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‘Get to know us!’: Federica De Benedittis, Career Development Office

‘Get to know us!’: Federica De Benedittis, Career Development Office

Hello Federica!
Your background and experience with NGOs are impressive. You have worked for several well-known organizations, such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, Amref Health Africa, holding managerial and executive roles.

  • What are you taking with you from your collaborations with Doctors Without Borders, what have you learned in particular?

‘Get to know us!’: Federica De Benedittis, Career Development OfficeMSF was a bit like my first great love, I would say a lightning strike. When I learned that I had been chosen from a huge pool of candidates, I could not believe it… MSF embodied all my ideals and my vocation for the humanitarian world: the concrete approach – not paternalistic, fearless but not self-congratulatory, interventionist but respectful of local cultures, the logistical strength, the hard work and tireless efforts to save lives.
In MSF I learned organizational processes and the integration of functions. I learned to read numbers and to manage respectful confrontation with diversity, the stubbornness in achieving objectives and the management of complex and multifaceted relationships, and many technical aspects of High Value Donors.

  • What about Amref Health Africa, where you held the role of Director of Fundraising and Communication?

On the other hand, Amref, was a challenge for me that I took up with great determination and enthusiasm.
I arrived at a time of great changes in both organizational structure and management, and I was called to coordinate a new department, the result of the union of the fundraising and communication areas. Thanks to the experience in Amref, I have learned a lot, both from a technical and professional point of view, but above all regarding relations with staff and management, precisely because I had the privilege of participating in the construction of a new positioning of the organization. This process costed a lot to the people at Amref in terms of adapting to new styles and models, especially in a historically difficult time to arouse interest in Africa. I also learned that leadership is mainly based on example and that the greatest job a leader can do is to be able to lead towards a common vision by enhancing and knowing how to harmonize everyone’s skills and differences.

  • The biggest challenge in your career so far?‘Get to know us!’: Federica De Benedittis, Career Development Office

It was certainly the transition from an organization in which I carried out a specialist job in which my role and leadership were strongly established to an organization in which it was essential to first build trust and recognition of my figure. Along with this, adapting to smaller work contexts in which relational dynamics were central to the technical one. A great challenge indeed.

  • What were your moments of greatest difficulty and greatest successes?

An instinctive answer to this question comes to mind, but it is not rhetorical.
I really think my greatest successes were when I managed to turn difficulties into opportunities. If at the beginning this approach required enormous effort, over time and training has become an almost automatic practice in my work.

  • What is the biggest cause that drives and interests you the most?

That of the invisible people, of the excluded because of social injustice determined by human will, especially when children and adolescents are the most affected, or the most vulnerable people of all, whose basic rights are radically and totally denied.

  • You created a special project, “The Good Skills”: how important are softs skills for NGOs? Do you think there is a lot to improve on this? What are the biggest shortcomings?

‘Get to know us!’: Federica De Benedittis, Career Development OfficeThe cultural differences and the profound diversity of contexts that I have experienced have given me the privilege of witnessing first-hand the ability of people (both beneficiaries and aid workers and expats) to deal with extremely critical situations in countries where emergency is a constant. The experiences on the field made me understand that more than any other solution, in addition to logistics and professional technical preparation, what really matters is the ability to resist, to adapt and take “absorbing” forms to suffering. Endurance, perseverance, the ability to move forward and rebuild, the non-passive acceptance of the condition of poverty and hardship. The acceptance of differences, understanding and compassion towards the other person as a human being recognized as identical in needs and rights. When I was in the Red Cross, one of the fundamental principles that bound the staff of volunteers and professionals to the mission was that of Humanity; a central value, even more where human beings organize and coexist, be it a company, a family, or an organization. This principle has always been the guiding star that led me, inspired me, and allowed me to experiment with models of resistance and evolution. For this reason, I feel I can say that everything concerning transversal skills deals precisely with the profound sense of humanity that binds all of us and that delivers us to the world as absolutely interdependent.
Often it is precisely the organizational and decision-making processes of NPOs that lack soft skills, which instead have a key importance precisely for the effectiveness of planning development and growth activities.

  • You are writing a book on soft skills and leadership in non-profits, which will also have a small contribution from Marco Crescenzi, President of Social Change School. Why this idea?

Striving to be aware and develop or enhance one’s interpersonal skills is of fundamental importance in this time of‘Get to know us!’: Federica De Benedittis, Career Development Office sudden changes, strong uncertainty, and volatility. Adaptive skills are now especially required. In recent years, the global socio-economic context has changed considerably, and we are all immersed in a changing reality that requires adaptability and innovation. It is increasingly necessary to find solutions that are tailored to their own contexts and characteristics, excluding standardized responses. There is a need for the so-called “divergent thinking”, working methods that generate creativity, enhancement of the individual and attention to the contribution of everyone regardless of role and hierarchy. We need a leadership based on human rather than technical skills, such as knowing how to listen and value collaborators by strongly believing in their ability to generate innovative contributions. It is especially essential to build acute and agile leadership that knows how to inspire towards a broad vision, capable of intercepting and adapting to new phenomena and that creates shared value first of all internally, to ensure that a significant social impact is then generated.

  • What do you like the most about Social Change School? How do you believe you will contribute to the CDS Office?

The dedication of the staff and the professionalism of the teachers guarantee educational quality, as well as the originality of the programs and the attention to career development through an accurate and well-structured service. I believe I can personally bring a deep knowledge of the non-profit professional market, and a very extensive and trustworthy network of contacts.

  • To conclude this interview: what piece of advice would you like to give to our students and to those who work in the Non-profit sector?

Instinctively, I would say they have or will have the best job in the world, but I am too biased! The suggestion I would like to give is to always be hungry for knowledge and have the desire to learn new things. Working for social change is a great mission, but also a huge responsibility that must be carried out with profound professionalism.
Finally, I cannot avoid reiterating the key importance of relational skills that must always be kept as a guide that will constantly direct our being transformed into acting for the authentic good of the people or the environment we want to take care of.


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