Saint Louis University, John Cook School of Business
Nancy Tumavick’s fascinating career as a foreign service officer with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has enabled her to do everything from altering World Bank policies to give Indonesian small farmers better access to irrigation systems to transforming traditional attitudes on women’s education in rural Pakistan. Her journey has taken her to 40 developing countries over the past 40 years. Tumavick urges everyone to “find something that makes them come alive.”
Admitting that success in some countries has depended on the willingness of governments to authorize change, Tumavick says she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the world and to have made a difference while doing it.
Tumavick always knew she wanted to help others and that she wanted to travel. Early in her career, she considered becoming a missionary or joining the Peace Corps. But she ultimately determined that her skills—which include an extraordinary ability to oversee large, extremely complex programs—were best suited for the policy level. Today, Tumavick is officially retired from her career as a foreign services officer. But she continues to serve as a senior consultant to USAID missions and to private consulting firms.
Tumavick began her foreign service career in Bangkok in 1971 as an assistant program officer for USAID. In the years to follow, Tumavick points to work in Indonesia, Tunisia, and Pakistan between 1982 to 1993 as three of her most satisfying USAID projects.
In Indonesia, as deputy chief of USAID’s water resources division, Tumavick and her team managed to alter World Bank policy to make it more responsive to the needs of small farmers. Next, Tumavick moved to Tunisia as an assistant program director for USAID in the late 1980s. She was there during a watershed time in that country’s history. Tumavick’s team provided technical assistance to help Tunisian government officials make decisions that would enable the country to increase privatization and to grow in a way that was both economically beneficial and sensitive to public opinion. After that came a three-year stint in Pakistan, home to the world’s largest USAID organization. As deputy mission director or CEO for the mission, Tumavick supervised 10 senior managers responsible for a 750-person American and Pakistani staff and more than 100 consultants.
USAID’s accomplishments during Tumavick’s tenure included devising a new curriculum to train female teachers, overseeing construction of a 300-kilometer road on Pakistan’s southern coast, and building a multimillion-USD management sciences university on a desert site near the border with India.