Interview with LIDC Centre Manager, Iris Hofmann

Written by Sarah Koedijk

September 3, 2018

Last week, we were thrilled to interview LIDC’s new Centre Manager, Iris Hofmann, who began her role in July. Iris discussed her previous academic research, professional experience in the private sector, and project management.

1. What does your role involve?

As Centre Manager, I am responsible for the management of the whole of LIDC. It’s a very diverse job. I’m very much involved with operational tasks, such as finance and HR. However, I also take care of istrative concerns. For example, at the moment, I am preparing LIDC’s final accounts and tomorrow I will be leading an interview session for a new employee. I also provide managerial support to partner projects such as the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation or the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.

If I personally cannot assist, I connect our partners with our member institutions, such as LSHTM, who will be able to answer their queries. I furthermore work on LIDC’s strategy, such as setting new strategic goals for the next year. Here we’re thinking about where we want the organisation to go and what we want to focus on. And I inform the team of our potential strategy and make sure that everyone is on board.

2. What research did you do as an academic?

I did my PhD in Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. My thesis was quite theoretical. It explored how to implement and shape stakeholder dialogues in multinational corporations. I applied a theory called “Deliberative Democracy”, which was created by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. The theory argues that political decisions should be the result of fair and reasonable discussion and debate among citizens.

As “Deliberative Democracy” is a very theoretical concept, I also considered the theory’s practical implications. Here, I looked into global multi-stakeholder networks, such as the United Nations Global Compact and the Forest Stewardship Council. I analysed how both networks shape and implement their stakeholder dialogues. Subsequently, I evaluated whether we can learn something from these processes and assessed how such dialogues could be structured for multinational companies.

3. How will your experience in the private sector help you in your current role as LIDC manager?

I worked as a product manager for six years in two different publishing houses in Germany. Here, I was responsible for the organisations’ product management. I ran several different projects at a time and was in charge of the whole product implementation process: from an initial idea, over the planning process and launch, to the financial management of a product.

LIDC is like a product to me. As Centre Manager I am responsible for a number of subprojects, which I have to manage to ensure that all processes run smoothly. For instance, the upcoming LIDC Short Course has required careful project management, from setting the timeline and collecting resources, to publishing and advertising the course. The planning process demands organisation, time management and communication. The private sector has taught me all of these skills. And I believe they will undoubtedly benefit my work with LIDC.

4. What excites you most about your role at LIDC?

LIDC is a very exciting organisation because it acts as a facilitator for interdisciplinary research. We work at the intersection of academia and NGOs, and in the future maybe even companies. Getting people together for ground-breaking research and inspiring projects is exciting to me. In my role I act as a facilitator too. I take care of the business side of the job, so that the researchers may focus on their core competency, research. By using my core competencies, business and finance, I hope to support LIDC so it can thrive to do the best research possible.

I am also thrilled to work in an academic environment. I believe that the research we are doing in international development is vital to global development. Therefore, being involved with such research is very fruitful, especially coming from a business ethics and CSR background. Consequently, I want to do my part so that the researchers don’t worry about the business side of research. Business can be in the background so that research can be in the foreground.

5. What advice would you give to someone considering a career in a similar role?

The role of Centre Manager requires solid project management skills, such as finance and accounting. But it also demands good communication skills as you coordinate with many people, for instance from our member colleges or external project partners. Therefore, you should be someone who enjoys communicating and building networks. You should also be confident to ask critical questions.

Furthermore, a similar role would require project management skills. These refer to practical skills. These are not just the skills you can gain from going into a seminar and learning how project management is done in theory, but the experience of running big projects. They also include experience of organising events or product launches and understanding the constraints of such processes. Therefore, if you are interested in a career in a similar role, it is always a good idea to go in the private sector or work for an NGO. Especially if you come from an academic employment background, the private sector will give you an idea of how the entrepreneurial side of things work. I think that’s very, very important.