For ICLD:s new secretary general the mission is bigger than the operation

Johan Lilja joins ICLD from a position as a Director of Läkarmissionen, but he has also held numerous senior positions in Swedish trade and industry, lived and worked in Kenya for three years as the Project Manager for development projects financed by SIDA (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), and worked as the CEO of Gunnebo Industries South Africa.
But whatever his job, Johan Lilja has been committed to aid issues since his teens, and describes himself as “a charismatic auditor”.
“I’m a bit of a walking contradiction. I like numbers and working with Excel spreadsheets, but at the same time, I use my hands a lot when I talk and I’m pretty expressive – I never use 2 words when 3 will do!” says Johan.

Johan believes that interpersonal interactions are important. He likes combining the heart and the head and developing personally by travelling to new places and encountering new cultures and environments.
As ICLD’s Secretary General, Johan is keen to defend what has been developed, to develop methods and routines for continued growth, and to be a leader who inspires employees to achieve the organisation’s full potential.

“An organisation’s personnel are, for me, the operations’ real asset. Creating new opportunities for people has always been what really motivates me. All my experience tells me that people have a real ability to change, but without the tools and opportunities to realise their lifetime dreams, they get frustrated, conflicted, and grind to a halt.”

Why did the thought of leading ICLD appeal?
“ICLD is an important organisation because democracy is important. And it’s never felt as vital as it does right now. You only have to look around in the world to see that fact underlined over and over and over again. Acting as the leader of an organisation that bases its work on partnerships that focus on democratic issues is both exciting, interesting and important.”
Johan Lilja has extensive experience of building organisations, structures, quality control systems, and goal-fulfilment routines. He is keen to work with his new colleagues to establish a learning organisation based on best practice.
“I see my role as creating an organisation that delivers continuity and a high quality “product”. Producing consistent, stable results will help us continue to grow the confidence that principals and clients have in us.”

What differences and similarities do you see between ICLD and Läkarmissionen?
“The primary difference is that when it comes to financing, Läkarmissionen has applied a marketing strategy that uses all market channels in parallel in order to stand out from the media crowd. At ICLD, it’s more a question of working closely with municipalities and county councils to offer relevant and interesting collaboration projects,” says Johan.
He goes on to say that, “Another difference is that ICLD has a large body of research and development in its back pocket and that research provides important input when it comes to designing and developing tomorrow’s collaboration projects. That feels incredibly valuable and important.”

What do you see as ICLD’s biggest challenge?
“It would be arrogant of me to set our biggest challenge in stone at this early stage, so I’ll have to stick to overall generalities. For me, you can describe our organisation’s raison d’être in a single word, namely “relevance”. We must be true to our core values, develop what makes us unique, and ensure that we provide maximum added value for our principals. We mustn’t just exist for the sake of existing: our mission is bigger than our operations.”

Johan Lilja’s new professional challenge includes a cultural journey. But whatever the environment – he brings his commitment to democratic issues and his desire to help with him, from the big city buzz of Stockholm to the World Heritage town of Visby.

“Setting up home in Visby is going to be great. It’s all going to be something of an adventure – moving to Gotland and having the chance to work there with the sort of important and exciting issues that local democracy entails!”