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Initiative Quarterly

Varilek Named Gaalswyk Successor at Initiative Foundation

December 16, 2016

Matt Varilek—Initiative Foundation President

Opportunity to run high-impact regional community foundation draws Varilek back to Minnesota following service in Cabinet-level federal agency since early 2013

The Initiative Foundation Board of Trustees on Dec. 16 announced the selection of Matt Varilek, outgoing chief operating officer for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in Washington, D.C., as its new president and chief executive officer.

Varilek, 41, succeeds founding President Kathy Gaalswyk, who is transitioning out of the organization at year's end after three decades of transformative economic and community development work in Central Minnesota. Under Gaalswyk's leadership, the Foundation has grown from a start-up community foundation with $2.6 million in seed money into a community- and economy-empowering organization with assets of $63 million and total grant and loan disbursements of more than $81 million since inception.

“As someone who has personally experienced the transformative impact of philanthropy, I am thrilled to return to Greater Minnesota to join a distinguished organization like the Initiative Foundation, which makes such an incredible impact in the communities it serves," Varilek said. "I'm eager to build on Kathy Gaalswyk’s legacy to provide strategic funding for more small businesses and nonprofit organizations, to cultivate the next generation of civic leaders, to facilitate a spirit of generosity and inclusivity, and much more."

As chief operating officer of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Varilek oversaw agency-wide operations in support of the SBA's small-business lending, venture capital and private equity work as well as its entrepreneurial training, government contracting and disaster recovery efforts.

Prior to his Washington, D.C., appointment, Varilek served as SBA regional administrator for the most rural of the agency's regions, guiding delivery of small business programs and services in South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Montana.

"We are pleased to have Matt lead the Initiative Foundation for the next chapter of the organization," said Larry Korf, chair of the Initiative Foundation's Board of Trustees. "He will build upon the solid foundation created under Kathy Gaalswyk’s tenure and stellar leadership.

His high emotional intelligence and leadership skills will be beneficial in driving continued progress on strategy and our mission to improve the quality of life in our communities and region."

Said Gaalswyk: "It has been an absolute honor to serve as president of the Initiative Foundation since the inception of the organization 30 years ago. I am deeply indebted to the many people who have helped lead the Foundation as trustees and staff, and to the thousands of community leaders who have leveraged the Foundation's programs to improve their hometowns and the lives of our region's residents. I have every confidence in Matt’s leadership, and I look forward to seeing the wonderful ways in which he will lead this organization into the future.”

Before joining the SBA, the Yankton, S.D., native and former U.S. House candidate served two U.S. senators as an economic development director and speechwriter.

In the private sector, Varilek analyzed energy and environmental commodity market dynamics as director of policy and research for Natsource LLC, a commodities brokerage with offices in New York City, London and Washington, D.C.

Varilek has a master’s degree in environment and development from the University of Cambridge, England, where he was funded by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has a master’s degree in economic development from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he was funded by the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship established by Rotary International. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and is a former resident of Marshall, Minn.

Varilek will officially assume the Initiative Foundation's leadership role on Jan. 3, 2017.

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