The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, a supporter of business-friendly policy ideas, hired Palina Ivanova last month as its first executive director since launching nearly five years ago.
A recent graduate of the University of Delaware, Ivanova, 22, will lead the foundation’s key programs. These include the Pete du Pont Freedom Award and the Reinventing Delaware event series, which highlights new ideas. She will also serve as the public face of the still-somewhat-obscure foundation.
“A lot of people don’t know about us. We’ve been under the radar,” said Scott Malfitano, vice president at CSC and a board member for the foundation. “We intend with the hiring of Palina to actually help expand our reach in the community and break some barriers to creating more jobs.”
Malfitano said Ivanova’s age was part of the appeal. The foundation wants to attract more young Delawareans, he added, and Ivanova will be an ideal ambassador.
“She just stood out among the others, even some of them who had more work experience,” Malfitano said. “Palina is very entrepreneurial, very driven, very focused.”
The current board of directors includes Mike Houghton, Bill Manning, and Ben du Pont and Thère du Pont, both sons of the former governor.
Malfitano and Manning, an attorney for Saul Ewing LLP, started the foundation as a way to honor Pete du Pont’s legacy and connect and inform Delaware leaders. The foundation was the second incarnation of an organization that began as a political action committee.
“We set up a PAC, and found out that was somewhat useless,” Malfitano said. “We were making small strides, and it got to be a little political, which we didn’t want to do.”
The political orientation of the PAC stuck with the foundation for its first years, as it honored the likes of Republicans Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani with the Pete du Pont Freedom Award. More recently, the foundation recognized Dr. Mehmet Oz, the surgeon and popular TV personality (who is also an in-law of Ben du Pont).
The hiring of Ivanova is part of a continued shift towards more a bipartisan identity.
“Bottom line [is] we want to create jobs in Delaware, and that’s not political,” Malfitano said.
Ivanova, for her part, brings to the table her experience as a student entrepreneur. An accounting major, she also took part in the Horn Entrepreneurship program. Her startup, Revive, an app that helps women swap clothing, received $12,000 in funding after winning second place and the audience choice award in the program’s Hen Hatch Pitch Competition.
She said her background will help her reach different types of entrepreneurs across the state.
“In my role, I can go out and talk to entrepreneurs, both nonprofit and for-profit, and talk about what our mission is and see where we align,” Ivanova said.
She said she recognizes that a number of groups in Delaware aim to connect business leaders and facilitate collaboration, but that the Freedom Foundation and its board members offer connections that can help bring ideas to fruition.
One of her first projects is to organize the next Reinventing Delaware idea generation series in November. The event is free, except for one qualification: all attendees must bring an idea to help make Delaware a better state.