It’s the end of a tremendous era but as one amazing Founder and CEO says farewell – a new and promising CEO begins. To mark the official transition, we talked with departing Kigge Hvid and her successor Liza Chong to look back on some memorable moments, reflect on the present and, of course, consider the future.

Kigge Hvid officially announced her resignation last month after founding and leading the organisation for more than 16 years. She hands the reigns over to former Strategy & Program Director Liza Chong who for the past 8 years has led INDEX’s investment program, as well as many other large-scale global partnerships. Both women have made an immense contribution to the company and will continue to do so. As of today, Kigge will lead a new Advisory Board that will, in close cooperation with the INDEX: Award Jury, support the future development and growth of the organisation.

Q: Liza, what initially drew you to INDEX?

LC: I was drawn to the values of INDEX in profiling, celebrating and communicating how design can improve quality of life. Up until moving to Denmark, I had been working mainly in the public, development and charitable sectors. It was really refreshing to come to the INDEX organisation where the vibrancy and attitude was all about sharing the amazing personal stories and creativity, as well as showing the human capacity to incrementally or radically make a difference – suddenly those massive problems could be solvable and not just limited to governments, institutions or individual organisations to unlock.

The mission of INDEX embeds an optimism and hope for a better world and that a strong understanding of the problem will provide confidence in building better solutions that are needed.

As the acting CEO, what are you hoping to bring?

LC: I’ve had the tremendous honour of being led and coached by Kigge from the start. She has opened my eyes to a different type of leadership and with that, given me the courage to try new things and to find a style complimentary to who I am. I hope to bring a different approach that I feel is respectful of what the organisation INDEX is: globally-minded, diverse, creative and focussed on where our programs are needed. I’m a third culture kid which means that I’ve grown up never fitting into any precise category or box, that background makes me inevitably matched to the organisation where we don’t fit into a specific shelf by challenging people’s stereotypes and biases.

Looking back, Kigge, what are some of your fondest memories?

KH: They are so many that I feel very, very privileged. Thinking about it, the fondest memories are always related to people. The many, many jury meetings with inspiring discussions; the many meetings with finalist and winners doing amazing things around the world; standing with technicians somewhere in the world setting up exhibitions under difficult conditions while still having fun; my collaboration with our chairman Jens Wittrup Willumsen, which has been a full learning experience as well as an immense pleasure; and every day at work with the other team members, which have been a shining example of how to work well together.

What have been the biggest challenges along the way?

KH: There have always been two main challenges. Firstly, when you’re on a path towards changing mindsets and thinking in entirely new ways, it’s hard for others to understand you. The proof that you might be on to something only becomes apparent after years. It takes a specific kind of person or team to stick to their beliefs – luckily we had that.

The other challenge in running a non-profit organisation and the constant fundraising. It has taken up a lot of my work hours. While you meet very interesting people along the way, have great discussions and are forced to think in new ways – which can be very inspiring. The livelihood of the team and even the vision the team carries depends on your success and that can be challenging.

Where do you see ‘Design to Improve Life’ heading within the next 5 – 10 years?

KH: I very much hope and trust that Liza and the team will take INDEX in new directions and that they will follow paths that I don’t even know exist and would never think of. That is the immense benefit of changing leadership – that new things get a chance to emerge. So I will not guess – but I look really look forward to seeing it unfold.

LC: I see the organisation going further global in its reach to further inspire people, to seek purpose in designing solutions that can improve quality of life for others. It’s our public duty to ensure that the knowledge is there for people wherever they are in the world – and to offer hope. I’d like to see more investments, flows of social and financial capital into this sector, showing the risk-adjusted returns in Design to Improve Life makes sense for everyone. I’d like to see a next generation of Design to Improve Life doers who have developed the skills and learning to lead their peers with meaning and determination.

What do you believe are the biggest hurdles facing the industry?

LC: There are plenty of challenges and that’s the problem! Firstly, there is a burgeoning market and the doing-good/impact/sustainable/ethical agenda is ever growing. There has to be more of a will to remember that it will take more than one organisation or group of organisations to solve humanity’s biggest challenges, beyond the SDGs and other emerging challenges. Taking risks in this industry can be harder when you could be perceived as moralising and we can be very hard on ourselves and each other to deliver on impact, when in fact it can take years, or even decades to know if we are making a difference. The persistence in unlocking the problem will take experimentation and stamina.

What part of INDEX’s legacy would you most like to see carried forward?

KH: The main legacy which is so dominating in our credo, Design to Improve Life, is what I hope will be carried forward. The never-ending examination of what design can really do for people, how design can improve life for many and how design can become an even more important part of solving global challenges.

What inspires you most or gives you hope about the future?

LC: The people who do amazing things to serve other’s critical needs – it’s a real gift to be able to share those personal stories and carry those forward. The support from our network and community who are engaged, active to learn more and motivated to keep doing – they’re an inspiring bunch! My hope is that we remember that we have come so far as a human race, we’re more intelligent and resourced than we have ever been in the history of time, our future generations should be treated with respect and we have to remember that they will face new problems we can’t even imagine or foresee. There is uncertainty but huge opportunities, as we’ve always known.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to leave Liza with?

KH: There is only one piece of advice: be who you are. I know Liza very well and in great depth as we have worked together for many years. I have no doubt that she will be an amazing CEO for INDEX: simply because she is who she is.


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