A few years ago I was having a conversation with the daughter of some very good friends. While our exchange was trivial and I don’t remember what we were talking about, I do know that it subtly but importantly altered my outlook on life.
There was a moment during our discussion when I said; “Well, respect has to be earned.” It was probably a slightly lazy response; a phrase I had heard often enough in my own youth from parents expecting high standards.
Her response was swift. “No,” she shot back, “disrespect has to be earned.”
I saw and understood her point immediately. She was quite right and I remain conscious of the way it changed my behaviour even today—I have no right to expect people to have prove themselves to me in some way. This approach of positive engagement is essential in our business; although our aim is to reveal the best in candidates, sometimes they can still surprise us with talents or stories we’d never imagined!
Of course, in a few cases that respect may diminish over time, but I’ve found life’s exchanges are richer when they are approached from this perspective. Including conversations with 14 year-olds.
The first ever Mix’n’Talent event brought forward a range of crucial reflections on how the civil society sector can drive social change in uncertain times.
One of the challenges that emerged from the discussions was that of silos. None of the challenges we face today can be separated from one another. And yet, all too often we try to address the world’s challenges from within our silos. We find silos at every level of our work: departmental silos within an organization; silos between one organization and another; silos between types of NGOs such as “environmental NGOs” and “human rights NGOs”. And even the civil society sector itself is a silo that views other sectors with suspicion.
Certainly, one NGO cannot prioritize everything. But we know that this is not necessary if we open up to the idea of strengthening coordination across and beyond the sector and work in alliances. Not simply partnerships, but true alliances built on a shared cause. Alliances that break through silos and stand above competition for funds and defending logos. Alliances with a strategic allocation of roles among partners that play to the different strengths and areas of focus, compensating individual shortcomings through a holistic approach.
The world around us is changing at increasing speed and global developments are challenging assumptions that many civil society organizations were founded on. Just as digitalization demands adapting funding models, the increasing interconnectedness of issues requires rethinking concepts of organizational identity and brand if we want to pursue our cause successfully. It demands a shift in our culture towards more networked thinking. And, as the discussion concluded, this requires trust. Trust beyond the silos, extending to other individuals, organizations and sectors. We need to learn to think and work as a movement.
This blog was written by Jana Merkelbach who also moderated the Mission Talent event. Her first guest blog entitled “Leading Change in Uncertain Times” was published on this site on 31/05/2017.
Faced with challenges such as political uncertainty, climate change and a global humanitarian and refugee crisis – how can we effectively drive social change in uncertain times?
This question brought together leaders from the civil society sector in Berlin on 24 May for Mission Talent’s first-ever Mix’n’Talent event. I had the pleasure of moderating an inspiring panel with Susanne Baumann, Chief of Staff at Crisis Action; Sabrina Schulz, Head of the Berlin Office of E3G; and Jeannette Gusko, who manages International Brand and Engagement for Change.org. By sharing their experiences, lessons and thoughts on the topic, the panel quickly engaged the event’s guests in a fruitful discussion.
Mission Talent is inviting leaders in the social impact sector to our first ever Mix’n’Talent event in Berlin:
It’s a challenging time to work for social change. We face political uncertainty, climate change and a global humanitarian and refugee crisis. Traditional funding streams and organizational models are changing. So what does this mean for how we plan for the future? Amongst the threats, are there opportunities?
It’s easy to surround ourselves with people who think just like us. Depending on our social media bubbles, we might not even know anyone who voted for the other candidate, or takes an opposing view. But by not engaging with people who think differently, we don’t make the world better, we just make it more divided. And division weakens our society further.
Many might expect a connection between seniority of a candidate and the quality of their interviews. That is not what we experience at Mission Talent: we’ve seen excellent interviews with more junior candidates and rather disappointing interviews with more senior candidates.
So what makes an interview successful? In-depth preparation, excellent communication and some empathy are all crucial—as is meeting the key requirements.
Note: Everything in this blog is based on real experience.
The other day I was arranging a few matters with a client. There were a number of terms she used during our communication where I had to ask what she meant by them in order to be sure we were on the same page. That made me realise - we all have our own organisational languages. Words we use often and that receive a certain meaning in the context we use them in.
When I talk about a search report to my colleagues we all have a clear understanding what this entails as it is our daily bread and butter. If, however, I use the exact same word with a new client I may need to be more specific and explain what we mean by it.
At the same time, when a candidate describes a campaign, some research, or a project, I need to make sure I know their organisational context and perhaps ask them what this work means in their specific area.
Although we tend to move in similar circles, we cannot always expect people to understand our everyday vocabulary. Even though we speak the same language, sometimes we really have to make sure we understand the sector-specific, or even organization-specific, nuances—and that we make ourselves similarly understood.
Dr Hannah Fry, a mathematician at University College London, recently described how data is becoming ever-more important. She went on to point out that the algorithms being used are often hidden from view, which means that “software is built with an incentive that might not align with the interests of individual people, who are just data points within it.”
Recruiting and selection software is a case in point. The promise of efficiently finding the ideal candidate using keywords and algorithms is very seductive, but depends on the programmers and their approach. In her conversation with The Register about algorithms, Dr Fry said: "you can't argue against them. If their assumptions and biases aren't made open to scrutiny then you're putting a system in the hands of a few programmers who have no accountability for the decisions that they're making." She went on to describe how a LinkedIn algorithm showed higher-paid job advertisements more often to men than women.
Mission Talent doesn’t evaluate people with algorithms. We look at people who fit the bill and we speak to them to find out more. But we’re also curious; we chat with others who don’t fit the bill because they’re interesting and—just sometimes—they have a great deal more to offer. The next time you need to bring someone into your team, think about applying your humanity rather than decisions made by a machine.
The Internet has been enjoying the interview between the unfortunate Professor Robert Kelly and the BBC, during which his two children entered his office. The good news is, as said by the BBC he “managed to keep his composure and complete the interview successfully.”
The nature of our work means we regularly hold interviews with people in their homes or other environments and we understand that unforeseen things can happen when candidates are speaking to us, or even their future employers. Of course, being on a global TV network is one thing, but what might people do when faced with this situation in a meeting or interview?
Our advice is to know how to mute your microphone and cut the camera before your appointment starts. If you are interrupted by a child, a well-meaning colleague, your cat or dog, the doorbell, or even a fire alarm, excuse yourself briefly and turn off your microphone and camera. Resolve the situation and then take an additional five seconds to gather yourself before turning back on the camera and microphone. Most interviewers will be very understanding—and you will also have demonstrated your calmness under pressure.
With much excitement we have been following a growing resistance movement throughout the world in recent months – led by women. We feel moved, inspired and honoured to witness this.
Mission Talent—a team of eight, seven of whom are women from different countries—was debating how best to show solidarity on Wednesday, 8th March 2017 during A Day without a Woman. We felt strongly about not being silent on this day, showing solidarity and somehow using the opportunity to make an impact. We chose not to go on strike, as others are planning, because we believe that it would not have the desired impact in our particular context. On International Women’s Day we shall continue working for our clients and candidates, supporting them in their mission towards the very same goals.
Some of our team members would like to share with you what International Women’s Day means to them.
When searching for potential candidates, I always look for the best. But sometimes candidates do not present themselves well during interviews, so I also look for additional evidence. As well as their CVs, candidates may also have made presentations or published articles. Perhaps they have some good videos online, or an active blog or Twitter account.
As candidates move forward in our process, we offer coaching on how they can present a true representation of themselves in an interview, and we advise them on how to show how their previous achievements align with the aims of the new role. In this way, what we discover and learn about the candidate grows throughout the recruitment process —and in some cases, so does the candidate’s understanding of themselves!
This is my favorite part of search -- developing this relationship with candidates and getting to know them in different ways.
On the day after the American people voted last year I avoided the news and Facebook. Last Friday, people on my Facebook timeline were quoting the inauguration speech of the 45th President of the US and I decided neither to watch it, nor to read it.
As a Westerner I was raised in a world that aspired for women to be equals and those achievements are now being challenged in a way that I would never have thought was possible, including by someone occupying the role often designated as “leader of the free world.”
We are still seeing and experiencing grave differences between men and women all over the world. Different religions. Different nationalities. Different cultures. Discrimination of anything people might perceive as ‘the other’. Overall a lack of humanity, of empathy and compassion for one another.
Kris Torgeson, who Mission Talent placed as the first ever Global CEO at Lifebox, said in a recent interview that “no matter how big or how small the organisation or crisis, the humanitarian act is still about one person helping another.”
This reminded me of a moment’s reflection that I had over Christmas. I was unpacking some decorations with my children, including some my mother used before her death 10 years ago. I came across a small box of Oxfam candles that reminded me of her preference for buying things from charity shops wherever possible. She didn't think she was changing the world, but just doing the right thing in a small town in rural England.
In a world where so many problems seem so large and so insurmountable I see a link between Kris's comment and my mother's actions. None of us can change the world alone, but millions of us doing the small things that we are capable of; whether it is doing surgery by Lamplight, teaching a new language to a refugee—or simply buying trinkets in a charity shop; millions of small acts and gestures can and do add up to big differences.
“Let’s definitely plan a trip the first week of the new year.”
But our initial plans for a quiet get-away soon became a trip to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Lesbos is not only a beautiful island for tourists. It is also the first European destination for thousands, likely millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
Theoretically it’s a quick procedure: boats with 30-60 people arrive, ideally welcomed by a group of cheering volunteers. People get off the boat, take off wet shoes and socks. Blankets are wrapped, water and snacks distributed. Then busses arrive to take everyone to Moria camp, where they need to register before their onward journey. Ideally, the new arrivals do not even have to spend the night.
And so that is where we found ourselves. Geared up with gum boots, gloves and beanies, for our week of four, 12-hour shifts in Moria camp. As Arabic speakers, we spent most of our time in the queue for the registration of Syrians and Iraqis.
It was a crash course in refugee transit life.
It's always a good idea to prepare for an interview, but how? Of course, it pays to know about the organization and the role that you are applying for - but how to prepare for those tough interview questions? We've all read about how to make weaknesses appear as strengths and there are any number of websites which claim to have the answers to interviewers' toughest questions.
But let's consider what the interviewer wants. A well-run interview is not confrontational, but designed to give you the opportunity to show your strengths and how they match the role concerned. Typically, interviewers want to find out three things:
Have you heard? It's 2015; the Millennium Development Goals are up, the Sustainable Development Goals are on and governments are supposed to agree on a plan to prevent disastrous climate change at COP21 in December. Et alors?
I recently attended a conference on global transformation. The conference organizers (GIZ) announced that the gathering would become a biennial platform to review the Sustainable Development Goals. Admittedly this did not fill me with excitement. After 15 years, we have just arrived at the supposed completion of the eight MDGs, and now we are rushing forward with 17 new goals? The goals were agreed upon via one of the most consultative processes ever, but in the massive group think they have become so dull that I would only advise reading them now if you are thinking of heading to bed.
The idea behind creating a broader set of goals was to set targets for developed countries too. A nice sentiment, but in the process the goals have become owned by no one, yet for everyone. There is a saying in Brasil: A dog that has two owners starves. Without firm champions, the SDGs will never get off the ground.
We can't just propose another round of goals and hope for the best. We need to break the mould and propose something that will excite people. From a mobilisation point of view, it’s amazing that the MDGs worked as well as they did from 2000-2015. Many smart campaigners poured their heart and souls into spreading awareness about something incredibly hard to communicate. In 2000, the concept of development goals was new, and if you read the fine print, they were even achievable.
At Mission Talent, it’s our job to ask questions. We want to find out from our clients exactly what kind of leaders they are looking for, and we ask our candidates to tell us about their careers and goals for the future. This time, we thought we would turn the tables, and have our team members Katja, Sarah, Spencer, Emily, Lin, Priya and Tim answer the questions.
I see a greater realisation of the importance of citizen participation. NGOs used to be closed entities where it was difficult to get in and participate. This has changed drastically and NGOs are increasingly acknowledging the importance of everyone's input to drive change.
I recruit for many campaigning roles, and I previously worked for an advocacy organization, so I think a lot about how to create popular demand for change. While many of the causes we are working on are so huge, I am encouraged to see campaigning organizations take on specific targets that are winnable, such as changing the purchasing policy of one company. I am also glad to see NGOs increasingly use online multi-media in creative ways to engage people in making change.
What makes me hopeful is the fact that many stakeholders, political and economic ones, take NGOs more and more seriously. But also society as a whole increasingly acknowledges that NGOs fulfil an important regulatory role in the international political system.
Having been privileged to recruit for Greenpeace offices all over the world, we’re especially proud of two of our recent recruits. Both executives are female and both represent a new kind of leader for the environmental movement.
Joanna Kerr, Greenpeace Canada’s new executive director, was previously global CEO of ActionAid International, and before that was executive director of the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID).
Like Kumi Naidoo, the anti-poverty activist who is now executive director of Greenpeace International, her appointment reflects a growing awareness by “green orgs” that climate change and conservation are linked to development and poverty.
It’s not just organizational strategies that are shifting, so are the attitudes of the leaders themselves. Many working in global development or even humanitarian spaces see linkages to the issues of climate change and will consider taking a position in what was previously seen as a completely different sector.
This month, I attended the Global Perspectives conference in Johannesburg, organised by the International Civil Society Centre, co-hosted by ActionAid International and CIVICUS.
The theme of the conference was “Navigating Disruptive Change – How civil society organisations can survive and thrive in an increasingly disruptive world.” The goal of the conference was to gather executives and leaders from international civil society to building alliances and talk about common issues. The conference organisers certainly picked a challenging topic.
In the last twenty years, change itself has changed: it has become faster, more fundamental and more surprising. When these elements come together, we experience disruption. Think of the music, telephone, bookstore or newspaper industry. Market forces have redefined them, despite what the media giants of the corporate sector wanted.
Between 25-27 October, I attended the Humanitarian Congress in Berlin organised by Médecins Sans Frontières, Médecins du Monde, the German Red Cross, the Berlin Chamber of Physicians and the Charité Universitätsmedizin. The event brought together about 500 researchers, practitioners and students to discuss the current trends, knowledge and innovations in the humanitarian sector, particularly from a health perspective.
This was the second time I attended the Humanitarian Congress. The theme this year was “No Access! Who Cares? How to reach people in need" and the event focused on obstacles and limitations to providing humanitarian assistance, calling on the need for more research, innovation and accountability. One of the interesting solutions offered was the new MEDBOX initiative, a hands-on library resource designed to quickly get humanitarian knowledge directly where it is needed.