I now have the courage to take the lead

Zuzana Szalaiová co-founded GROW, an education center and community workspace in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. The social enterprise aims to build a better and sustainable future for young people. She set up this social enterprise at a very challenging time for the world. After the capability program, she is replicating BOOKBRIDGE’s learning journey in Slovakia – her home country – through a program called SHINE, in partnership between the Swiss Re Foundation and BOOKBRIDGE. This is her impact story.



Zuzana, share with us three important facts that people should know about you.

  • I've worked for Swiss Re for five years

  • I love the countryside and walking our dog Ellie

  • I used to be a professional dancer


Why did you decide to participate in the program?

As soon as I entered Swiss Re and realized there were volunteering programs, I wanted to be part of them. I gradually became more and more involved, organized volunteering "Community Days" for our employees and became a leader of the Philanthropy Committee. My dream was to help people and the environment on a global level, in a more structured and sustainable way, share my knowledge and create an impact. After a couple of attempts, my dream came true – I was selected for the Global Entrepreneur Program, sponsored by the Swiss Re Foundation, also known as the BOOKBRIDGE Capability Program.


Zuzana (middle row, 3rd from left to right) and her 17th capability program team!

What does purpose-driven leadership mean to you?

A purpose-driven leader should have a dream and pursue it. By showing enthusiasm and sharing the vision and solution proposal, people will follow him or her. It is also important to trust the team, give people responsibility and rely on them while supporting each other.


What impact has BOOKBRIDGE had on your private and professional life?

Thanks to the capability program I was able to gain experience and implement it locally. With the support of the Swiss Re Foundation, I lead the SHINE program in Slovakia. SHINE is a great example of how a corporate company and a social innovator can cooperate and create a positive impact in a community. The SHINE programs are developed in partnership with BOOKBRIDGE.


Through the program, and from a candidate’s perspective, I got to know how the BOOKBRIDGE learning journey is designed. This gave me the foundations to lead the program in Slovakia. Our program supports three social innovators in bringing the least developed regions of Slovakia back to life. Find out more about them here.


Participants of the SHINE program in Slovakia.

During the capability program, the individual leadership sessions made me feel more secure and self-confident. The business coaching sessions and prior knowledge of the structure of the program helped me to successfully adapt the global program to the regional needs of social innovators in Slovakia. I was proud to present SHINE at the CSR Summit in Slovakia.


Zuzana presenting the impact of the SHINE program in Slovakia at the CSR Summit 2021

The capability program took place online due to the pandemic. This influenced my private life. Because I spent many hours on calls in front of a screen, I was refusing video-calls from my friends and family and preferred regular phone calls. 😃



Additionally, through the programs, I re-discovered my creativity and learned how to think out of the box. Thanks to leadership sessions and team feedback, I started to believe in myself more, be more vocal and have the courage to take the lead.


At the beginning of the program, I couldn't imagine that even in a virtual environment we could have such a big impact in another part of the world, work on a project with people we had never met in person and build an amazing team. Now I know that when you bring together people with the same good purpose, they can achieve great things, even when working online.


One last question, what is your commitment towards a world of purpose-driven leaders?

I will continue with regional SHINE projects in my country and lead the Philanthropy Committee. I am also open to new collaborations, knowledge sharing and projects. The environment and society need us – enthusiastic volunteers and purpose-driven leaders. Together we can make an impact!


Thank you Zuzana for sharing your impact story with us. We are proud that you are part of our community of bridgebuilders! 🧡



Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone? Do you believe in leading others effectively? If you are a motivated professional, with solid spoken English and at least three years of work experience, join us for a unique learning journey.