Introducing Doris Albisser – IDN Award Winner

Winner IDN Award 2021 (Outstanding Mandate, Not-For-Profit category)

In October 2021, INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) announced the three winners of the IDN Awards 2021.

Two of the three awards were given to IDN members with Outstanding Mandates during the year. Each has an outstanding track record and has demonstrated the highest levels of integrity.

Doris Albisser IDP-C, Member of the International Senate, SOS Children’s Villages, and President, SOS Children’s Villages Switzerland, was the winner of the not-for-profit category. Doris recently shared with us about her illustrious board career and her advice for aspiring directors.

You have had an illustrious career, from a translator to a CEO and entrepreneur. You have worked with many international organisations and are now an experienced board chair and director across several sectors. Tell us about your journey to becoming a director?

My entire CEO and board life was an enriching learning journey across industry sectors and countries. From building up a start-up through a business process outsourcing, internationalization through organic and inorganic growth up to its trade sale. During this journey you kind of live through a full circle, including dealing with crisis situations. As an entrepreneur you strive for the best – always go the extra mile and never give up.

I moved into the joint role of CEO and managing director, when we founded CLS Communication in 1997 – a technology driven language & translation solutions provider.  In the beginning the board role was more demanding than the CEO role, since I first had to become familiar with corporate governance. As for executive functions I attended various corporate governance programs – also in order to know what I am doing approximately right and what exactly wrong. I found those programs very enriching from the content side but also from learning from peers across the world.

One common thread throughout my life was and still is lifelong learning on the job and through continuous education. (Doris Albisser)

Currently, I am focusing on board mandates as chair or member, as this is a fascinating role given my professional journey so far. Hence, I continue my learning journey.

What do you most enjoy about being a director?

In a director or chair role you act as a sparring partner to the CEO and the executive team. The roles are clearly defined. Personally, I find it fascinating when you can enable and empower a CEO and the executive team to shine. Each company and organization has its own opportunities and challenges. As a chair you have to make sure you lead and gear group dynamics in the board, ensure fair process leadership is in place.

Each board mandate offers a learning journey for both the organization and the director. It is a win-win situation.

As a director you have to be up-to-date with business innovations, new business models (incl. ecosystems), digitization and agile organizations to name a few.

To me it is of prime importance that the chair and the CEO ensure a solid corporate and organizational culture is being lived across all levels. Culture has to be based on shared values. It is the DNA of a company or an organization.

Apart from ensuring best practice in governance – boards’ primary task – they are required to be familiar with trends arising on the horizon, in an ideal situation they anticipate them.

Last but not least, boards have to oversee that sustainability goals (ESG) are reached. The far-reaching decisions boards have to take requires them to be familiar with and savvy on the above listed topics. They cannot be delegated to digital natives and the younger generation.

As a result, as a chair or director continuous board education and ongoing training on the various topics is important to stay tuned and relevant.

How does your role as a board chair and director complement your work as a CEO and entrepreneur, and vice versa?

The roles are different, yet complementary.

As CEO my role was predominantly operational, whereas as chair or director you have a more strategic and an oversight role. The link both roles should adopt is the strategic part. A board cannot define a strategy without active involvement of the CEO and the executive team. Therefore, especially the CEO must be able to have a strong strategic view.

The role of boards has changed substantially over the last years. A board should act as an enabler, a sparring partner versus the traditional role of an “administrator” as was predominantly the case in the past.

Personally, I benefited from both roles – as a CEO and as a chair/director – bearing in mind that you have to know which hat you are wearing.

The CEO background helped me understand the challenges a CEO is facing and proactively assuming my chair role accordingly. As a chair you have to listen and reflect first before moving into action.

As a CEO you are moving more in the acting mode.

As a chair/director you have a clear information deficit compared to a CEO, who lives and works in the company full time. Hence, even with extensive board experience, we have to make sure we do not become overconfident and in the worst case clueless.

From your experience as a board chair, what type of attributes do not-for-profits look for when evaluating potential board directors?

Not-for-profit organizations are very purpose driven. It is therefore important for a new member to fully identify with the NPO’s purpose and truly love working in such an environment.

An NPO can benefit substantially by running an organization with an entrepreneurial spirit. I usually compare it to family businesses existing for generations. NPOs need to generate “profits” to invest into new programs and enhance existing ones. They need to follow the trends their donors do. Generally, this means attracting also a younger generation of donors – hence more digital programs.

When attracting new board members, it is a plus for the candidate to have experience in the for-profit sector. NPOs like for-profits have to ensure diversity in terms of competences, gender, experience, backgrounds in various industries. In NPOs, too, boards have to mirror the executive teams regarding their skill sets.

Last but not least, as with for-profit companies, candidates must have a solid value system such as trust – integrity – reliability and bring along a “pinch” of curiosity.

What advice do you have for directors who wish to gain more mandates in the not-for-profit space?

Directors should look for organizations where they can fully identify with the NPO’s purpose, where they can bring an added value. Their background may come from different sectors.

Working on the board of an NPO very often is a question of having one’s heart and soul in it. Since NPO mandates often are pro bono, the financial aspect should therefore not play a role at all.

Taking the example of SOS Children’s Villages: What stronger purpose can you pursue than to actively contribute to children and young people to become their strongest selves, to ensure they have a healthy nutrition, are well-educated and grow up in a safe environment with loving care. This enables them to live an independent, self-sufficient life and contribute to their communities’ ongoing development and well-being. To me, this is a highly noble and rewarding mandate.


As told to Karen Loon, IDN Board Member.

Interview with Gbenga Oyebode, IDP6 2014, Trustee Ford Foundation

To be effective, new directors will require deep curiosity and an aptitude for analyzing a variety of information” – Gbenga Oyebode

In October 2020, INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) announced the four winners of the Inaugural IDN Awards 2020 for prestigious board positions.

The winners, which were selected from the 230 mandates, shared via the quarterly IDN Board Position Announcements, were selected based on the size and importance of the organisations they represented, their global relationships and the position at the board, in combination with pursuit of INSEAD’s mission ‘Force for Good’.

Four winners were selected, all of whom have an outstanding track record and have demonstrated the highest levels of integrity.

Gbenga Oyebode was one of the winners of the not-for-profit category.  We recently had the opportunity to ask Gbenga about his illustrious board career and his advice for aspiring directors.

Could you share with us how you obtained your first board role?  How have you built your board portfolio, both in your home country and overseas?  How have you decided on the types of organisations, industries and geographies where you would like to take up board roles?

My first board role presented itself in course of my legal practice. I served as legal adviser to a company in ownership transition and was eventually invited to join the board of the newly privatised company. I have never set out to build a particular type of board portfolio; instead the boards I have been involved with reflect my career as a lawyer, proclivity for investing, and are usually relevant to my passions and the change which I wish to see in the world (e.g. social justice, art, music).

I want to believe that organisations that invite me to serve on their boards recognise that I bring not only leadership and sound business judgment after 40 years of building my legal practice, but also investment expertise, a unique perspective and a global view given the multidimensional nature of my interests and relationships. In determining whether to accept a board role I lookout for alignment with the values of the organisation in terms of ethics, corporate governance and social responsibility and also consider my capacity to make the required commitment.

I have been lucky to include in my board portfolio a variety of companies including Access Bank Plc (one of the largest banks in Sub Saharan Africa), MTN Nigeria (the largest telecoms company in Africa), Nestle Nigeria PLC and many other global organisations.

Your board portfolio includes a number of not-for-profit boards.  What have been some of the focus areas which your not-for-profit boards have been focusing on in the past year?

The not-for-profit boards where I serve reflect the causes I am passionate about, such as social justice, education, philanthropy, music and the arts. For example, Ford Foundation aims to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.   Teach for Nigeria, (were as I serve as Chairman) in partnership with Teach for All, is dedicated to ending educational inequity in Nigeria by building a movement of outstanding teachers and young professionals who are committed to expanding educational opportunity for all children in Nigeria. African Philanthropy Forum creates a platform for emerging African philanthropists to channel giving to strategic causes in Africa. Carnegie Hall, Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Jazz at Lincoln Center reflect my passion for the arts and music.

In the last year, most not for profit boards, like other profit making organisations have been focused on navigating the impact of COVID 19 on their sustainability and ability to execute their objectives. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the poor, vulnerable and marginalised has brought into sharper prominence the mission and objectives of many not for profit organisations, which seek to reduce poverty, provide equal opportunity and support vulnerable groups.

As a board chair, when selecting candidates for board positions, what are the skillsets and qualities of potential board members that you look out for?

As a board chair, when selecting candidates for board positions, I look out for the leadership experience, integrity, commitment, global view, business judgment, collegiality, and discretion. I believe that these are critical attributes required to succeed on any board.  In today’s world, gender and geographical diversity are also sine qua non for effective boards.

What is your advice to new directors on how they can best stay up to speed on governance and business trends?

The world is constantly changing and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will be with us for a long a time. To be effective, new directors should never stop learning, embrace change and leverage the power of technology. Staying up to speed with constantly evolving trends in this ‘new normal’ requires deep curiosity and an aptitude for analysing a variety of information. This new era of virtual meetings, work from home, greater work-life integration and efficiency are here to stay and will be reflected in our board practices as we adopt more environmental, sustainable and transparent governance models going forward.


By Karen Loon, IDN Board Member and Non-Executive Director.


INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) – An INSEAD Global Club of International Board Directors

Our Mission is to foster excellent Corporate Governance through networking, communication and self-improvement. IDN has 1,500 members from 80 countries, all Alumni from different INSEAD graduations as MBA, EMBA, GEMBA, and IDP-C. We meet in live IDN webinars and meet-ups arranged by our IDN Ambassadors based in 25 countries. Our IDN website holds valuable corporate governance knowledge in our IDN blog, and we share insights also to our LinkedIn and Twitter  followers. We highlight our member through quarterly sharing of their new board appointments and once a year we give out IDN Awards to prominent board accomplishments. We provide a peer-to-per mentoring and board vacancy service and we come together two times per year at the INSEAD Directors Forum arranged by ICGC. We also engage with ICGC on joint research.


INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (“ICGC”)

Established in 2010, the INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre (ICGC) has been actively engaged in making a distinctive contribution to the knowledge and practice of corporate governance. The ICGC harnesses faculty expertise across multiple disciplines to teach and research on the challenges of boards of directors in an international context and to foster a global dialogue on governance issues with the ultimate goal to develop boards for high-performance governance. Visit ICGC website: