In October 2018, Mission Talent placed Masego Madzwamuse as the CEO for The Southern Africa Trust. Previously, she was the Team Leader for the Economic and Social Justice Cluster at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).
In this interview, she talks about how she has built up the resources of The Trust so it can tackle a long term agenda; and connects the dots between poverty, conservation, climate, and trade in Southern Africa.
You have been the CEO at The Southern Africa Trust for almost a year. What have been the highlights for you thus far?
I joined The Trust at a time of multiple transitions, so there are a few highlights I’d like to share. First, I realised that there's a lot of partners who are committed to supporting an African-based and -led, grant-making organisation that play this critical role in policy advocacy. When I joined, like most non-profit organisations the Trust was faced with a challenge of sustainability driven by the changes in the funding landscape. Most of the funding agreements were coming to an end, but since then a number of donors have come on board to give us both operational support and programme support. The Ford Foundation has given us flexible funding to support our institutional capacity work and also have rallied behind our business and sustainability plan- a cutting edge space in our efforts for diversifying our funding base. One of the other partners who stepped up to our request for further support is the Mott Foundation which came on board with a three-year programme to support us in building a body of work around community philanthropy — making it possible for the Trust to continue with our grantmaking mandate. GIZ also came through with a three-year programme that is committed to keeping the voice of civil society within the regional integration agenda. The Open Society Foundation also stepped in to give us support for programmatic funding, having confidence from the relationship that I've had with them in the past, but also their own understanding of the role that The Trust plays in the region. Collectively, the funding that has come through has stabilised the funding base of the Trust for another two years, while we work on putting together a long-term sustainability plan.
The other thing that I'm quite excited about is that we have appointed a new board chair — Stigmata Tenga, the Executive Director of the African Philanthropy Network. When you have women in leadership, it brings an opportunity to craft an organisation that is committed to women’s empowerment within the SADC region, but also an organisation that is led through emotional intelligence, compassion and a focus on staff wellbeing as core to the institutional culture.
The third highlight is, that since 2016, the board and the management of The Trust have been discussing the establishment of an income generating arm of The Trust that would mobilise resources and develop partnerships with mission driven private sector and provide fee-for-services to governments, donors, and the development sector in general. Three works ago, the board fully endorsed the establishment of this new social enterprise, so we will be recruiting a business plan expert who is going to be driving that sustainability arm of the organisation. This is certainly a space to watch as we develop new partnerships and learn from the corporate and social impact investment field and a number of non-profit organisations looking into innovative sources of funding. The investment arm is critical for the Trust to continue with our grantmaking mandate and mission.
The Southern Africa Trust works to increase the voices of civil society and policymaking in Southern Africa to eradicate poverty. What are you focusing on currently and what issues do you see as most urgent in the region?
Our emphasis on amplifying the voices of poor people is to acknowledge and build on the social agency that those who are affected by poverty themselves have. We have continued to be committed to building the social movements that galvanise the political voice of the poor and organise them to be more influential as a collective. We’ve remained dedicated to providing direct support and platforms to the social movements and organisations that represent those groups, so we continue to work with the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network. We’re continuing to support the small-scale farmers through the Regional Farmers Association groups, and also putting emphasis in developing a programme and consolidating our work around women’s empowerment in support of the Rural Women’s Assembly. We also are continuing to work with the informal traders’ groupings through the Southern Africa Cross Border Traders Association. It’s quite critical that we continue to support these formations and seek out emerging movements, particularly as our governments are pushing big agendas around the continental free trade agreement and the SADC Industrialisation Plan. Trade is coming back into the African policy space as an important issue for unlocking economic development. We are emphasising the need for the continental trade agreement to be people-driven and responsive to the needs of people on the ground. I'm quite excited about that.
I think that work on community philanthropy is really important because it goes beyond unlocking funding for civil society to actually strengthen the voice and space for democratising development at the local level where policy implementation is taking place. In line with building proactive constituencies of the poor to effectively demand accountability we are reaching out to organisations that work in the humanitarian, development, and the environmental space pushing for intersectionality. For instance, next month, we’re going to be convening in Zimbabwe with Amnesty International, Oxfam, ActionAid, and the SADC Council of NGOs to draw lessons from the impact and the preparedness around which governments and civil society responded to the emergency that was presented by Cyclone Idai. In that space, what we are trying to do is to surface the issues from a community perspective and amplify them, so we’re going to be flipping the script and through a three-day process where we’re purely listening to the conversation driven by the communities; their experiences, needs, aspirations, and what they would like to see being done differently. This forms part of a broader conversation on how you build community resilience to climate change at a local level. It is a timely dialogue in this era of climate urgency, natural hazards will continue to occur as a result of climate change, however they do not need to be disasters if proper systems are developed on the ground and communities are equipped with the right knowledge and support.
The Southern Africa Trust’s mission is to strengthen the voices of poor people in policy processes, which is a unique mandate. How has The Trust helped poor people influence policy?
One of the examples is our work with cross border traders from Malawi where we negotiate between the customs authorities in Malawi and South Africa to ease customs procedures and reduce transaction costs for informal traders. While SADC has a free trade agreement in place, the agreement largely focuses on making it easier for business in the formal sector, The Trust has worked on some of the challenges that informal traders are facing. The ease of movement across borders is high on the agenda especially at borders where there are high-pressure points, like between Mozambique and South Africa, and South Africa and Zimbabwe. While the progress is happening at a bilateral level, we are hoping to upscale regional policy advocacy on movement of people at the SADC level. The recent signing of the continental free trade agreement offers an opportune moment to reignite the cross border traders movements.
Another practical example has to do with the reparation of social security benefits for ex-mine workers migrant workers. For a while, people who had worked in the South African mines were not able to access their benefits upon their return to home countries. Through funding from DFID, we’ve been working with the Department of Trade and Industry and the South African Miners Association and Health Focus to trace the beneficiaries and to begin the repatriation process. At a regional level, this work has opened up a conversation on regional social protection policy that is sensitive to labour migration patterns in the region. Relatedly, we have been working with FinMark Trust on opening up financial corridors for informal traders. There has been work between Lesotho and South Africa where migrant workers are able to remit some of their income back home through retail networks. For example, Shoprite has a money transfer programme that allows workers to remit their funds back to their home countries with very minimal transaction costs. This tags into a bigger agenda of financial inclusion for poor people.
You have a background in environmental science, and previously had a long career with the IUCN. Are environmental issues part of your work today?
Absolutely — the reason being that biodiversity, environment and natural resources are the GDP of the poor. If you think about it, for a lot of the agricultural communities, being dependent on rain-fed agriculture means that healthy ecosystems are important for supporting their livelihoods. The environment also plays a big developmental role within the Southern African in terms of wildlife and tourism — a number of countries highlight this sector as important for economic diversification. It is difficult for me to think about a poverty reduction and development agenda that is oblivious to environmental sustainability.
Climate change presents a major threat in terms of eroding the developmental gains that we have had in the region, and poor people are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. If our issue is really around amplifying the voice of poor people and reducing poverty and inequality, we can't ignore the space of climate policy. We have to be involved in making sure that climate change is responsive to those who are most affected.
From a policy advocacy point of view, we are looking at ways in which The trust can contribute to that discourse. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of building internal capacities, of understanding the links between climate change, social policy and development. A few partners have come on board to work closely with us, including UNEP, Resource Africa, Namibia Association of CBNRM Organisations (NACSO), Resilient Waters and a number of environmental organisations that have experience working in the space of community-based natural resource management. We are working together to amplify the voices of communities who are stewards of wildlife resources and highlighting the importance of increasing benefits and their roles and responsibilities within the management of the natural resources. This is very much part of the Trusts’ agenda to mobilise movements for accountability and strengthen the voice of the poor in public policy processes. While our partners bring sector specific expertise the Trust brings social and political advocacy networks.
There has been a lot of excitement over the growing movement for African philanthropy in recent years. How would you describe the state of African philanthropy and what trends do you see that are promising?
The growing collaboration between African philanthropists and development practitioners is encouraging because I think there is an opportunity for us to work towards a collective vision, drawing on the comparative advantages that the different actors bring. What I find really encouraging as well is that unlocking the resources within the continent and channelling them towards our own development priorities means that Africa is positioning itself to be in charge of shaping the narrative and taking charge of the direction that development is taking in the continent.
The other trend that I find quite encouraging has been in the work on community philanthropy. We have been looking into tapping into existing cultural practices of giving, but having conversations about how we organise and consolidate these practices and work with communities to identify collective programmes that they can contribute towards. These conversations unlock a strategic relationship between communities’ needs on the ground and the corporate social responsibility of the private sector. The strategic partnerships that are developing between NGOs and the private sector is an important space to keep looking into.
As a leader, it is always important to reflect on your skillset. What skills do you find that you specifically bring to the role that has made you successful?
I have really found my background as a development policy analyst, a conservation and environment practitioner, and my work in the human rights space useful in terms of thinking holistically about the work that we do. My background also has been beneficial in thinking through the kinds of partnerships that we need to have in place so that we can take the mandate of The Trust a step further — the networking capacity across the sectoral divide has been quite useful. Having come from a grant-making organisation with a fundraising background has been useful in enabling The Trust to think differently about the business and development and the sustainability direction that we are taking. The networks that I have and the experience I have engaging with the private sector, philanthropy and also the traditional donor landscape space, has been quite useful.
My creativity and flexibility have helped me to balance the multiple transitions that are needed within the organisation, while at the same time not losing sight of the importance of creating a positive environment within the team so that people keep inspired to do the very difficult work we have to push ahead.
As you look forward to the years ahead at The Southern African Trust, what are you excited about achieving?
I am excited about building financial sustainability of the organisation, which would make it possible for The Trust to continue being mission-driven and have the capacity to provide the support that is needed in the civil society space and to build the movements. I think that we do need a vibrant civil society in the region in order to hold our governments accountable for the delivery of development, and we need the strong voices of civil society to reduce poverty. As long as institutions like ourselves are caught up in short-term funding cycles, it makes it difficult to keep pushing for the long-term agenda, so I am looking forward to us having adequate resources in the next three years so that we can put our efforts on the work that is needed on the ground.
In 2017, Mission Talent placed Delphine Moralis in the role of Secretary-General at Terre des Hommes. She was previously Secretary-General for Missing Children Europe.
In this interview, she talks about the progress that has been made for children since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child thirty years ago, and what gives her hope despite the challenges facing children today.
You started as the Secretary-General of Terre des Hommes nearly two years ago. How has this experience been?
It’s been both exciting and challenging. I came from an organisation working with children in the context of disappearance and sexual exploitation, Missing Children Europe, where I had been for 12 years. I had helped to set up the network and felt very close to it. Hence, leaving the organisation was quite a difficult decision on a personal level. But I have been really pleased to join Terre des Hommes, an organisation with an inspiring and rich philosophy and history, which brings together people with a passion for their mission and who fulfil their role with humility and skill. I’m excited to be part of this amazing family.
However, we are living in challenging times for INGOs and we all feel that civil society space is under threat. We have been probed to rethink our role and way of working, assessing how we can make the most relevant and legitimate contributions to the people we serve. For example, a major safeguarding crisis occurred within one of our fellow INGOs in February 2018, just weeks after I joined TDH. It really affected the whole sector, and somehow came as a symptom of a more fundamental underlying crisis. As organisations, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions, and we need to respond to those questions and challenges fast and thoroughly.
Was there anything that really surprised you that you did not expect coming into the role?
I have been positively surprised within Terre des Hommes about the willingness and appetite to improve the way that we work together. In the first board meeting after I joined, my board suggested a comprehensive strategic review process. It’s been really exciting for me to rethink our structure and way of working with the aim of increasing our impact and voice, and to be the best organisation we can be for children and young people around the world.
Another surprise was the diversity and wide range of expertise within the Terre des Hommes network. This is a great strength within our organisation, but it’s also a challenge if we want to focus and scale-up our impact and add value to wider sector efforts.
I have also been positively surprised that the child-focused agencies that Terre des Hommes works alongside are maturing and becoming more self-reflective about how we achieve more together. One very clear example of that is the Joining Forces Initiative. It’s a cooperation between the six largest child-focused agencies who understand that we need to put our logos and egos aside to unite our contributions more effectively in order to have the impact that children need in the world today.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and it’s an important year for children’s rights. What is Terre des Hommes’ message?
This CRC has had such a major impact on transforming the lives of millions of children. Since the adoption of the Convention, there has been new legislation designed to protect children and increased investments in services that children need. It has been instrumental in generating help for more children to have their voices heard. It’s clear that today, children are overall healthier, better nourished and educated, and more protected in law than ever before. But we also know that there is a huge amount of work that remains and that the progress we have made is constantly under threat.
A report we co-drafted with colleagues from Joining Forces has clear evidence that the scale of the challenge is increasing. For instance, more than 5 million children die every year from preventable causes, over 60 million children do not go to primary school, and 152 million children worldwide are still trapped in child labour. There is a specific group of children who remain explicitly underprotected. These are children who live in conflict-affected fragile states, extreme poverty, or belong to excluded social groups. Many countries have failed to fully translate the obligations from the Convention into policy and practice, so that’s also an area that raises concern. We also see the escalating climate crisis and increasing inequality both within and between countries impacting children worldwide since it threatens to escalate global conflict and stability. This is against the backdrop of a global political stage where countries are openly challenging the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In a nutshell, we've made tremendous progress with this instrument, but the time is really urgent for us to spur on a second revolution for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as called for by Joining Forces. The challenges aren't over and the threats are perhaps bigger than we generally tend to understand, so we need to be able to focus on moving forward in making the promises of the Convention a reality. We really can’t wait for another generation for the change to happen.
Terre des Hommes is known for its Destination Unknown campaign, which focuses on children on the move. Do you see any improvement for migrant children at the moment at all?
I am very concerned about the situation of child migration. While migration can open up many opportunities for children and communities, it also leads to children being exposed to extreme risks, including death, recruitment into armed groups, school dropouts, child labour, and child marriage. Sadly we are living in a political climate where the general discourse is moving more and more towards restriction, and migrant children are suffering through being deprived of their basic needs such as access to health, accommodation, and education. I am surprised to see that migration is linked to the portfolio on security in the new configuration of the European Commission portfolios. This certainly worries me.
Although the scale of the problem is massive, there are also some hopeful developments. First, there is a lot of goodwill at a grassroots level from people working to be welcoming towards migrants and refugees. Many NGOs, charities, youth-led initiatives and others are doing a lot of amazing work to make sure that children see their rights fulfilled. For instance, we recently published a booklet entitled Making Life Better for Children on the Move, which outlines best and promising practices for supporting children on the move and working with them. It’s really inspiring to browse through that publication and see the good work being done and how these examples can be replicated. And we know that it is not only the children who benefit but also the communities who welcome them.
Second, at the end of 2018, the Global Compacts on safe, orderly migration, and on refugees were adopted. These instruments can provide life-changing developments for children on the move, whether it is about family reunification, cross-border cooperation or providing access to education. Together with 30 other civil society organisations and UN agencies, Terre des Hommes is working on an initiative, which is called the Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts. We are one of the co-chairs of this initiative and are working hard to unpack both compacts for the provisions to become a reality and to change the lives of children on the move. We need to embrace the creativity, strength, and resilience these children have to offer, and the positive contribution they can make to our societies.
You are leading a federated international organisation, which must be very challenging. What kind of management and leadership skills have you used to succeed in this context?
The capacity to listen is really essential if you want to lead an international federated organisation. I think you need to develop the skill to empathically understand people — their views, interests, realities, where they're coming from and why they are motivated to think and act the way they do.
My approach is also to consider all these different positions and views in accordance with the organisation’s mission. I believe we should put the interest of the people we serve first, rather than the individual interests of the members of the Federation. Ultimately, our mission is what binds us and allow us to overcome challenges along the way. Having a long-term vision and dedication to the mission beyond what lives in the federation is essential if you want to move forward.
Another key skill you need is to have quite a good dose of patience. You need to accept the fact that in federated international organisations it’s always going to be two steps forward and one step back. We need to rely on the fact that small steps in the right direction are still progress. Sometimes the pace is slow, but it’s better to continue to move in the right direction than to not move at all. Working together in a bigger group of very diversified people is going to be more difficult than doing things on your own, but then again, doing things together is going to deliver more results and impact than what you would get if you were just doing it on your own.
The field of children’s rights has advanced a lot in recent years to include children’s voices and opinions. What is Terre des Hommes’ approach to children’s participation?
Child and youth participation is one of our core pillars. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is our conceptual framework and a guiding basis for the activities of Terre des Hommes. Article 12 of the Convention stipulates that all children have the right to be heard on matters affecting them, and this is at the heart of how we do our work. We have a lot of experience in supporting children and young people in their participation in projects, and we do invest in making sure that children’s views are heard and taken into account.
We're currently working on an initiative to ensure that we learn from each other and scale-up child participation within the organisation. We'll have an expert meeting on this in October and I'm really looking forward to this. Also, in the context of our strategic review, we’ll be focusing on how to make child participation even more embedded within everything that we do, both operationally and at a governance level. There are some good practices within Terre des Hommes that we can learn from. Our German member organisation, for instance, has a really exciting model of involving partners and children in making strategic decisions. They also have an international youth network that leads exciting campaigns. There are similar practices in other member organisations, so we have a lot to learn from within our own network. We want to unite to have an even bigger impact and to make sure that those whose lives we are talking about are steering and leading the way — it’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.
In 2016, Mission Talent placed Velina Petrova in the role of Knowledge for Impact Director at Oxfam International. She previously held various roles setting up systems for evidence building, monitoring, evaluation and learning at organisations like CARE, Creative Associates International, ChildFund International and Rare.
In this interview, she talks about what it means to lead a learning agenda across a complex global organisation that is always challenging the status quo—both of itself and the world.
You joined Oxfam almost three years ago, in the role of Knowledge for Impact Director, a new position at the time. How has this experience been for you so far?
The experience has been captivating because I face creative tensions every day. When I joined, Oxfam had many ideas and much valuable experience in knowledge and learning for impact. But it also offered plenty of room for me to think, vision, and co-create with others just what this knowledge for impact mandate and agenda could be. As a result, I get to stand on the shoulders of giants every day, but I also get to look and reach further. I am still deeply humbled by everything Oxfam has achieved and learned throughout its history – and at the same time inspired to see how we can do better. This is a captivating combination, especially for someone in the knowledge and learning field.
What are you working on now that you are excited about?
My team is a group of truly brilliant and richly experienced people who make my days at Oxfam a joy. We have been quietly working on transforming some core organisational processes into more knowledge-driven ones. Our task is to ensure that organisational processes are done in a knowledge-based way because our success comes when others feel better equipped to apply what they have learned and to share the experience. At the moment, we are embarking on a journey of exploration and experimentation. We will accompany a process that will transform Oxfam’s presence in some countries and regions, building our relevance and impact in social enterprise and in new forms of evidence-based influencing and programming. I am happy that we are bringing an explicit knowledge and learning lens to this process. Ask me again a year from now – I will be excited to share the learning from what we have done well and not so well in this undertaking!
Your team has recently completed a new type of evaluation of Oxfam’s 2013-2019 strategic plan. Can you tell us about this?
We had a dual goal when working on the strategic plan evaluation: accountability and learning. First, we wanted to describe some of the results that we achieved which we saw as transformative in the world, and also some of the things that we didn’t achieve as well as we had planned in our strategy. Second, we wanted to have the explicit goal of learning because it’s one thing to describe results, and it’s quite another to honestly and carefully look at how you achieved them when you did, or why not when you didn’t. We have eight approaches typical to Oxfam work, what we think of as Oxfam’s “secret sauce”: active citizenship; thought leadership; influencing; impact at scale; partnership; knowledge and learning; program approach; and putting women’s rights at the heart of all we do.
We looked at them one by one, and in combination, to see in which contexts and in which cases they did help us, and where we did not quite manage to apply them as well. Ultimately, we’ve written one part on results and one part on approaches. What it’s done for us is we have not only been able to be accountable in describing results, but we’ve also started to be able to strategise a lot more carefully and with more learning on what approaches we need to continue investing in.
So, that is how we have shifted the conversation a bit. It has been exciting to see senior management and global teams become engaged around the approaches and then the results become examples of them, rather than sort of, ‘here is a 50-page statement on results’, and it is a bit hard to know what to do with that.
How do you see the culture of Oxfam as a learning organisation and how do you promote that culture?
Internally, Oxfam is extremely self-critical. Unlike other organisations, where this can be more relaxed, in some cases, Oxfam is much more critical of its own work and ways of working, internally, than others are of it, externally. From a learning perspective, that’s a great culture to be in, because the organisation sets high standards for itself in everything that it does, and there is a constant drive to improve. Of course, it could lead you to some analysis paralysis, in the way that your strengths are also your downfalls. But the culture is one of very high standards and calibre of people coupled with very demanding ideas of what good work means.
I think the way to promote it is to both build on and nurture this, and at the same time in some ways to “smallify” things a little bit. With the knowledge and learning culture, it’s people’s daily micro-behaviours and micro-habits that make a big difference. Doing one small step better each day or asking one additional question in a reflection on programme quality, matters. If we want this to be the culture – the way people work and behave when no one is watching – we need to break down each big ambition Oxfam has to people’s daily behaviours and habits.
As a confederation, Oxfam has been decentralising for many years and putting power in national leadership. How does your position help the national leadership of Oxfam to succeed?
Oxfam is, first and foremost, the 10,000 people who work, create, think, face problems, find solutions, and breathe life into everything Oxfam stands for, day in and day out. As a team, we have had an agenda of “democratising” our knowledge culture within the confederation. This is about acting on the belief that everyone is part of the knowledge and learning enterprise – but that some voices are not sought, heard, and valued when it comes to knowledge generation. This is true not only within Oxfam but in the world as well. So, this effort is about changing where, how, and by whom the knowledge and learning agenda is set, and whose knowledge is valued. We are seeking to promote a learning agenda by and for the Global South [and East], with feminist principles, and with more diverse definitions of the forms that knowledge can take. You could see this through the lens of gender, or race, or language, etc. You could use a more traditional human-resources take on diversity, and that would already be a big step in the right direction. But it is also more than that: it is about cognitive diversity. And I think that is the area where Oxfam needs to go next and where I think the world needs to go next. We want to live Oxfam’s transformative agenda on inequality – first at home, internally, in our own knowledge culture within the organisation.
How have you seen monitoring and evaluation be catalytic for Oxfam both internally, in how the organisation works, and externally, in fundraising, influencing or advocacy?
Our knowledge fabric – the way we conceive it and practice it at Oxfam – is much more than our monitoring and evaluation work. We invest significantly in research. We do various assessments, reflection, sense-making, and learning exercises, as both one-offs and as longer accompanied processes. Most of all, we work under the assumption that everyone generates knowledge and learns every day in everything that they do — regardless of whether that is running an evaluation, a budget, a communications strategy, or a procurement process.
Internally, it has been catalytic when we have evaluated and concertedly learned from, then strategised around, “how” we get to impact. Many MEL efforts tend to focus on accountability for demonstrating results – this is, of course, hugely important. But at Oxfam, we are now increasingly seeing strategies focused on “how” results are achieved, who we need to be, how we need to be equipped in order to keep adding value in changing environments. This is both inspired by some MEL work we’ve done and inspiring us to figure out how to do MEL for it better.
Externally, there are various well-known examples of Oxfam using its knowledge to influence for change: from our overall inequality work to women’s unpaid care, even to responsible data practices (in the realm of influencing MEL practice itself!). These efforts have been catalytic because they have combined knowledge for impact contributed not only by MEL, but also by campaigns, programme implementation, policy, research, communications, and more. Our best efforts and our most influential knowledge solutions happen when many people come together to co-create them.
One of the goals of Knowledge for Impact Director is positioning Oxfam as a knowledge-based organisation, collaborating with strategic partners – how are you doing that and what has been your proudest achievement?
We think of partnership as part of our organisational DNA, principles, and ways to add value in the world and not only as the instrumental means to operational ends. We are helping Oxfam programme staff reframe the narrative and practice of partnership to incorporate more strategic, longer-term alignments of interests and to ensure that the co-creation of solutions and mutual support for learning between Oxfam and its partners are always part of the relationship. For example, supported by an ongoing collaboration with the Partnership Brokers’ Association, we did several experiments in countries and regions that generated learning about what constitutes good partnering. The experiments included a range of initiatives, such as learning from new and unusual partnerships, the development of tools and guidance in partnership brokering, working out how to engage social movements and collectives, developing community feedback approaches, and more. Going forward, we will use these experiences to develop a blended learning approach for partnership. At the end of the day, we don’t always get it right in partnership. But I am proud that we ask the feedback of our partners, that we experiment how to be better together, and that we actively seek to learn and improve.
It must be challenging to lead across member and network-driven organisations. What are some of the advantages you see in this kind of model? What strategies do you use as a leader to keep everyone engaged?
It is challenging because we constantly have to assess which problems call for simple solutions and protocols for uniformity and efficiency across members of the confederation, and which ones are best addressed by multiple, diverse approaches better fit for complexity. From a knowledge for impact perspective, I cannot help but to see advantages: the pressing problems of our time, the ones that really matter, are complex, multifaceted, thorny, wicked, and not solvable by command-and-control ways of thinking or doing. Solutions to them will require the knowledge, learning, and wisdom of many, and the ability to figure out how to bring these together and co-create answers.
I have a favourite quote about Ashby’s law of requisite variety. It goes something like this, “the internal diversity of any self-regulating system must match the variety and complexity of its environment if it is to deal with the challenges posed by that environment.” This also guides the strategy of keeping everyone engaged: work with purpose and build your collaborations and alliances around purpose, not around activities, deadlines, or steps. As the Knowledge for Impact Team at Oxfam, we get to be advocates, thought and resource partners, provocateurs, challengers, and critical friends across the confederation because we build relationships that focus on shared purpose and on the knowledge we can together generate around it.
Giovanna Alvarez-Negretti is the Executive Director at The Online Progressive Engagement Network (OPEN). She was previously Regional Director for the Middle East for the American Friends Service Committee in Jordan, and Co-Founder and Executive Director of ¿Oíste? The Latino Political Organization based in the US.
In this interview, she talks about what it means to be an organizer and an activist in our rapidly changing and digitally-connected world.
You have joined OPEN as their second Executive Director just a few months ago. Can you already share some impressions?
The OPEN network is a fantastic organisation — the leading global organisation seeking to build a sustainable global movement for progressive change. We connect and support national digital campaigning organizations around the world who provide opportunities for activists to influence national and international politics. By providing resources and building deep connections between the staff and volunteers who support these grassroots changemakers, OPEN strengthens and expands this powerful movement. Given my experience in advocacy, civic engagement, political participation and campaigning, and management in different contexts around the world, I feel like I am at the right place at the right time, with the right skill sets to take the organization to the next level. The OPEN network is coming out of its start-up phase. The focus now is to ensure that everything works really well internally so we can better serve our members as we also continue our growth to include more countries from the Global South. I am blown away by the tremendous impact and continued potential of OPEN in today’s world.
Leading a network-driven organisation like OPEN can be challenging. What advantages do you see in such a set-up?
By fostering deep trust and facilitating sharing in this global community of campaigners, technologists and organisers, we have created a one-of-a-kind space for expertise to rapidly cross borders. Through OPEN, our member organisations swap new ideas, technology and innovations. This cross-pollination of campaigns and strategies influences national political moments and social trends, which in turn shape our global political landscape.
Therefore, our impact is deep. From kids being released from Australian detention camps to the first pro-LGBT ad campaign in India, a grassroots Green New Deal movement in Canada to the fight for equitable access to mobile data in South Africa, OPEN member organisations and the activists who power them are transforming everyday people’s lives for the better, campaign by campaign. Thus the setup is, in essence, our collective strength.
How do you keep all the members engaged and motivated?
We engage members in several ways. We catalyse and support joint initiatives between member organisations on shared multi-national goals. We then connect the organisations to each other, facilitating the forging of relationships between members of staff teams, and provide the infrastructure for them to share resources and innovate together. I just recently went to a our global summit where knowledge and experiences were shared and debated by representatives of all 19 organisations. It was incredibly critical and inspiring. When you have those gatherings, not only do you have the learnings and the exchanges, but it also really recharges your battery to understand that you're not alone in this. We call it Resist and Regenerate because we have to continue the resistance, but we also have to regenerate ourselves.
OPEN is more tech and digital-driven than other organisations that you worked with before. How did you adjust to this?
I looked at this challenge in two ways. One, I played to my strengths. At the end of the day, organising is organising and technology is just a tool that enhances it. A good friend said to me that technology is only as good as the people behind it. I figured that I am good at organising and campaigning and I am a fast learner. Second, this way of thinking led me to reach out and learn as much as I could on the subject. During the interview process, I contacted folks in my network who were experts in the digital mobilisation field, many of them working in current political campaigns or with companies that develop mobilisation technology. I asked them all types of questions and learned quite a bit. I shared my learnings in the interviews and that was received really well. Now that I am in the position, I have made it a priority to continue learning on the subject, and I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the basics, enough to help me perform my job well and contribute. It's a continuous journey as technology keeps evolving.
Right now, we are seeing this rise of right-wing and extremist governments everywhere — what gives you hope and motivation and how do you pass this on to your team?
Before coming into this job, I was like everybody else in the world. I was shocked about what is going on and unsure what I could do as an individual person, because what is happening is just too overwhelming. What gives me hope is activism; ordinary people pooling their voice, time and action to make their nations — and with them the world — more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, democratic, equal and fair. Each organization that is part of OPEN provides folks with the necessary tools to organize on the issues they care about. What brings me hope is being part of an organization where we see purpose-built movement organisations dedicated to achieving this vision wherever there is demand for greater grassroots strength on behalf of justice. When we help these organisations become more powerful, efficient and wise by connecting, supporting and inspiring each other across borders - I feel like we have a chance to turn things around together. The need, in fact, is urgent. So we remind each other every day that, in the face of far-right projects rising around the world, it is more important than ever for the global progressive movement to build trust and connections, pool their knowledge and resources and win together. The OPEN network makes that happen.
All together, the OPEN network has a collective membership of 23 million people in different countries working daily to counter the far-right, many under very difficult conditions and circumstances. Knowing that people are so resilient and ready to resist, should give us all a sense of hope.
Being a Latin woman, what are your thoughts about the lack of women of colour in a position such as yours?
When I first considered applying for this position, I looked at the job description and I thought, I don’t have enough digital experience so I won’t apply, even though I had all the other required skills and experience. Research has shown that this happens often with women. We expect a lot of ourselves and this sometimes keeps us from pursuing things that we know we could be good at and can contribute to. This is at times intensified, I believe, by being a person of color. Our way of being is different, our approach is different and we don't “fit” into the mainstream thinking. We look different, dress different, have an accent, have cultural idiosyncrasies, we relate to people in different ways, all of this has an effect on how we act and how we are perceived. There is discrimination, racism and misogyny in the world, and this all contributes to the lack of women in leadership positions.
In my case, I come from a small island in the Caribbean. At times, I have felt intimidated by international roles. English is my second language and my vocabulary sometimes falls short. I hug people. I wear hoop earrings and red lipstick. I talk and laugh loud. I wear feminine clothes. I am very conscious of all these things as I move around in different spaces. This type of thinking can limit your professional development. I have chosen to embrace all these things and see them as strengths and contributions I bring to the table into how I see the world, relate to people and make choices.
Additionally, as a person of colour, I have a wealth of understanding and firsthand knowledge about class, race, ethnicity, culture, bias, and national context because I have lived and am living those realities. I believe it is quite powerful, particularly if you're talking about organisations that want to be inclusive and value-driven. I encourage women of colour to embrace who you are, the knowledge that you bring, and the incredible strength that you have. Think strategically about how you’re going to use those strengths to benefit yourself and the world and then do it.
I have to say that Mission Talent was particularly well positioned and experienced to help me, as a woman candidate of colour, to go through the interview process successfully. I felt valued, understood and supported throughout.
Dr. Suchi Gaur is the Lead, Global Engagement and Strategic Communications at the World YWCA, based in Geneva. She joined the World YWCA in 2018, after working in communication, gender, health and community mobilisation in India and South-East Asia. In this interview, she talks about what young women have in common all over the world, and what it means to ‘walk the talk’ for a global feminist organisation.
You moved from a regional role in South-east Asia to an international organisation in Geneva about a year ago. What advice would you give your past self about this big move?
One of the best decisions I have made in my life has been to make this move to a global position in Geneva, the hub of international NGOs. The advice I would give my past self would be to be more open and prepared for people from different cultures coming together and the implication of this on the way of working, including the cultural difference being in Europe. Working with international organisations comes with learning the art of managing the challenges around global teams. For anyone who wants to make this transition, my suggestion would be to have an open mind to challenges. There are a lot of cultural differences. Geography, food, environment, language — and everything affects you, so unless you are open to challenges, things might not be as pretty as they seem.
What are you most proud of that you’ve achieved so far?
When I joined the World Office, there were these amazing communication channels, but they missed the common thread of being strategically aligned. The office was undergoing transition. One of the things that I'm proud about, is that I have been constantly pushing everyone, including myself, to link communications and engagements in terms of enhancing our movement’s global brand value along with creating more entry points for young women to join the vision. I've been consistent in helping the office shape a vision towards making communication more effective. Change is never easy and it never comes smooth. But with change comes the ease of enhancing impact in the current global development environment.
Earlier this year, we sent a callout to start a global communications group and we now have 20 plus national member associations representatives, with more to join. Previously, each of the 109 member associations working with us globally did so without us having a one on one, group based link to any of their communication point of contacts, which meant that they were not engaged well in our branding activities. Now, we are consulting this group, asking them what will work and what is not working. From a brand perspective, one thing I am proud of is that we are now engaging the movement more into the process of developing the brand rather than just implementing it. We are also starting a young women’s social media champion group where young women are going to work with us and receive training in movement building, campaigning, through social media. Because it’s an organisation for young women, we are involving young women in the very fabric of creation of messages, selection of issues and doing campaigns and collaborations with others out there.
When you're working with young women across so many cultural contexts, what commonalities do you see?
All young women I have worked with, met and spoken to have stories to share. They have stories of success. They have stories of failures. They just need the right platforms to share them, advocate the issues around them, in a way that impact can happen. We have a young woman from Nepal who is working with us very closely. She has these stories of child marriage and runaway child brides from Nepalese villages, and how they have successfully gained a new life, with support of the local YWCA, that you're mesmerised listening to them. Another young woman from Kenya has shared many stories of FGM (female genital mutilation) impact on survivors with us. I have met women from Sri Lanka with inspirational stories of young women working in tea plantations. Despite all the global gaps and cultural and regional divisions, these stories are connecting us to each other because they evoke something in every young woman. This is the driving force behind the need for change. The YWCA movement is full of such stories of success and challenges. Through our upcoming ventures, the World YWCA is trying to see how to map them, connect these young women for consultation and sharing experiences, and then convert these into evidence-based advocacy work.
It can be difficult to work within a networked organisation — what skills do you see leaders needing to do this kind of work, and what skills do you have that have made you successful in this context?
There are a number of skills that complement each other in this context. Networked organisations like the YWCA movement are a very diverse system to function with. A mind-set of inclusivity in leaders is extremely important. Being compassionate, understanding and accepting of the differences yet goal oriented is a must when working in different parts of the world.
The other skill set needed, especially with youth-based organisations, relates to intergenerational collaboration. It is a big strength to have different age groups working in an organisation to keep the mission relevant while integrating generational wisdom.
My biggest learning as a leader has been that while it is important to make your voice heard, it is also critical to remain goal oriented to the larger vision. What happens easily in feminist organisations is that the goal is lost, because everyone is trying to be inclusive. How you work those dynamics is a big challenge, and I try to bring my feminist principles and my leadership principles together under the responsibility of ensuring that everything aligns to a key initiative or goal.
Which aspects of the YWCA global conference, the upcoming World Council in South Africa, are you looking forward too?
It is an exciting time with 300-500 global women and young women coming together. Everyone is super excited about the theme i.e., Young Women Transforming Power Structures for Gender Equality and the location — South Africa, which is so rich and culturally known for women’s movements. The World YWCA is looking forward to some amazing young women-led and focussed consultations and workshops, where we will be bringing great suggestions on how to further implement the bold transformative Goal 2035.
The Council will be a platform where young women will be leading the process of furthering engagement and integration of young women into the processes rather than just given spaces to share voices at the podium.
Feminist organisations always face the challenge of walking the talk. How are young women integrated into the work of gender equality, not just as project managers and beneficiaries, but as decision-makers, do-ers and driving forces? For example, young women together are designing our feminist research methodology which will be shared at the World Council. They are the ones defining how we should consult amongst each other for not just what thematic areas to focus on, but also how. This means, young women are not being seen as mere participants but are driving the processes as they see it making sense for the young women.
You recently returned to work after having your first child and which you have written about. This is an experience so many people have, but our society still does not do a good enough job supporting young families. How has this experience informed your work?
The day I found out I was pregnant, the first thought in my mind was that I have to warn my potential new employer in case they would prefer someone else to take on this role. But my current boss, our General Secretary, Casey Harden reassured me that YWCA is a feminist movement and that pregnancy is such an important phase for a woman which we need to embrace and support. It just strengthened my commitment towards this role because World YWCA made that commitment too — I realised I have to work harder, I have to work smarter, I have to give this more than my 100%.
Even though I applied for day-care while I was pregnant, I haven’t yet been assigned a facility by the Canton of Geneva. Process in Switzerland are very centralised and so, access to daycare facilities aren't easy. This is a problem for working women like me who want to smoothly move back into their jobs post the exhausting process of giving birth. Now, my daughter and my husband come along with me to work. We share the responsibilities of raising our daughter. My colleagues help me and take her on their breaks too sometimes. Constantly breastfeeding in the office is not easy, but there is an element of comfort because my team regards it as normal. It is very important for women to have such a supportive work environment. Women work spaces need to be supportive and conducive to the different roles played by women. This is what walking the talk means at the end and I am extremely lucky that our General Secretary and the whole World YWCA team has been supportive of this process.
We are in a movement where anything we are doing is actually showcasing and setting standards for the outside world to see that things can be done differently. As a women's movement, what you do, and how you walk the talk is actually how the world will look at you and your organisation. This experience has not only made me more receptive to the needs at work space but also the flexibility has helped me become more committed to making my work productive. I juggle at times but I balance it with defining what work will be done when. Feminist workspaces like these showcase that good work cultures mean more than just 9 to 5 work hours, and are aimed at productivity and embracing challenges to make work possible.
When I share with friends and professional colleagues about how the office has been so supportive, the immediate reaction is that “that is so amazing, it is a dream for us women to work in such environments”. This is a reminder that we have a long way to go till we make work spaces for women conducive for them to grow and embrace their challenges.
In August 2018, Mission Talent placed Aura Freeman as Head of Campaigns – Animals in Disasters at World Animal Protection. She previously worked in human rights as a senior campaigner with Amnesty International and with the United Nations, covering issues from LGBT and refugee rights, to FGM and ending slavery.
Before you joined World Animal Protection, you were a campaigner and researcher for human rights for various NGOs. How did you manage this shift from human to animal rights?
I had never worked in animal welfare before joining World Animal Protection, but what really helped was my campaigner skillset. The approach is very much the same: there's a problem and we want to change something in the system. This involves building a strategy, identifying the kinds of tools and tactics that you can use to influence your target audience, and hopefully, get the outcome that you desire.
I did read up a little bit about animal welfare before joining, but I've also had a chance to now learn about it in a more systematic way within the organisation. I think it’s really great that you can shift from one thematic area to another because that flexibility allows you to bring in new perspectives as well. My human rights background has certainly helped me navigate this area with a bit of a different viewpoint and that's been very good.
Bright Ekweremadu is the Country Director of CBM in Nigeria, an organisation working to improve the lives of people with disabilities in the poorest countries worldwide. He was previously the Managing Director at Society for Family Health (SFH), where he served for 14 years.
How have you enjoyed the first months with CBM? What has surprised you about your new role?
I have been here for about three months, and it has been really exciting. I have wonderful colleagues in the country, regional, and international offices as well as the member associates — who are all very helpful, experienced and passionate about their work. It is very motivating and reassuring that I am in the right place.
One major surprise that struck me a few days after I joined is that CBM’s is not as widely known in Nigeria. Even though CBM started here in 1968, it is more known through the work done by its programme implementation partners than by itself. I think we all have to work on making CBM’s name known a lot more — not to take the glory, but for people to know that there is an organisation supporting these partners and their great work.
If you reflect on your transition from Society for Family Health to CBM, how do the two organisations compare in terms of organisational culture and challenges?
Although SFH and CBM both work in health, the two organisations have very different focus areas. At SFH, the focus is on HIV prevention, malaria, and neonatal, maternal and child health. At CBM, the overarching focus is on disability inclusiveness, which is something that is completely new to me. In Nigeria, there are a large number of people living with disabilities and nobody is listening to them or taking care of them.
Both organisations face the challenge that the Nigerian government is still not contributing as it should to public health. It is really unfortunate that the international donor agencies are the ones funding health improvement projects, and the Nigerian government is riding in the backseat. That is gradually changing, but it is going to take some more time before we get to a comfortable level.
What challenges do you see for people with disabilities in Nigeria?
I am very concerned about how persons with disability are surviving in internally displaced people’s camps. If people who are not physically challenged are finding life difficult in such situations, I can only imagine what the disabled are going through. This is one area where CBM has carved a strong niche for itself, although working in conflict areas is a major challenge for us. On a daily basis, I worry about the safety of the staff and partners. They get up in the morning and go into what I would call a battlefield to make sure that they are reaching people. The Government forces are there to help as well as the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO). INSO gathers information about safety issues in the Northeast and we get online immediate alerts once there is an issue at any place and we circulate the information to our staff members. This has been very helpful.
What projects are you currently excited about?
The Seeing is Believing project really excites me. It is a comprehensive eye health programme targeting children under five and it has made a lot of impact with regards to preventable eye problems because children are screened at a young age. For example, recently the Albino Foundation in Nigeria had a national awareness conference where a large number of albinos gathered. We used that opportunity to conduct free screenings for all participants and treating eye problems that would have gone unaddressed otherwise.
Mental health is a major problem in Nigeria and many people are walking around with stigma and are not being helped, so I am excited about the Comprehensive Mental Health Project that is being implemented by the Methodist Church in Nigeria through its NGO subsidiary called Comprehensive Community Mental Health Programme (CCMPH) based in Oturkpo in Benue state. We are currently expanding the project to Borno, which is one of the states where the insurgents have been wreaking havoc since 2009. There are a lot of psychosocial issues associated with people who leave their homes and stay in these camps, so this project could help a lot of people recovering from this trauma.
As a senior leader in Nigeria, what do you consider the key skills a good Country Director needs to bring to the health sector to make an impact?
First and foremost, you need strong advocacy skills in order to see that the relevant policies are promoted and implemented. You also need a strong network and networking skills to partner with government and other organisations. Also, you must have team building and people skills to be able to build a trusting team, socialise and get involved.
What impact did the recent elections in Nigeria have on topics like disability-inclusive development and inclusion as a whole? What challenges or changes do you expect?
An estimated 25% of people have some form of disability, yet at the most basic level, disabled people were hardly considered during the planning stages of the election. Something has to be done so that they are able to exercise their right to vote. The Government of Nigeria should strategically consider the inclusion of disabled people in governance — as is the case in most African countries. But until disabled people are included in government, they cannot be represented adequately, they need to be on the table when decisions are being made so that they are able to speak on behalf of their membership.
Unfortunately, the umbrella organisation of persons with disability in Nigeria seems to have been embroiled in a leadership crisis. This is one area where I want to get involved, to ensure that the trouble gets resolved amicably so that this group can present a common front. This would help them to confront the challenges facing them as a team so that they can speak for themselves and fight for their place at the decision-making table at both the state and federal levels.
If you look at the public health situation in West Africa as a whole, what progress do you see and what gives you hope?
The health indices in almost every country in West Africa are poor. Over 80% of people in West Africa pay for their health out of pocket despite a large number of people living below the poverty line. Recently Ghana has made progress because of its ability to embrace a health insurance scheme. Nigeria has a national health insurance scheme, but it is not working as effectively as it should. Although some state governments in Nigeria have started their own insurance schemes, it will be difficult for them to be effective if the national health insurance scheme is not working well. Both need to be rejuvenated.
Another priority is that healthcare centres need to be strengthened in terms of structure and equipment-- and more importantly in terms of human resources. Our tertiary institutions are supposed to handle only referral cases, but they have become places where people go to for primary ailments. However, there is renewed interest at the federal and state level to rebuild the primary healthcare system. The states of Lagos and Delta are piloting arrangements where private institutions run the primary healthcare centres on behalf of the government. This is an innovative and wonderful approach and I see it as the future of primary healthcare centres and the health system in Nigeria.
In 2016, Mission Talent placed Yeb Saño in the role of Executive Director with Greenpeace Southeast Asia. He previously served as Climate Change Commissioner for the Philippines at the UN climate talks. In this interview, Yeb reflects on making the transition from a diplomat to a campaigner, and what it means to be a leader in a world facing climate crisis.
You have now completed almost four years in the role of Executive Director for GPSEA — can you share how this experience has been for you?
It’s been very rewarding for me, I really love this job. Many NGOs, Greenpeace included, have undergone a lot of challenges in the past three years. But there are also many reasons to celebrate the work we do in Southeast Asia, a very important planetary battleground. This work gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, much more than reasons for me to lose sleep at night. I have been in this role for 1275 days, and within Greenpeace, it has become a bit of a running joke that I count the days because counting days is often interpreted as being in a jail cell awaiting your freedom day. But no, I count the days because I believe every day is a blessing — I get to work with amazing and passionate people who really want to change the world. In the last three years, I've led two ship tours with the Rainbow Warrior in Southeast Asia. In Greenpeace, we say that after you have been on a ship tour, you don’t want to see the ship for a while, and so doing it for two years in a row is quite intense, but it’s been an amazing experience for me and for all the staff and volunteers.
In 2017, Mission Talent placed Melanie Rutten-Sülz in the role of Secretary General at Youth For Understanding. Melanie works at the heart of a global federation of intercultural youth exchange organisations. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Global Coffee Platform, a multi-stakeholder sustainable coffee partnership. In this interview, Melanie reflects on what inspires her, and what she has learned from leading global membership organisations.
You have almost completed two years in the role of the Secretary-General at Youth For Understanding (YFU). Could you tell us in a nutshell, how has this been for you?
It has been an amazing journey over the last two years. I landed in a completely unknown and new organisation, with a strong mission, a very engaged and dedicated community with a global, decentralized setup, and an impressive legacy. But at the same time, from the first moment I started, I really felt at home and that I have arrived in a place where I can have an impact. I identify strongly with the mission and there are great people at YFU helping to bring the organisation into the future.
What are some of the most exciting moments you have been involved in?
Now that 2019 is rapidly getting underway, we hope this mail finds you back at your desk and ready to do great work. While the struggles of the world can weigh heavily upon us, we hope you took some time with your family, friends - and yourself, for some reflection and renewal.
Looking back at 2018, we see shocking incidents of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct, followed by inspiring movements such as #TimesUp and #MeToo. We take strength from the courage of the individuals who have stepped forward, and we are motivated by organizations that are working to authentically address the scope of these issues. The scale of these revelations makes us at Mission Talent feel our sense of mission even more strongly. Now more than ever, the world needs strong leaders who will promote diversity, confront inappropriate behaviour, and shake the structures that allow it to continue. As your search partner, we are committed to helping you find people who can lead this change internally within our sector, and act externally as advocates for human rights in our society.
Within Mission Talent, we take energy for the coming year from our new colleagues. We recently welcomed Nihal and Anabella, who respectively bring knowledge of civil society in Egypt and Venezuela; and expertise in social psychology and lean management. In our tenth year as a company, we look forward to continuing to expand our team in 2019.
We are also inspired by some of our new clients, like BRAC, ALIMA, OPEN and the Oak Foundation, and returning clients like CBM and Greenpeace. These searches further deepen our commitment to placing diverse candidates, specifically women and leaders from the global South and East. We look forward to continuing to strengthen our expertise in recruiting diverse leadership for our clients worldwide.
We wish you every success for the coming year, that you may have a strong team around you, passion for your work, and space to personally develop and grow.
Please write to us anytime and say hello, we would be happy to hear from you.
The Mission Talent Team
Katja, Emily, Lin, Spencer, Lara, Mwende, Anabella and Nihal
It’s a career truth: one day you are the candidate, and the next you are sitting across the table leading the interview. But being a panel member is not the time to sit back and relax − your engagement plays a key role in a successful hiring process .
Since 2010 Mission Talent has led more than 340 search processes for roles in over 60 countries across the world. We have worked with a variety of panels; most of them great - though some were not engaged, others too participative and some which even pushed candidates away with an old-school hierarchical approach.
We have found that the quality of your contribution does not depend on how experienced you are: whether you have interviewed hundreds of people or whether it’s your first time, your approach, attitude, and engagement are crucial.
Let’s start at the beginning: if you are working with a hired search consultant, let them guide you. Understand and respect the process to which you have agreed; you are partners with the same goal. Do not dismiss the importance of specific steps, and ask questions if you do not understand.
An initial briefing call forms the foundation of the whole search; give the recruiter 40 minutes of your valuable time to have a briefing about the role. During this conversation, you can provide your insights into the role and share what your key requirements are. Even the best recruiters won’t find outstanding candidates for you based only on the job specification!
The role briefing is a conversation that has to happen with everyone who is part of the panel. Why? To ensure alignment amongst panel members. If you disregard this step, chances are, that weeks down the line, you’ll be forced to discuss the role when presented with candidates that not everyone finds suitable. Not only will candidates pick-up that the panel has no idea what they want, you might also find yourself back at the drawing board and having wasted the candidates’ and the recruiter's time − not to mention your own. It could even affect the reputation of your organisation.
It is your responsibility to ensure that the right questions are asked when you interview candidates. Ask your own questions; no one else can decide on your behalf what questions should be asked that would ultimately determine whether you want to hire someone or not. Therefore, before an interview, familiarise yourself with the profiles of candidates, read previous interview reports, and think about what you want to know about this candidate for you to feel equipped and comfortable in making a decision.
During an interview, have a conversation and a debate; an eye-level discussion is the respectful way to engage. There is no need for trick questions or an interrogative top-down approach. Be honest, transparent and professional. If you want to know about the candidates’ strengths, weaknesses and failures, then you should also be prepared to discuss your organisation’s successes and challenges. Not allowing candidates the time or safe space to ask questions, or even refusing to answer questions about non-confidential information is just bad manners.
It is crucial to keep in mind that, during an interview, candidates are also interviewing their potential future employer. If you do not perform and represent your organisation well, there is a big chance that you might lose the interest of your most sought-after candidates. Start off by introducing yourself as a panel− do not expect that candidates know who you are. Ensure that you also introduce the role before you start asking questions, as this will lay the foundation for an informed and trusted discussion where both parties can test suitability.
Use an appropriate setting for an interview. The setting conveys a lot about you and your organisation. Refrain from using a telephone for off-site interviews since voice calls reflect only half the story. Modern technology allows for video calls, even in areas with weak connectivity (yes, we have had interviews with someone sitting in the Zimbabwean bush with elephants strolling by in the background).
Double-check how you come across during the video call. A virtual space does not warrant you to neglect basic manners. Act as you would if you were all sitting together for an on-site interview: do not lie on a bed(!), be dressed appropriately, ensure that there are no interruptions, and do not read or respond to emails or check Facebook. For more about video call etiquette, please read this blog we published recently.
Overall, it is important that you assist your search consultant to stick to their process. You can support this by participating in meetings and calls scheduled to discuss candidates and by not changing set interview dates. Again, a frequent or inexplicable change of dates makes candidates lose interest; and rightly so.
Respond promptly to your search consultant’s questions. Great candidates are in demand and have other options; they need to be kept engaged and attracted to the role. Delaying a response might lead the candidate to lose interest. Remember, the search consultant can only represent your organisation favourably if you present him or her with sufficient information to actually do so.
Please remember, every step in a search and selection process is supposed to be a two-way street: both your relationship with your search consultant and your interaction with candidates. You have to show as much excitement, investment and interest in filling this role as you would expect from the candidate. If not, you’ll just end up sitting at the table alone.
A few weeks ago, on the brink of a new search, I contacted a candidate - who we had placed last year in another role - for recommendations. Based on the location and scope of the role, I was pretty sure she would know some interesting leads to potential candidates. .
And she did. She actually recommended someone who she had seen in a recruitment process a while ago and explained why the panel had really liked and appreciated that individual , even though they eventually chose someone else.
We then got in touch with that person, assessed her interest and evaluated her as part of the process for a client. A few weeks later she was hired.
So, what is the takeaway?
Once you join a recruitment process, you are keen to explore the role and see if this is for you - and you the right fit for the organisation.You imagine yourself in this role, you prepare, you have conversations about it and you feel ready for the challenge. But not everyone can be the perfect fit. However positive and constructive the feedback might be, being declined can hit hard.
But there is a bright side: you have been out there and demonstrated your capabilities! And the advantage of that is that even if you were not the right fit for that particular role, people will remember you for your capabilities, expertise and passion.
And while it may seem little comfort after rejection, it is important to remember that being being declined for a job is just that—it’s not about you, but simply your fit for that one post. Staying positive and engaged will mean there are many more chances for the future.
Nervousness hit me when I read the email from the Africa Prisons Project:
“Kamiti is a male maximum security prison... [Visitors] should avoid being in a secluded area alone with an inmate. It is important to adhere to appropriate official dress code, avoid tight fitting or revealing clothes. The clothes should not show cleavage or expose upper arms and mini or small dresses should be discouraged.”
From my childhood, we knew that the worst criminals were locked up at Kamiti, and here I was voluntarily visiting the prison! I imagined it to be dark and grungy. I expected it to be in the poorest conditions possible. I felt butterflies in my stomach. Why am I doing this?
On the way to the prison, I sat quietly. My Mum was driving; we were going to do the visit together. She tried to calm me down with bubbly talk, but all I wanted was quiet to deal with the nerves. I kept the reason for our visit in mind: I was keen to see the work that APP is doing, firsthand. I am leading the searches for their new Director of Development, Legal Services and Director of Legal Education. This visit would allow me to have a better understanding of APP, and help me as I continue with the search. I also wanted to experience true Christianity in action, which is what I believe APP is doing with the work in prison.
We reached the gates of the Kamiti Maximum Prison 20 minutes before our appointed time. A call to the Country Director assured us that we could drive in and park, but we would have to wait in the parking lot for her, as she had our permission letter for us to enter the prison. There was a long pedestrian line at the main gate. By coincidence, we had come on Remote Parenting Day. Families would bring food and spend the day with Dad, as the children are also on holiday at this time.
The second gate into the prison, where the prisoners are actually held, is a big wooden door with a red sign at the top. No pictures allowed. We proceeded to the reception where we handed in our IDs, letter and car keys. Then we had a security check; removing our shoes, belts and jewellery.
A guard was assigned to us, and we walked across the courtyard to the Academy, where APP carries out its legal education programme. There is also a primary and secondary school for inmates who would like to complete their education.
As soon as we were assigned a guard, I remembered our conversation with the Country Director: we should stick close to her and the guard, we should not speak to inmates, and if they did approach us or even ask for contacts, we should direct them to APP. I noticed that the CD was also fiddling with her coat and buttoning up! I pulled my sweater close across my chest. My Mum was so calm!
As we walked through a third gate, into the courtyard, there was a lot of camaraderie. A tent set up on one side and a jumping castle on the other. There was music playing and generally happy mood in the air. I felt calm. There were family members everywhere.
We went through a fourth gate to the industrial side of the prison where the Academy was. As we passed through each gate, the guards greeted us with big smiles, hearty handshakes and only good vibes towards APP.
There were prisoners everywhere. As we walked past, I kept my head down. No eye contact. I did not want an incident. Nonetheless, I looked around the courtyards. It wasn't as I expected. It was clean, for all intents and purposes. It was not grungy. But we could not access the area where the prisoners are locked up. The cells. Maybe that side is a different story.
A fifth gate led us into the Academy. Here we spoke briefly to an administrator, and then we sat down in the back of a class session for the law programme. Two of the students were prison guards and the third was an inmate. The students interacted with each other and with the tutor in a way that showed interest and passion. At this point, APP has about 40+ inmates and prison wardens enrolled in the law degree programme with the University of London. The courses have already saved lives: a death row inmate and APP student named Susan Kigala won her court case and was released from prison. As a result of her case, the law no longer mandates capital punishment for all murder cases in Uganda.
As we left the Academy, we stopped to speak to an APP student, now in his third year. He is the 13th petitioner in a case before the High Court. Because of his studies under the APP Legal Education Programme, he is able to represent himself and the other 12 petitioners! He told us that he is in favour with the judge, maybe because of good standing of APP, or the fact that he is an inmate who knows the law.
Seeing the work and positive impact of APP at Kamiti Prison was heartwarming. The good name that APP has amongst the prison staff and wardens was also great to see. This visit was definitely an added motivation to continue supporting APP!
On the way out of Kamiti, my Mum made sure to buy some plants from the prison nursery to support the inmates' efforts; may they grow as the work of APP grows and positively impacts the lives of prisoners.
Mwende Njuguna is a Senior Consultant with Mission Talent.
In 2003, I was an intern in New York City and I went to see Jeffrey Sachs (then director of the Earth Institute of Columbia University) deliver a series of lectures on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These became the foundation for the Millennium Project, and Sachs served as the chief ambassador for the MDGs for several years afterwards.
It was an exciting time. The MDGs were new, digestible goals that people could latch onto. Pragmatic thinking was king – if we just had the planning and the resources to go about it, we could end poverty.
I would take the train uptown and then sit in the audience, utterly inspired. I was young and impressionable and Jeff Sachs was my hero. After every lecture, there was Q&A, and I remember a student asking him, “what advice would you give us? how can we be involved?” He said something to the effect of -- get a skill: become a water engineer or a health specialist or a city planner.
His answer haunted me for years. Like half the students in the room, I had studied international relations. I could not fit water pipes and knew nothing about distributing bed nets. It was too late for me.
But last week at work I had an “Aha!” moment. After talking to the ED of an organization providing access to legal education for prisoners, and then with a social entrepreneur scaling up services for farmers in West Africa to access credit, I realized that I was actually doing what Jeffrey Sachs advised: I acquired a skill and I was using it.
I like to think that international development has come into a new way of thinking. That we now recognize that in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to invest in developing leaders and strengthening organizations. They are the lifeblood of sustainability.
That is why our work at Mission Talent is so important to us. No matter what an organization may be tackling; from climate change to safe abortion access, we listen to their needs, analyze the market, and dive into the work of finding great candidates. And maybe it is not as simple as what Jeffrey Sachs proposed, but 2015 has come and gone.
Emily is Head of Research at Mission Talent, and she previously wrote about the SDGs here.
How many times have I heard someone say that they applied for a job that they thought was a great match, but they did not even get a response from the advertising organization?
Whether or not you get that interview depends on what the organization wants. This may or may not be explicitly stated in the position’s description. They may be looking for the “outside of the box” candidate rather than someone with a proven track record.
Even if that’s not the case, experience and a great track record do not guarantee that you will be selected for the interview or get the job. Some positions are just not made for you – even though they may look like they are.
The interviewers may be looking for “new” skill sets or a “different” type of candidate. In an NGO context, this might mean candidates with a business background or entrepreneurial experience. At a CEO level, it could mean someone with change management experience.
The organization may be more interested in candidates with compelling backgrounds that can represent the organization externally, perhaps those working on issues like justice and human rights. Larger INGOs are likely to have more resources to invest in their staff’s professional development.
Contractors or organizations that are grant and performance-based are more likely to look for the best candidate in terms of experience, past results, and technical skills. They often cannot afford to take a chance or wait for employees to learn and grow. They have goals to reach within a time frame.
If you have already relationship with the recruiter, you may always send a quick message to them asking about the role and its scope and find out their opinion on your background and whether the role would be a good fit.
The bottom line is: if you believe you are right for the position, take the time to craft your CV to highlight where you meet the job requirements. If you believe your skills are transferrable, make your case succinctly.
You might know you have the experience needed, but it may not be visible on your CV. Make your CV easy to understand and no longer than a couple of pages. Include numbers of staff and budgets managed, and your responsibilities. More importantly though, state your achievements! To some readers, your CV is more important than your cover letter.
These days, it seems every organization has a plan: a 2020 vision or a 2030 Agenda. It all sounds so futuristic. The years tick by faster than we think, and as soon as we know it, it’s time to devise a new plan.
But when we at Mission Talent look to the future, we want to see a goal for more diverse and representative leadership. Who are the leaders of 2030, and what are we doing right now to promote diversity in leadership?
Organizations must take responsibility for their diversity– and we as employees, partners and members of civil society– must hold them accountable for doing so. The excuses of the twentieth century are crumbling, now is the time to be courageous and forward-thinking.
Here are eight ideas. We would also love to hear your thoughts via Twitter or LinkedIn comments.
1. Understand that diversity covers many things – ability, gender, race, nationality, economic status, language and more. Diverse leaders bring diverse perspectives.
2. Do a diversity audit at all levels of your organization: you might be surprised what you find.
3. Have uncomfortable conversations with colleagues. Take the time to understand what’s missing from your team and plan for the future.
4. Design recruitment processes that reach broader talent pools. A strategic process will help you reach more diverse candidates. Bring in experts to help you do that if necessary.
5. Take risks & invest. Don’t just hire the safe candidate or the insider – recruit people to challenge the status quo. Invest in employee training. Today’s junior hire is tomorrow’s leader.
6. Don’t tolerate discrimination and harassment anywhere; you lose great talent when people feel marginalized.
7. Give employees opportunities to fit work into their lives. Raising small children and caring for elderly parents are life phases. So are caring for one’s well being or pursuing further education. Employees who are given flexibility through these periods are likely to stay loyal.
8. One new diverse hire is undoubtedly a good step. But it’s the beginning of a journey, not the end. Build an onboarding plan that prepares the employee to succeed and provides her with ongoing support.
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.
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.
A great initiative is happening today throughout Africa, attempting to garner pan-African solidarity towards ‘calling out our leaders on (Africa’s) failures and building a better, more just, more peaceful and sustainable Africa’. The ‘Africa Rising’ initiative was created by a group of 272 people from 44 African countries assembled in Arusha, Tanzania in 2016. The greatest thing about this meeting was that young Africans were at the core of this movement with ‘social inclusion, peace and shared prosperity’ as its themes.
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 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.
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.