Currency devaluation in her home country left a lasting impression on the value of digital payments for Quona’s accounting executive
Growing up in Belarus, Quona head of finance Maryna Higgins experienced firsthand the massive fallout from the ruble’s devaluation. “I grew up in a cash-dependent society,” she says. “I had to think what size of physical wallet I needed to accommodate the currency and coins I had, and I worried all the time about losing cash.” The experience made a lasting impression on her, and over the years, she became deeply convinced of the value and convenience of digital payments.
A “stable” career
Higgins credits her mother for the early inspiration to study accounting. “I spent some time watching my mom work on days off of school when I was a kid,” she recalls. “At that time, a career in finance and accounting offered stability and respect. Growing up in the post-Soviet Union era, stability was especially important.”
She arrived in the US at the age of 20, and continued her studies at American University’s Kogod School of Business in Washington, DC. She felt at home in DC almost right away. To this day, she still loves to wander the city’s European-style avenues. “I enjoy just walking through the city — its wide streets and plentiful greenery still remind me of cities in Belarus, specifically Minsk,” says Higgins, who later married her husband Matt within view of the iconic Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
Experiencing teaching methods in both Eastern Europe and the US gave her a unique perspective into the accounting field, she says. Though she learned the fundamentals of accounting at Belarus State Economic University, her time completing her studies in Washington allowed her to connect with adjunct professors who taught from experience and made it easier to apply what was learned in class. “I observed how many professors were business leaders who taught part time,” she says. “They brought their real-world experiences to the classroom, which was very valuable to me.”
Upon graduation, she spent nearly five years at a global impact investment firm honing her accounting skills. Then Higgins switched gears, launching Underground Greens, a hydroponic farming business specializing in fresh sustainable produce. Though she has since shuttered her business, it opened her eyes to the power of entrepreneurship. “It gave me exposure to being an entrepreneur myself, and gave me a sense of what it was like to start a business,” she says.
After a decade spent working in finance and starting her own business, Higgins knew she wanted her next position to build on her existing expertise. At the same time, she was eager to work for an organization where making a positive impact was not just an afterthought. “I wanted to be in a place that helped people get a better life, not make the rich richer,” she recalls.
Months later, she found it.
When she called a former colleague to ask whether she could use her as a reference for a new job she was considering, the colleague pointed her to another opportunity entirely. This time, at Quona Capital. “She said, ‘I didn’t know you were looking — Quona is looking for someone, and you’d be a great fit’,” recalls Higgins.
Her former coworker was spot-on. She joined the firm in 2016.
As Quona’s director of finance, Higgins now works with a diverse set of colleagues while tapping into her entrepreneurial sensibilities to grow businesses that truly make an impact. “Quona offered the best of both worlds that I was looking for,” she says.
With colleagues across Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, her work involves what she refers to as “building bridges by respecting differences in cultures and upbringings.” She says, “Bringing two different points together is a super interesting experience that I get to navigate on a daily basis — there’s never an assumption that I know everything. Hearing a variety of perspectives and ways of solving particular problems also makes me a better listener and opens up my mind.”
She spends most days juggling various projects, from working with LPs to field requests and support investment teams, to managing ongoing quarterly and annual reporting responsibilities. She is also working to further build out the firm’s finance function while focusing on opportunities that enable younger professionals to get meaningful experience and grow within the firm.
Even as she nears her seventh year at Quona, Higgins says it’s easy to retain a sense of excitement and urgency about the work. Each day starts with a reassessment of priorities. “Due to the difference in time zones, many of our colleagues have already had a full day of work by the time we in DC wake up and start working,” she says. “That means pretty much that I can plan and think what my day is going to look like, but that all can change each morning depending on what happens on the other side of the world overnight.”
Joining Quona right after having had the experience of starting her own company has made it easier to understand how valuable it is when a company has a close-knit culture, and enables entrepreneurial thinking among its team.
All these years later, it’s what she loves most about coming to work.
“When I joined Quona, I was the first full-time finance employee and the company was less than a year old. I’ve had the opportunity to build the finance function from the ground up,” she says. “Even though we have scaled significantly — we closed our third fund in 2022 — the firm still retains that entrepreneurial feel.”