"My job in a corporate foundation", Miren Bengoa
Meet Miren Bengoa, Executive Director of the Chanel Corporate Foundation. Learn more about her position and career path.
Miren Bengoa at the time of writing
Executive Director of the Chanel Corporate Foundation
Master’s degrees in international relations, development, and public health
Most significant jobs to date
- Junior Professional Officer, Terre des Hommes
- Programme Officer, UNFPA, Ecuador, then Cameroon
- Consultant, UNICEF Geneva
- Specialist monitoring and evaluation, UNICEF Dakar (Senegal)
My current position
The Chanel Corporate Foundation was established in 2011. My task was to set everything up, beginning with defining an action plan that we still make use of today. My work consists of two main areas. The first is concerned with selecting and monitoring projects submitted by NGOs and local associations. This means making regular trips to the countries where projects are being implemented. The second involves internal communication within the Chanel enterprise, including branches located throughout the world.
Managing the Foundation is a bit like running a small business.
The pros and cons
What inspires me is the challenge of understanding how a large private enterprise works while being able to exert a useful influence using the expertise I gained from my time at the United Nations (UN). The holistic approach and the entrepreneurial dimension of my role is very stimulating.
When working for the UN or an NGO, one is part of a system that functions entirely as a joint effort. As opposed to the corporation to which it is attached, a corporate foundation is very small and structurally flexible. This is both exciting and challenging. My position is relatively isolated, and creating awareness of the foundation at an internal level demands a lot of energy. I have to summon great adaptability while staying true to my values requires. Another aspect that isn’t easy is having to turn down numerous promising projects.
My career path
My original ambition was to become a journalist, but during my studies I had the opportunity to complete a four-month internship in the Philippines with Médecins Sans Frontières. I returned transformed and motivated to follow this career. Taking a master’s in development studies enabled me to spend a year in Burkina Faso. In 2003 I got a position as Junior Professional Officer with Terre des Hommes, then spent two years in Ecuador for UNFPA with my partner. This experience had a marked effect on me: I was rapidly handed the responsibility for a small local team despite being very young and had to manage projects on maternal health. My lack of expertise in this area cast doubts among local partners about my legitimacy, but I filled the gaps by pursuing a master’s in public health via distance learning.
After further experience in Geneva and in the field with UNICEF, we returned to Paris and I began looking for employment, applying randomly to the Chanel Foundation. On discovering that the company represented a major luxury brand, I was doubtful, since this wasn’t the kind of environment I was drawn to. But the mission of the foundation soon convinced me, and I liked the idea of working with the people I’d met.
In 2016 the Chanel Foundation will enter a new phase of expansion. My role will evolve to assume less operational and more strategic dimensions. I am preparing to transmit my fieldwork experience to my colleagues and find this evolution tremendously motivating.
My advice to those wishing to work in a foundation
Historically, foundations have mainly recruited internally, but this will change after an increased awareness of the importance of international cooperation expertise. I advise you to develop strong project management and monitoring and evaluation, as well as communication and adaptability, skills. Positions are becoming less operationally-oriented, so think about your motivations. Furthermore, make an effort to meet professionals who work in foundations and join networks and umbrella organisations such as SwissFoundations.