During these last 20 years, and under Zeynep’s leadership, the RET Alliance has grown significantly in annual income, raising and channeling over USD 250 million from the international community towards vulnerable youth and women. RET continues to expand geographically and thematically by providing humanitarian assistance, development solutions, and peace operations to protect and enable young people and women affected by conflict, violence, disasters, and protracted crises.
Zeynep heads a dynamic, diverse team of 400-1300+ dedicated and passionate professionals from Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East, and is responsible for RET operations in 34 countries, over 400 projects and programs, and directly benefiting over 2 million program participants directly, and nearly 20 million beneficiaries.
Joining RET in 2003, Zeynep had spent 23 years in the private sector, where she worked in senior and executive management of large multinational corporations of the Fortune 500 in the automotive and telecommunications industries. She was primarily responsible for marketing, communications, public relations, advertising, sponsorships, and corporate social responsibility, managing budgets of approximately USD 100 million. Zeynep served on the boards of various philanthropic causes before joining the RET, developing corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies and launching a foundation for a leading telecommunications corporation.
She graduated from New York University, Stern School of Business with an M.B.A. in Marketing and International Business in 1984, and a Bachelor of Science in 1980. Zeynep is originally from Istanbul, raised in New York City, resided in several cities around the world during her career, and currently resides in Geneva, Switzerland.
RET was founded in 2000 by Mrs. Sadako Ogata (1927-2019) as she was ending her second term as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR). Mrs. Ogata’s vision for RET was to bridge a massive gap she had witnessed during her tenure as the head of the UN Refugee Agency, specifically in education for youth.
During crises, donor priorities were always for life-saving basic needs as food, water, shelter and child protection. Budgets rarely stretched far enough to reach the needs of young people. This had tragic consequences as crises tend to be evermore protracted, often lasting for years or even decades.
If adolescents and youth are not given any opportunities, they will become extremely vulnerable to illegal activities, gangs, underage labor, drug trafficking, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, violence and more. RET, therefore, provides them with the skills to confront these threats, develop their resilience to become self-reliant.
At inception, RET acted exclusively in refugee camps using education as a tool. However, as refugee migration patterns changed and new crises emerged, the paradigm shifted in different parts of the world and the methods we had developed specifically for refugee camps, proved to be adaptable to young people in fragile environments in general. Today we still work in refugee camps, but the majority of our work is with urban, peri-urban and rural refugees, with host communities, with internally displaced populations, with adolescent soldiers, with victims of natural disasters and more.
Mrs. Ogata was the President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency from 2003–2012, served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 to 2000. Before her career at UNHCR, she was the Independent Expert of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar in 1990, the Representative of Japan on the United Nations Commission for Human Rights (1982–1985), and the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations (1978–1979), having served as Minister there from 1976–1978.
“Education should be a promise, not a dream.”
Photo courtesy UN Women, November 2012