Seeking Leaders for Global Change

Leadership Transitions #8: in this series, leaders placed by Mission Talent reflect on successes, challenges and skills

Written by Mission Talent Team

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.

Mission Talent Team