The eldest of eight daughters, Giovanna Genard has led by example from childhood. In middle school, the current vice president of external affairs and marketing at PRA Group often traveled from her home in Puerto Rico to Haiti and Venezuela on mission trips to help others. She volunteered at a summer camp for children on the autism spectrum.
In high school, she spent her weekends volunteering at a nursing home for residents with memory and cognitive issues. Before she was even in college, Genard would wind up in front of the Puerto Rico Senate, arguing for funding on behalf of her school and for arts education in general.
Why, after two decades of working in the higher education space, would Genard elect to come to a public company? One of the most compelling selling points for the VP was PRA Group’s fierce commitment to philanthropy and expanding its storytelling to the rest of the world.
“Employees here receive hours each year to devote to volunteering in their communities,” Genard explains. “PRA Group has given millions of dollars to more than one hundred nonprofits across the globe, from health and human services to arts and education, from civic organizations and environmental sustainability causes to military veterans and first responders. You’re surrounded by people here that want to make a difference all over the world. That really spoke to me.”
Though only with PRA Group since July 2022, Genard is already seen the amazing work being done on behalf of those who need it most. PRA Group donated $100,000 to the recently completed Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Virginia to build a pediatric mental health hospital and outpatient center.
The fourteen-story structure is “designed with every consideration for the emotional and physical comfort of the youths it will serve,” according to the company. And it will strive to “promote the arts, physical activity, play, education, and recovery as a family.”
PRA Group also sponsors numerous STEAM learning opportunities, including collaborations with the Virginia Living Museum and the Virginia Aquarium. Working with local charity ForKids, Genard and her colleagues prepared backpacks for children in need. “It was a chance for us to ensure that underserved students could start their school year with the essentials,” Genard says.
Before delving even further into Genard’s life of giving back, it’s important to point out the business case for bringing her talents to PRA Group. The executive’s award-winning marketing and communications work shone at prestigious public doctoral research universities like Penn State and Old Dominion University where Genard had a chance to collaborate on a White House pilot project addressing resiliency issues for coastal communities across the world.
Genard also joined the CIVIC Leadership Institute, collaborating with executives across the Hampton Roads region of Virginia to solve problems, build networks, and work toward a common good.
The eldest of eight says her calling card is not backing down from a challenge. Being offered the chance to tell the story of PRA Group’s giving activities on a global scale was just too great of an opportunity to pass up. But Genard urges those earlier in their careers to consider that she didn’t seek out leadership roles or feel naturally comfortable speaking up. In short, she built up the courage to lead out of a desire to give back or when there was a need for someone to step up and take action.
“In some ways, I had to find my voice early, because there were so many competing voices in my house. I needed to be able to lead by example and pave the way for my siblings,” the VP explains. “But in other ways, I have struggled to find my voice. Early in my career, I was terrified of public speaking, but I didn’t see anyone else standing up to speak about the importance of arts education or funding a research university that is doing such incredible work. You just have to find courage to say yes and accept the responsibility of helping to create positive change.”
Regardless of her comfort with the spotlight, Genard is the cocreator of an organization that has single-handedly found a way to change the lives of thousands of young people. REYES: Remote Experience for Young Engineers and Scientists is a virtual STEM and Health Sciences learning program aimed at increasing science literacy, inspiring and training the next generation of engineers and scientists and diversifying science fields for statistically underrepresented students.
Genard hoped the small program could attract one hundred budding future scientists.
“We ended up with 11,000 registrants from 135 countries,” Genard says with a tiny glint of pride showing through. “There are so many aspiring scientists that may have been told that science wasn’t for them or that they weren’t smart enough to pursue that as a career. This free program makes science accessible for everyone.”
REYES has worked with NASA astronauts and other incredible innovators in science and technology to inspire its participants. This writer believes they need look no further than the program’s cocreator. Sometimes it seems like there are as few Genards in the world as astronauts, but the people she has inspired already number thousands, and may someday reach millions.