children is the world’s leading independent children’s charity. It works to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children, and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.

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.
Detailed Description
  • Increased member support to Somalia both through the response and subsequently; developed and maintained good relationships with multiple members, facilitated and accompanied member visits and continued liaison with donors in country.
Company Description
Save the Children is the world’s leading independent children’s charity. It works to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children, and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.

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.
Detailed Description
  • Set up a team of Sudanese graduates and equipped them with the skills to conduct qualitative and quantitative research. The research findings then informed local economic development programmes.
  • Contributed to build trust between the various stakeholders of UNDP Somalia's Community Safety programme. The programme was new, and had an innovative approach, which required buy-in from management and government counterparts. The programme is now a flagship at UNDP Somalia.
Company Description
UN-HABITAT is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It promotes socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.
UNDP helps people meet their development needs and build a better life. UNDP Somalia works with partners ‒ NGOs, civil society and government ‒ towards a peaceful and secure nation for all Somalis.

Development Consultant

January 2001 to October 2006
  • Programme Development - I was working with local development companies, community groups/networks and State bodies to develop inclusive programmes to address underlying issues facing disadvantaged communicties. I also trained staff in implementing these programmes.
  • Training & Facilitation - I trained boards of management, regional network directors, staff, community groups in programme design/implementation, models of equality policy/proofing; proposal writing; conflict resolution; strategic planning; gender mainstreaming; training of trainers.
  • Evaluations – I conducted independent evaluations for government funded programmes to tackle unemployment in disadvantaged areas.
  • Programme Advisor - I advised local development companies on staff development and training, management structures, strategic planning, financial control, performance monitoring, and evaluation.
  • Reasearch – I conducted feasibility studies for programmes such as an accessible transport project for people with disabilities in Ireland.
  • Community Development – I was working with voluntary management committees to develop strategic plans and budgets. Those were then submitted to the Irish Government for inclusion in the National Community Development Programme. I also developed methods of good practise for project management.
  • Capacity Building of staff, management committees, community groups, boards of management.
Detailed Description
  • Contributed to professionalize the implementation of local economic development programmes through staff training, systems and procedures for programme design, implementation and evaluation.
Company Description
A freelance consultant working for EU and Irish Government development agencies.


Kimmage Walkinstown Crumlin Drimnagh (KWCD) Area Partnership
August 1998 to December 2000
  • I managed the organisation through the transition from European Union to Irish Government funding. This entailed developing a six million Euros three year strategic plan. I developed the plan through a participatory approach involving local communities, political representatives, social partners and State bodies. The strategy addressed issues of social marginalisation and long term unemployment through employment and enterprise, community development and education programmes.
  • I led the employment and enterprise team who delivered local economic development initiatives through skills training, job creation, small and medium entreprises start up, leading to the development of 100 small businesses.
  • I represented the organisation at community, state and government level, the latter to both advocate for funding and lobbying for policy change.
  • I directly managed a staff of 80+.
Detailed Description
  • Initiated and developed a local employment programme in partnership with the Irish Government that led to jobs for over 3,000 long term unemployed people.
Company Description
A local development organisation funded initially by the European Union and then by the Irish Government. One of 38 organisations in Ireland established to tackle disadvantage and social marginalisation empowering civil society to deliver progammes in employment, enterprise, community development and education. These were innovative organisations structured with a representative Board of Management comprising of representatives from the state, government, community and social sectors. The mandate was to seek and provide a range of supports, enhance the capacity of local groups, lobby for greater recognition for the area, facilitate co-operation between the locations and promote the co-ordination of local services, with the ultimate aim of reducing social and economic inequality in the area.

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.
Detailed Description
  • Made Cradle a key player in humanitarian work in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Company Description
A small international NGO that was established in 1991 to deliver humanitarian aid to the children in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina region. The international NGO grew over the course of the next five years and became a major player in programmes targetting the most vulnerable children in the region during and post conflict. I was a founder member of Cradle and had direct responsibility for establishment of operations and programmes in Mostar and surrounding areas.