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CEO Takes Center’s Reins Amid Pandemic, Turmoil

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When new CEO Paige Alexander first saw the cafeteria in the Carter Center’s Atlanta office, paper shamrocks and pots of gold adorned the walls to mark St. Patrick’s Day. Only it wasn’t March. It was June 2020.

With the office closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and staff working from home, the cafeteria stood as it had been three months before. Little did Alexander know that the St. Patrick’s Day décor would remain frozen in time long enough to celebrate the holiday the next year too.

The office may have been closed, but Alexander soon learned the Carter Center community was anything but. Resilient and dedicated, despite the challenges of the pandemic, they stood ready to bring the new CEO into the fold.

Although born and raised in Atlanta, Alexander never lived there as an adult. Positions with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other organizations kept her based in Washington, D.C., and working throughout Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East. For the three years prior to coming to The Carter Center, she was in Amsterdam, running a nonprofit focused on agriculture in Africa. She traveled extensively, including trips to Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and especially Ethiopia. “Ethiopia is so dynamic — the difference between the bustling city of Addis Ababa and the far-flung communities in the Amhara region is striking,” she said.

Preparing for her new position with The Carter Center, which she had accepted in January 2020, Alexander looked forward to meeting the frontline staff in person, whether in Chad for Guinea worm or Myanmar for election observation. Of course, those plans came to a grinding halt once the pandemic hit. “My previous travel in Africa was always related to agriculture and people’s livelihoods,” she said. “I’m eager to see these countries from a new perspective.”

The challenges of 2020 kept coming. Summer brought protests and a racial reawakening across the U.S., and rhetoric around the November national elections put the country in further turmoil. As a pioneer in the field of international election observation, The Carter Center was particularly well positioned to act on the latter.

She turned to Carter Center founder and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for guidance. “I felt we needed to get involved in election issues in a targeted way,” she said. Along with Jason Carter, chair of the Center’s Board of Trustees, “We were able to bounce ideas off President Carter. He is the compass for our big ship.” In the end, the Center focused on election integrity and transparency, creating a public information campaign and undertaking a focused observation of a post-election audit in Georgia.

Alexander had been familiar with the Center mostly from its peace-building programs. She knew people who had been election observers and one organization she worked for, IREX, partnered with The Carter Center on its access-to-justice work in Liberia.

The Center’s health programs, on the other hand, were new to Alexander. She keeps a preserved Guinea worm on her desk as a tangible token of the Carter Center’s mission to improve people’s lives. “I’m continually learning,” she said. “The health programs provide that to me on a daily basis.”

Almost a year into her job, Alexander is looking forward to the office reopening and meeting people in person that she’s known mostly on Zoom. And finally seeing new seasonal décor in the cafeteria.

“My goal is to build on the successes of the past 39 years,” she said. “But we would be remiss not to take away important lessons from the last year. I firmly believe that with challenges, we are always able to find opportunities. I look forward to doing that with the Carter Center team.”

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