Development Works Here with Dzenita Kolja

Dzenita Kolja
April 24, 2019 | 4 Minute Read
Democracy and Governance | Local Governance and Decentralization | Supply Chain Solutions
Development works here because great people work here. We’re excited to introduce you to our team.
Dzenita Kolja

We’d like you to meet Dzenita Kolja! Dzenita serves as managing director of the Audit Preparedness Unit within Chemonics’ Global Health Supply Chain Office. Once an aid beneficiary herself, she shares her development journey from Bosnia to the U.S. and what draws her to this work. Dzenita is one reason #DevelopmentWorksHere.

1. Can you tell us about your development journey?

I started my journey in development 21 years ago as a translator on the first USAID project in Bosnia — USAID Business Finance. I didn’t have a degree at the time, so I was working full time while studying for my degree and taking care of my daughter. It was worth the sacrifice.

Chemonics recruited me in 2003, and this is where I found my home. With Chemonics, I’ve had opportunities to work in five countries, across six projects, in a dozen different positions, and continuously grow professionally and personally. I have worked in operations, finance, compliance, local governance, and the Office of Business Conduct. Now, as a managing director of the Audit Preparedness Unit in the Global Health Supply Chain Office (GHSCO), I lead a team of individuals who are very enthusiastic about risk assessments, remediation, and proposing strategic solutions to identified gaps. Often, people don’t think of audits in their everyday work. Helping staff understand the importance of audit readiness and ensuring that records are accurate and complete is a priority for my unit. The documents should tell the story, not the people.

Dzenita with team members in Afghanistan At left, Dzenita (center) poses with winners of a company-wide ethics competition in 2017. At right, she stops to discuss poor sanitation infrastructure with a community member on her way to the Ministry of Finance in Kabul.

2. Why are you drawn to development?

Many people choose international development as their career, but it was the other way around in my case. Growing up during the war in Bosnia, I was on the receiving end of humanitarian aid and development projects. I understood too well their importance, and it felt natural for me to work in development. I often talk about my experience in Bosnia. It shaped my life and made me who I am today. When you live through war and witness all the horrors it brings — the destruction of lives, the hatred — you see the best and the worst of humanity. You also learn what’s most important in life — people. We share the same instinct for survival and the hope for a better tomorrow. We share the desire to see our kids in school, be healthy, have a job, and live in a safe, stable, and prosperous country. That is why I love this work — helping those in need and those who have experienced misfortunes that some cannot even imagine. With regulated countries and growing economies, with healthy and educated youth, we can build a more stable world. Helping achieve the dream of equality and opportunity for all, in every corner of the world, is something that will continue to motivate me.

Helping achieve the dream of equality and opportunity for all, in every corner of the world, is something that will continue to motivate me.

Dzenita Kolja

3. How do you know that development works here?

During my time with Chemonics, I have seen firsthand the success of our projects. For example, the Governance Accountability Project (GAP) II worked with 72 municipalities across Bosnia and Herzegovina to provide technical support to local levels of government to improve efficiency in their services, budget transparency, and citizen participation in financing capital projects. During the life of the project, 31 new Citizen Service Centers and more than 80 satellite offices opened to service more than 60 percent of the country’s population. This led to creating a citizen-oriented culture within municipal government, which still exists today. GAP became almost a brand name for modern municipalities prioritizing their citizens. Being a part of the USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program and knowing the difference it makes in the lives of millions of people in more than 30 countries makes me proud. But, on this project, it’s more than a matter of professional or personal pride. This program literally saves lives by supplying health commodities to patients in need. Last year, we delivered enough medicine to treat more than 80 million cases of malaria and supplied medicine for HIV patients in almost 40 countries! I continue to be impressed by my extraordinary colleagues and their tireless work to ensure an uninterrupted stream of quality health products and services.

This program literally saves lives by supplying health commodities to patients in need.

Dzenita Kolja

4. What has been the highlight of your development journey so far?

Again, the people — both beneficiaries and colleagues. Because of my personal experience, I can connect with our beneficiaries, their expectations, and concerns. I also understand how important it is to succeed. Yes, we’ve made a commitment to our client that, as a good business partner, we need to honor. But it is deeper than that. We’ve also committed to the people and countries where we work to give our best and live our mission. Plus, Chemonics employs some of the most talented people in the industry. Working with them, both in the field and the home office, makes everything possible. I’ve been fortunate to have amazing mentors throughout my career who pushed me to do more, grow more, and laugh more (and maybe talk less, but no one is perfect!). Lastly, I want to mention my own journey with Chemonics. I started as a local staff person, became a third-country national, and now I work at the home office. It’s a great example of the company’s commitment to growing and retaining talent. I hope it will inspire my colleagues to connect more with their peers across the company, use the resources and trainings available, and continue to do high-quality work with a positive attitude. It’s also a great reason for other talented development professionals — established or new to the profession — to come join us!

About Dzenita Kolja

Dzenita Kolja is an international development professional with more than 20 years of experience implementing donor-funded projects focusing on post-conflict countries. Since joining Chemonics in 2003, Ms. Kolja has served in a dozen long-term and short-term roles on projects in Europe, Asia, and Africa and led high-profile corporate initiatives. As managing director of the audit…