March 9th, 2023

Athena member Nadine North shares how the war in Ukraine enlightened her passion as a leader and expanded her thinking about the course of her career. We’re thrilled Athena played a part in her journey, and can’t wait to see the impact Nadine has on Ukraine and the world.

Ignition: The start of my expanded thinking

On February 23, 2022, I had been working in the UK for most of the last four years while building a scale-up technology company throughout Europe. At the time, navigating the pandemic/lockdown was the hardest environment we had ever tackled (and it was indeed hard and challenging to keep people safe and spirits high while keeping risk-averse customers and prospects excited about long-term purchases).

When I awakened on the morning of the 24th to the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, everything changed and I learned a more substantial meaning of “hard & challenging”. Being in Europe during the invasion was a cold dose of reality I’d never experienced. I was in London, which was bombed in WWII; now, the bombing was happening again just a few hours flight away, in a country that is trying to protect its democracy.

This was jarring for me on a personal level. Both my grandmothers were from Ukraine. My father fought in WWII, and I was raised immersed in his constant descriptions of his fight for democracy in Europe. Were these the reasons I felt this so vividly? I still don’t have that answer.

Professionally, my life changed as well. Wall Street took a pause, and my company’s pending funding paused as well. That investment (to fund our European expansion) was essentially my reason for being in Europe. I made the offer to my CEO that I return to California.

As I was getting ready for my departure, I joined my friend Andy for dinner. He is the CEO of a Ukraine-based company of 200+ engineers and was leaving the next morning for Poland to help evacuate his employees and their families. I asked him how he intended to do so, and he replied, “I don’t know, but at least I can be a familiar face at the other end of the train”.

That statement tugged at my heart. I wanted to go with him, but I still had my corporate responsibilities – I was absorbed by having to give up my mission of building this company across Europe and my return to the US.

Andy became my connection to Ukraine. He sent weekly updates of what he was doing and what life is like just across the Poland/Ukraine border. He was evacuating his team and their families, setting up shelters, providing clothing and meals, and anything else necessary to support hundreds of fleeing Ukrainians. He also started a fundraising effort for many initiatives, including the evacuation of children’s hospitals.

Inflection: The turning point in my leadership journey

Back in California, I remained in touch with Andy, sent money, and followed daily news from Ukraine via many journalists on TV and Twitter. (If you want journalist recommendations, I’m here for you.) By April, I had decided that it didn’t make sense to stay with my company full-time, far removed from the center of activity in London. I remained on their Board of Advisors to continue offering insights on global expansion and GTM strategy. I then started interviewing for Chief People Officer jobs with tech companies.

On December 21, 2022, my life changed again: Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy visited Washington, D.C. I was glued to the coverage as he and US President Biden held a joint press conference and while President Zelenskyy spoke in front of the US Congress. The Members’ applause and welcome chants of “Slava Ukraini” (“Glory to Ukraine”) were thrilling! That was the moment I decided I had to help these courageous people fight for their country and freedom.

Direction: Helping leaders make an impact in Ukraine

It was right before the holiday break, so I quietly researched organizations and built an outreach plan. After Christmas Day, I reached out to my friends, starting with Andy and anyone whom I thought would talk to me during the holiday week. I have experience in US political circles, so I reached out to some friends who became Ambassadors during the Obama Administration. I reached out to friends who had started their own 501c3 non-profits. I reached out to journalists who had appeared on TV from Ukraine. I reached out to a former advisor to President Zelenskyy, who is reporting on MSNBC from Ukraine. I reached out to a former US Ambassador to Russia, now at Stanford leading their foreign policy institute. And I reached out to Coco Brown, CEO of the Athena Alliance. Every one of these terrific people responded.

The call with Coco was among my first 20 or so, and by then I had somewhat formulated a plan. My plan is to create a consortium of companies, starting with tech, to supply jobs today while planning for the post-war rebuild. Bringing jobs into Ukraine would help both individual and family mental and physical health while bringing taxable revenue into the country. Those taxes, in turn, would help fund Ukraine’s efforts to repel the invaders.

Coco immediately had ideas for Athena members whom I could contact, tapping into my core belief that job creation would be of value today during wartime. She immediately introduced me to Athena members who enhanced my thinking with their experience in the region, both in business and diplomacy. This is quite a testimony to the global reach and diversity of Athena membership.

There was one key introduction, a California-based tech executive Kira Makagon (Chief Strategy Officer of RingCentral), who happens to be Ukrainian. She directly introduced me to the CEO of one of the largest and most effective organizations helping in the region, Nova Ukraine. Founded by US-based Ukrainian tech engineers, they have distributed over $50 million in goods and services to the people of Ukraine in the last year. This includes setting up a logistical supply chain; delivering medical equipment, generators, stoves; running manufacturing factories in-country; and providing thousands of daily meals. They’re funding a grain milling center, funding pet centers, and rebuilding schools with their force of 300 volunteers and 120,000 donors. They were founded right near me in Palo Alto, and have operations in Kyiv. I wouldn’t have made the connection without the Athena community by my side.

Culmination: Where my leadership journey stands today

Today, I’m proud to be the Board Advisor to Nova Ukraine.

As tragic as the daily news is to absorb, just eight weeks into this journey, I have a satisfying feeling that I’m on my way to finding my purpose. I’d love to create a tangible impact by helping people, both in business and towards their general well-being.

As I wrote this, I looked up to see US President Joe Biden on TV walking with Ukraine President Zelenskyy on a sunny day in Kyiv, demonstrating America’s commitment. It’s another inspiring historic moment to bookend President Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, D.C. I’m proud to be a part of this NATO family that’s helping him to ensure that the democratic nation of Ukraine survives.

If you’d like to join me in this journey, either with a humanitarian or business focus – a lot or a little – I’d love to hear from you! My grandmothers will thank you.

Athena Alliance helps modern leaders step into their biggest roles yet – as they rise into the C-suite, join the boardroom, and even become global change agents. Backed by best-in-class executive education and coaching, Athena helps you connect with the right people at the right time to accelerate your journey. 

Ready to get started? Learn more here.

Nova Ukraine embraces the generosity of the world to provide humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups and individuals affected by war in Ukraine, with a focus on saving, restoring, and even enhancing, the quality of life once enjoyed every day by Ukrainians.  

If you’d like to learn more and potentially contribute, click here.



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