Changes from within: Asia Koerten and Giulia Cortellesi appointed co-Directors

Starting on 1st May 2022, our organization has new leadership: ICDI’s very own Asia Koerten and Giulia Cortellesi, jointly taking the role of co-directors. Asia and Giulia have worked for ICDI for over a decade and are fully committed to developing further ICDI’s mission to support children and young people growing up in difficult circumstances. With this new direction, ICDI will continue to create a happy life for all children through innovative solutions and strong partnerships.

The past two years are a time we perhaps would like to forget but cannot and should not. The havoc the COVID-19 pandemic created in the world is still beyond our capacity to begin to deal with or understand. In addition, our organisation went through many changes, and 2021 was an especially hard year for ICDI. Eventually, we found the courage to continue our work and to believe in ICDI’s capacity to bring big change to the world even as a small independent organization. In 2022, a new chapter begins with two strong, committed, and passionate women, who will guide ICDI to a future that, albeit uncertain, feels promising and exciting.

In this short interview, Asia and Giulia will tell us more about themselves and their vision and aspirations for ICDI.

Interviewing Giulia and Asia on their new role as co-directors

Congratulations, Asia and Giulia on this new role!

You have both been at ICDI for a long time, could you tell us how that has been like for you?

Giulia: I have been working for ICDI for almost 12 years. That means I am very happy here because you do not stay so long in a job unless you really like it. It was and is my dream job because I really enjoy being able to work on projects related to children’s rights and being able to do different things within a project, from fundraising to management, from research to training.

Asia: I am also around for a very long time, but my responsibilities were more directed to operations, and I am happy to continue with that part of the job. The fact that I have been around for such a long time, just like with Giulia, means that ICDI is a place where I feel at home. We always say that ICDI is, in fact, the people who make ICDI.

What are your most excited about?

Giulia: I am excited to start this new position, because it will require a lot of learning and adaptation. After so many years in an organisation, it is great to be able to look at things from different perspectives and keep the learning alive. I also find it extremely exciting to experiment a dual-leadership approach with Asia. I could not think of a better person to do this with: we complete each other professionally. I am also proud that ICDI will have two women in the lead.

It is also wonderful to have our team growing from the bottom up and getting more and more diverse in terms of cultural and educational backgrounds. This growth involves a lot of training, a lot of coaching on the job, and a lot of questioning of our own assumptions and of the way we do things. It’s a new energy that is helping us renovating the organisation from within.

Asia: Going back to strength indeed, with the added value of a shared leadership. I am excited with the fact that ICDI, in its 28 years of experience, will now have equal representation of female and male leaders, since we had 2 male directors before. I am ready to focus on bringing the fun back and moving away from the crisis mode of the past two years. The prospects have not changed dramatically (yet) but we changed the way we view things: we turned the corner together and we want to push forward. We all agree that ICDI is the place where we want to be. 

How have things changed for ICDI during the pandemic?

Asia: We missed our partners a lot. In the past two years, the way we have developed and carried out our projects moved away from direct contact in favour of online collaboration, as most other organisations did. We truly miss the personal interaction with our partner organisationsWe have also learned a great deal in terms of doing things remotely versus being present in the office, exchanging ideas, and reaching out to people in new ways. Our work will be different than it was before COVID and I hope we can find some exciting new way of doing our jobs, where we blend the old with the new in a hybrid solution. In the end, the COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes to different ways of participation and inclusion and emphasised the value of things we took for granted.

Giulia: We started building new partnerships and began cooperating with organisations that were not in our network before. The issues we work on such as playful learning, online violence against girls and women, and youth participation are current and relevant. Other organisations are looking for expertise and knowledge centres such as ICDI to help them work on these themes. It is nice to feel that our work is recognised and that our capacity building processes are searched for and appreciated.

What is your ambition for ICDI?

Asia: My ambition is to make sure ICDI continues aspiring to be the best possible employer for our hard-working staff, who put heart and energy in improving the circumstances of children around the world. I am excited about our growing team, and I hope that the enjoyment I gain from working at ICDI is a feeling that all my colleagues will share. ICDI is quite a unique place to work at and I hope we can maintain this uniqueness where people really want to join and do not want to leave.

Giulia: My ambition for ICDI is to have a hand in making ICDI into a strong organisation that contributes in a meaningful way to promoting child rights around the world. I hope we will be able to continue coming up with innovative ideas that can help children, families, communities, and systems with the issues they are facing.

How would you describe each other and how this helps you in leading the organisation?

Asia: Giulia is an extremely structured, perpetual energy kind of person. What is special about her is that she has the remarkable capacity to channel any thought into practical action. This certainly promotes the speed of processes, which goes against what people typically say about things happening very slowly in NGOs. Giulia can be sceptical, but she is never afraid of trying new things.

Giulia: What I love about Asia is her passion. She is always passionate about things, but she is not afraid of questioning her passionate opinions with others. She thrives working together in a team, taking a lot of energy from it. I also love her curiosity. Despite her focus on HR and finances, she always put herself forward in developing contents and delivering training. I also appreciate very much her supportive attitude towards all the colleagues.

We work as critical friends for each other. Our relationship started more than 10 years ago. In fact, Asia was the one who hired me. I appreciate that we are building the organisation from the bottom up.

What would you like to say to Nico van Oudenhoven, ICDI’s founder and interim director during 2021?

Giulia: We are very grateful to Nico. In the past year, he helped us navigate ICDI from difficult waters into the position we are now. The future is still open in terms of outcomes, but we are operating with more energy and more hope.

Asia: I think that part of the trust we have in the organisation comes from the absolute confidence that Nico has that ICDI will survive. He put himself forward; not for ICDI as an abstract creation of his but for the ICDI that is ‘us’. He paid attention to us as separate individuals and pointed out how the organisation could be perfect for us. That it is a gift. Nico is not afraid of change and transformation and that helped us move forward. There is a risk when bringing people back to old functions, they might want to return to their old days. This was not the case with Nico!

Do you have any final thoughts you want to leave us with?

We would like to thank all our colleagues, old and new, for the great work they do and for trusting us. Feeling that this change is not only supported but welcomed by the team made it possible for us to step forward and take on this role. We are aware that we are asking a lot from the team right now: they are getting used not only to new leadership but also to dual leadership. We are thankful for the teams’ support in this process.

We would also like to thank all our partners and donors, who continue to show trust in us.

Finally, we would like to thank all the new friends of ICDI, with whom we look forward to working in the future.