WASHINGTON, D.C. — With a start in 4-H, you never know where you might go. Ohio 4-H alumnus Bob Saum reflects on that as he gets organized to head to Kabul May 1, when he becomes the country director of the World Bank for Afghanistan and Bhutan.
Saum, 49, grew up in a 4-H family in Auglaize County in northwest Ohio. His parents were 4-H advisers. His late father, William, was inducted into the Ohio 4-H Hall of Fame in 1998, and his mother, Anna Mae Saum, still a 4-H club adviser after 48 years, received the Meritorious Service Award from Ohio 4-H in March.
Along with Saum, two brothers also were longtime 4-H members.
“I think participating in 4-H opens people up to new ideas and new opportunities,” Saum said from his Washington, D.C., office, where he is currently adviser to the managing director of the World Bank.
“For example, I was one of the first boys taking food and nutrition projects in the early to mid-1970s, and I got the statewide food and nutrition award at the Ohio State Fair. I was able, and encouraged, to do nontraditional things, and I was exposed to others who were doing equally interesting things.”
In addition, the public speaking and leadership opportunities so prevalent in 4-H laid a solid groundwork for the type of work he does today.
“Whether it’s participating in the safety speech contest or conducting demonstrations at county, regional or state level, 4-H offers excellent opportunities to develop skills and aspire to what you see older members doing. And members are encouraged to take on leadership roles, from running a meeting or leading an activity at camp,” said Saum, who will be leading a staff of 75 when he takes on his new role.
“More broadly, 4-H fosters a commitment to working with others and to serve,” Saum said. “Whether it’s working with a team in your local club or at the fair, or working with others in community service projects, 4-H instills the benefits of service.”
Leaving the U.S.
Saum got his first taste of international work after graduating from the University of Dayton and starting his career with the public accounting firm Ernst and Young, first in Dayton and then in London, England.
After earning a master’s degree at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, he worked for several nonprofit organizations, including the Mercy Corps in Pakistan, where he worked with Afghan refugees.
He also worked on projects in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya, and for a time was the East Jerusalem administrator for a Palestinian hospital.
In 1998, Saum joined the World Bank with a focus on accountability and public sector financial management, primarily working in south Asia, spending a year in the World Bank’s New Delhi office. He participated in one of the World Bank’s first visits to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2002.
“I think that 4-H is a place that people, both children and adults, can help youth find themselves, to find out what they have to offer and what opportunities in the world may be available to them — and to develop the skills to go after those opportunities,” Saum said.
Today, more than 315,000 young people in Ohio participate in hands-on educational activities on more than 200 topics through 4-H clubs, camps and school-enrichment programs. To see opportunities available through Ohio 4-H, the youth development arm of Ohio State University Extension, see www.ohio4h.org.