Wanting to help rebuild her home country pulled Vera Kobalia back to Georgia nearly a decade ago.
“I always had attachment to my home country,” said Kobalia, who came to Vancouver as a teenager after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, Kobalia said, many in the Georgian diaspora returned to the former Soviet republic to contribute to its redevelopment.
“That’s how the idea to start a non-profit organization in Georgia came about,” said Kobalia, whose non-profit helped refugees and internally displaced people assert their legal rights.
Her work garnered the attention of Georgia’s then ruling party, which offered her an appointed cabinet position.
“The realization came that if the economy’s growing and people are doing better today, then they can start thinking about other things like human rights,” said Kobalia, who served the country as minister of economy and sustainable development from 2010 to 2012.
During her tenure, Kobalia helped negotiate open-skies and free-trade agreements with the European Union. She also oversaw major infrastructure projects, including the construction of the country’s second-largest airport.
“For the first two years, no one would believe me that this project would be profitable or this project would even work at all. But now it’s the most visited airport in Georgia,” Kobalia said.
“I guess the lesson there is just to be persistent if you believe in something.”
Kobalia later spent a year as an economic and foreign policy adviser to Georgia’s president.
Her experiences in economic development have led to consultancy opportunities with governments and organizations such as the World Bank.
She is a young global leader with the World Economic Forum and is a member of its Global Future Council on Development Finance.
She also serves as a board director of Sandstorm Gold Royalties and is an economic development advisory committee member for the City of New Westminster.
Birthplace: Sokhumi, Georgia
Where you live now: New Westminster
Highest level of education: Information technology management, British Columbia Institute of Technology
Currently reading: Writing a travel guide on Georgia, so reading a lot of related materials. Also reading: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark and America and Americans collection of stories by John Steinbeck
Currently listening to: Hive Mind by the Internet. Hollywood Africans by Jon Batiste
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: An author (of fiction) or a detective
Profession you would most like to try: A few years ago I realized that in today’s decentralized world you can wear more than one hat successfully. So I am working on a few unrelated ventures. One of them – a book publisher. Publishing a non-fiction book on Georgia. A first in a series of travel guides on post-Soviet countries
Toughest business or professional decision: Making the leap to self-employment and running my own business. There is a lot of comfort in a monthly paycheque at a secure job/profession. You lose it when going into self-employment/startup. But what you gain, ownership over your time and opportunity to turn your dreams into reality, is worth it
Advice you would give the younger you: Surround yourself with smart people. Don’t be afraid to hire people that are smarter than you. Luckily I realized that early on
What’s left to do: It’s a never-ending list. Just wish there was more time to do it all
Join us to celebrate the 2019 Forty under 40 Awards on January 30, 2020, at the Westin Bayshore. For tickets and event information visit https://www.biv.com/forty-under-40