Heather Haaga - Salzburg Global Seminar’s Biggest Cheerleader




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Jun 25, 2015
by Louise Hallman
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Heather Haaga - Salzburg Global Seminar’s Biggest Cheerleader

Interview with the Chair of the Board on why she supports Salzburg Global Seminar Daniel Szelenyi, Alexa Wesner, Hans Peter Manz, Heather Sturt Haaga, Brigitta Pallauf, Stephen L. Salyer, and Clare Shine at the official opening of Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron

In 1998, Heather Sturt Haaga and her husband Paul G. Haaga Jr., together with their two children Paul and Blythe, were invited by former Board Member Gregory Wendt to attend the annual June Board Weekend. Nearly 20 years later, both have served on the board of directors, with Heather serving as Chair of the Board since 2011 – the first woman to do so in the organization’s seven decade history.

The Haagas have provided financial support for programs and projects, ranging from the longest running Salzburg Global Seminar program – American Studies – to the renovation of the Meierhof to become Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron; they even funded a new sound system in a place familiar to all Fellows: the Bierstube.

But Heather Sturt Haaga’s support as Chair of the Board reaches beyond her financial support – she is, after all, Salzburg Global’s biggest cheerleader.

SGS: For nearly 20 years, you and Paul have supported Salzburg Global Seminar, not only our programs but also major infrastructure projects; what convinced you and Paul that Salzburg Global, its programs, and Schloss Leopoldskron are worth donating to and investing in?

HH: The reason why Paul and I invest in Salzburg Global Seminar is because we believe in the mission of the institution. The end game is: We want to make a difference, and we think that Salzburg Global does make a difference in people’s lives, and in the world as a whole. So it’s 

a very compelling philanthropy for us. It has education, it has intellectual engagement, it has neutrality and safety of conversations, it has outcomes, and it literally changes lives. 

SGS: Why have you chosen to invest in the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association programs in particular?

HH: American Studies was the original hallmark of Salzburg Global; that was where we began as an institution. We cut our teeth on the notion of bringing young leaders together with elder statesmen. I think it’s really important that we don’t lose sight of our beginnings. It is a really important piece of our history, but it is also an important teaching tool. It is about sharing American culture, mores, values, institutions, pop culture – it is a window on America for scholars visiting from around the world. 

And these people are eager to learn and take lessons where there are lessons to be taken and discard things they don’t think will work in their home countries. But, in point of fact, the American experience is a pretty interesting one, and I think people find it curious, and I think we need to provide that window to American culture going forward.

SGS: You’ve been the Chair of the Board since 2011; what do you think the role of the Chair of the Board of Salzburg Global Seminar should be in helping Salzburg Global fulfill its mission to challenge current and future leaders to solve issues of global concern?

HH: I think the Board Chair’s role is to be a role model: a role model for good stewardship and forward thinking, keeping the board and the staff honest to the vision and keeping the place financially sound as well. 

But at the end of the day, I think the Chair of the Board of any institution needs to be a cheerleader. 

You have to be the most enthusiastic, the most believing person on the board in order for you to have credibility, and in order for you to inspire your fellow directors. The shorthand is to be a cheerleader; the longhand is to inspire people to keep the place safe for future generations.

SGS: As Salzburg Global Seminar approaches it's 70th anniversary, what vision do you have for the organization in the near future and in its next 70 years?

HH: Short term, I hope that we are successful in raising sufficient funds to keep the physical place safe, to renovate what needs renovating, but ultimately to keep the place safe for future generations. That requires a lot of fundraising and good stewardship over the next few years. Not forgetting of course that our programs are critical, and we need to be cutting edge and relevant to the world writ large because we are this neutral and central place where people can come and engage. 

For the next 70 years? I just hope we’re on the planet! I think that in this world of competitive philanthropy, and in a world where people are not valuing soft diplomacy as much as they once did, we need to make sure that we constantly let people know how important our work is. What we do is important and life changing. I want us to continue to be a thought leader, and a world leader and a change maker in the next 70 years because that is what we were founded to do and what we do best.


Heather Sturt Haaga, an artist residing in California, has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit board leadership. Beginning with the Crescenta-Cañada Family YMCA in 1986 where she was elected the first female Board Chair, Heather has since served on ten boards and committees for both local and global nonprofit organizations. Together with her husband Paul G. Haaga Jr., Heather has served on the Salzburg Global Seminar Board of Directors since November 1998.

READ MORE: www.SalzburgGlobal.org/go/board-of-directors