How YachtAid Global Captain Zoran Selakovic is Helping Humanity

Written By: Karen Hockney

It’s rather fitting that Captain Zoran Selakovic is immersed in a conservation programme in La Paz, Mexico, when we finally get to speak. Any notion that YachtAid Global’s director runs initiatives from an office is swiftly dispelled by the fact that he has spent several weeks on the move while overseeing Operation Swimway.

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A collaboration between yacht owners, guests, crew and scientists, Operation Swimway aims to increase the conservation of pelagic species by protecting critical migration corridors impacted by overfishing and bycatch.

“For years we have been focused on accelerating the progress in this area,” says Zoran from the deck of SY Seahawk, an award-winning 60m Perini Navi which has partnered with YachtAid Global on a number of occasions.

“Our focus is on the research and conservation of marine life and our objectives are to establish or expand existing marine protected areas. These are hope spots, areas where there’s been some evidence of richness in biodiversity that we want to continue to preserve.”

“In this region, there are three marine protected areas that we want to help the science community to expand and connect. The sharks, manta rays and sea turtles here are migratory, they move between these areas.

“It’s wonderful to be working with Seahawk, which is on a seven year cruise around the world. They have been a fantastic partner in the Caribbean and the Galapagos as well as here in the Mexico region where they are creating a great impact.”

Zoran’s previous high-level experience in the corporate worlds of technology, strategic planning and finance has created the perfect skillset with which to develop YachtAid Global’s expansion in conservation, humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts.

Born and raised in Croatia, he has always felt passionate about the ocean, taking his captain’s licenses so he could sail recreationally with friends. The catalyst for his arrival at YachtAid Global in 2016 was seeing friends lose everything during hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“Those natural disasters impacted my friends in the Caribbean and other coastal regions and I wanted to help however I could,” he recalls. “My wife and I put together some care packages because our friends lost their homes, their businesses, everything they had.

“We met YachtAid Global’s founder Mark Drewelow and tried to brainstorm what we could do to help. The yachting community’s response was amazing, we had over 100 yachts responding within two weeks. We realised that a much more strategic approach was required and I became fully engaged, having seen first-hand the benefits of participating in relief efforts.

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“YachtAid Global started with a focus on disaster relief and recovery, which is still a significant part of what we do, but our mission has expanded to provide unified humanitarian conservation and disaster relief across entire communities. This bigger picture is exciting to me, and providing this unified approach is what first attracted me and keeps me excited every day.”

With yachts able to participate in anything from a one-off relief effort to regular ongoing initiatives, Zoran believes it is not only coastal communities that benefit.

“Captains and owners see benefits not just across the communities they visit but also across their own programme, visions and goals,” explains Zoran. “Crew engagement and satisfaction increases substantially, as does crew retention.

“The crew get to experience more intimate relationships and engagements in a scientific or community way, which they can’t get on every yacht. It makes them want to stick around. And for us, it’s great to work with people who give us valuable commitment, feedback and suggestions. It’s very much a two-way street.”

His keen understanding of how to attract investment and philanthropy is put to good use when encouraging owners and captains to take part in YachtAid Global’s programme.

“Unlike in a private enterprise where you talk about return on investment in terms of a payback period or cash flow, here we are looking to show how their investment can make a sustainable change,” he says.

“Many owners have their own foundations and initiatives and are not new to giving. We start with a conversation, a phone call, a proposal or a meeting to talk about how to expand their philanthropic footprint internationally, without wasting resources.

“We show them the facilities we have and how we can invest in any part of the world, wherever their yacht may be. We are a one stop solution with effective policies and procedures in place.

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“Value and impact are important and we show them the goals and objectives for each initiative, what the measures of success are and illustrate that making an investment means they are moving the needle.

“We try to keep it simple and focused but metrics matter and seeing something jumpstarted, expanded or providing an ongoing impact in an operation due to your investment are tangible results. Yachting is a small community and reputation and results matter.”

It’s also vital to outline the long-term impact of their involvement so that volunteers and donors are aware of the cumulative effect of their efforts according to Zoran, who adds: “They are not doing this in a vacuum – we are part of a larger community and we align the initiatives with sustainable development goals.

“We strive towards achieving education, economic and environmental goals as part of a broader worldwide strategy. It’s important for people to see that they are not alone in this; it doesn’t depend solely on them and once their support is gone, this thing will not fall to pieces, it will be taken over by the local community or continue with help from the broader international community.

“The future of yachting is closely tied to the future of oceans and the people who call oceans their homes. Everyone needs to care about their bigger backyard.”

Leaving a legacy is becoming a key driver to the globe’s biggest, most powerful players and YachtAid Global seeks to plug the gaps left by dwindling public and government funding through private donors. Chiefly, this is done by creating partnerships with community leaders and local authorities which are capable of making a significant impact, particularly in smaller communities which can be overlooked in the context of larger non-profits.

“It doesn’t take a ton to move the needle,” says Zoran. “It’s much more granular. Seeing a community become part of the solution is very satisfying, with everyone enjoying a sense of ownership and pride when it all comes together.

“To this end, we carry out purpose-oriented assessments and viability studies to articulate and prioritise what the needs are. We take no sides in political debates or conflicts - we look through a strictly humanitarian lens. If communities are ready to embrace it and be a part of change, it’s worthwhile but we are realistic enough to understand that sometimes a community has to work through some of its own challenges and strife first.”

Having partnered with more than 200 companies, charities and partners since their inception in 2005, Zoran says the team have taken some key learnings about how best to collaborate effectively and efficiently.

“It’s been fantastic to learn how much we can accomplish when we work together,” he says with a smile. “Competitive dynamics can emerge but if we can come together locally and globally, with local knowledge and understanding being married up with global solutions and participation, that is the most potent solution to any problem.

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‘My view is the highest degree of competition is cooperation – it’s been proven across various industries and human nature. It’s always satisfying to unify local partners with business owners, global partners and yachts to achieve things together which nobody could even imaging being done on their own.

“There might be $100,000 of aid waiting to reach people remotely but it takes a lot to get it from a port to a remote island. A small donation to YachtAid Global can enable that to reach people in need within a week rather than taking several months. Often there is a lot of aid but it sits around so it’s very fulfilling to be able to make things happen at the end stage.’

Even the global pandemic did not stand in the way of YachtAid Global’s efforts to assuage suffering in far flung corners of the world.

“Covid-19 impacted how we achieve but not what we achieve,” says Zoran. “Supporting an education programme in the Bahamas now, maybe the crew and children won’t play a lot together but we will still be there, building the playground and delivering supplies.

“Community engagement is being done differently so we’ve retooled our approach. Vanuatu completely closed up but that didn’t hold us back – we’ve managed to rebuild a school destroyed by the hurricane and implemented sanitation and clean water supplies for villages without crew being on the ground.”

With a slew of projects both planned and unplanned – for unplanned, read natural disasters - in the pipeline for 2022, Zoran is proud of everything YachtAid Global has achieved.

“We want to continue to expand and grow in regions like French Polynesia and the Galapagos while continuing to support areas affected by the pandemic, which is a natural disaster too,” he says.

“There is a plethora of needs but our focus is always based on where the yachts are and who is engaging. Our motto is we change the world without changing the course.”

 

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