Q&A with Ailea Sneller, Creative’s new Vice President of Capture and Bid Operations
By Michael J. Zamba
October 29, 2021
Ailea Sneller joined Creative in November 2021 as the Vice President of Capture and Bid Operations, a new position established to streamline process and direct four regional Business Development teams to resource and manage a robust opportunity pipeline through all phases of the business development lifecycle. Sneller will oversee pipeline planning and prioritization, as well as improving internal processes.
Prior to Creative, Sneller was with DAI, FHI360 and U.N. Women, among other implementers. Outside of the industry, she worked as a professional journalist and as a case aide at a women’s shelter. She holds a M.A. in International Development Studies from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Business Development is vital to our organization and the people it serves. What is your vision of Business Development?
To me, business development is really the art of dreaming. This part of our work is where we allow ourselves to dream big about what we might be able to accomplish, with the right tools, expertise, and resources. I think it’s the most creative, exhilarating, and inspiring part of our work. Business development is the moment when we get to visualize progress toward solving those tremendous challenges we all joined this field to solve.
This is a new position for Creative’s Business Development Division. How do you see its role in the process?
As Vice President of Capture and Bid Operations, my job is to ensure that Creative’s business development teams have the support they need to do their best work designing excellent solutions for the clients and communities we serve. This means ensuring that we have good processes, systems, and tools in place to enable our proposal teams to work efficiently and effectively. As a manager, I support our Business Development Directors and teams to position Creative to respond to new opportunities and win new work. I also help develop the vision and roadmap for how Creative can grow into new sectors and geographic areas.
How does your experience as program manager shape your approach to business development?
My experience in program implementation helps give me an ability to reality-check the big dreams we are so often drawn to in business development. It allows me to think about how a solution we’re proposing might work in reality, and how it might affect the project teams we ask to implement our work, and the communities we work with and for. I think it helps me achieve the right balance in considering the end goal we hope to achieve, and the day-to-day work it will take to get us there. In the end, our big dreams have to be feasible in order to have the impact we’re working for and having a project implementation perspective is a good reminder of that.
What attracted you to join Creative’s Headquarters team?
Creative has one of the most compelling origin stories in our field. I think the organization has stayed true to the vision of the four women who founded the company in 1977: Creating opportunities for people in need by being willing to do things differently and find solutions to even the most daunting challenges. I think now more than ever, the international development field needs that spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship to address some of the biggest challenges I think our civilization has faced. We won’t make progress by doing things the way we’ve always done them. So the opportunity to be a part of Creative’s forward thinking approach to international development was a real draw for me.
Creative is also at a moment in its organizational development where it has immense opportunities to build on its strengths to grow into a top-tier global development firm, and the opportunity to be a part of that growth was very exciting to me.
Finally, I was really excited about the opportunity to work with the very talented and respected development professionals on Creative’s leadership team. There are so many people throughout the organization with really accomplished profiles and outstanding reputations. I knew it would be a place where I could learn from and work with some of the best leaders and colleagues in our industry.
A common phrase we hear is, “the development landscape is changing.” How do you perceive these changes and what does it mean for global implementers?
I think one of the exciting things about international development is that in very real ways, it’s always changing. Because the world around us is changing, the challenges are constantly evolving, and these days it definitely feels like it’s changing very fast. One change we’re seeing right now that is particularly exciting for me is a growing recognition of the many ways in which traditional foreign aid models have become outdated. Clients, international donors, governments and organizations like ours are starting to conceptualize development in a way that is more inclusive, with more emphasis on collaboration, placing partners in the countries we serve in the lead, rather than the more paternalistic top-down models of the past.
I think implementers like Creative have the opportunity to really lead this change, advising our partners and clients on how to place resources and expertise as close to target communities as possible – working more closely with and through our counterparts in the countries we work, serving in a supporting role that looks more like true partnership and less like 20th century charity. That’s a change I’ll be very enthusiastic to be a part of at Creative.
You’re an accomplished professional with a great track record in global development. Going back in time, what attracted you to this profession?
International development is a profession that allows me to unify two of my great loves: the first being travel and adventure. We live in an enormous, diverse, spectacular and interconnected world, and my love for exploration and experiencing new ideas, cultures, and countries is something I developed from a very young age. I love the idea and the experience of being connected to new places and people and seeing how we are different, and what unites us.
And second, it’s my passion for service. Throughout my life, the idea of working toward a greater good, of contributing to solving shared problems, and serving those most in need has been a core value of mine. A career in global development has allowed me to work at the intersection of these two great loves.
You’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of countries. What has been your most rewarding field experience?
It’s hard to choose one, but if I had to, I think it would be one of my earliest overseas assignments, working on an election support project with U.N. Women in Sierra Leone. It was right after the end of that country’s long and brutal civil war, and they were preparing to hold their first election in peace time. There was a lot of concern about potential violence and a resurgence of conflict.
The program I supported worked to train women political candidates, and support women-led community organizations to advocate for peaceful elections. I learned so much about myself and the difficult, rewarding work of international development.
International development is a challenging and rewarding profession. What motivates you to do this type of work?
I think for me it’s the opportunity to work together toward solving some of the biggest challenges humanity faces. We don’t shy away from enormous challenges in this work. We have the audacity to think we can make governments work more transparently and accountably, help economies grow and thrive inclusively, repair the environment, reduce conflict and violence. These are enormous problems that affect all of us. And it takes all of us working together to find real solutions to them. A career in international development gives me the opportunity to contribute to solving these problems alongside a worldwide community working with me.
Prior to international development, you were a journalist and a case aide at a shelter for women and girls. How do those experiences contribute to who you are today?
I frequently rely on my experience as a journalist, which taught me to be a close observer and a good storyteller. I learned to ask the right questions, really listen to the answers, and then convey what I learned in a way that will resonate with a reader or an audience. Those skills are really valuable in business development, which involves a lot of interpretation and storytelling.
Working in shelters for survivors of domestic violence and homeless families brought me very close to the challenges that people in need face on a daily basis. It gave me a profound appreciation for people’s resilience, and the value of a strong support network and services for people who have faced extreme circumstances. Those experiences are a big part of my frame of reference for how to serve people who are most in need.
What do you do when you’re not focusing on international development?
I’m a mom of little kids, so when I’m not doing my day job, my main hobby is serving as a personal assistant and life coach to them! We love being outdoors, and spend a lot of time camping, hiking, biking, and exploring the beautiful natural areas in our region. My husband and I recently took up stand-up paddle boarding, so we frequently go looking for calm waters to try that out. I’m also an avid reader, with a particular love for mystery novels and dark historical fiction.