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The Compassionate Leader: In Conversation with Moira Kelly

12 June 2012 By Hannah Carrodus

Moira Kelly
Moira Kelly

On Wednesday June 6 Leadership Victoria sparked a dialogue on why compassion is a beneficial quality for leaders.

The Compassionate Leader: in Conversation with Moira Kelly was held at LV’s JJ Clark room at the Old Treasury Building where participants heard from the impressive founder of the Children First Foundation.

Moira has been helping others less fortunate than herself since the age of 13. She has coordinated large-scale humanitarian projects, such as establishing welfare programs in Bosnia, starting a self-help program for Kalahair Bushmen in Botswana and setting up soup kitchens for the homeless in India – to name only a few of her endeavours.

Moira’s foundation was thrust into the media spotlight in 2009 due to the separation of Moira’s adopted conjoined twins Trishna and Krishna.

Corrinne Armour (WCLP ’01), Principal of leadership training organisation Extraordinary Future, was our MC for the event.

Corrinne started the night by referring to her own experiences working in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border from 1993 to 1995. She described the delicate balancing act required to be a compassionate leader, saying that such leaders need to be strong and resilient.

Professor Rob Moodie then led a conversation with Moira Kelly about the place of compassion in leadership.

Rob is a professor of public health at the Melbourne School of Population Health. He has extensive international experience in the area of global health including his role as chair of the National Preventative Health Taskforce from 2008 to 2011.

Rob’s expertise made him the ideal person to converse with Moira and lead a Q&A session between Moira and the audience.

Once Moira started speaking to the group it became clear that she is a leader who is compassionate and idealistic, but is also strong and has retained a sense of humour despite some of the awful situations she has witnessed around the world.

Moira shared the humorous story of how she tried to arrange for a garden to be built in the city of Gaza. Moria laughed as she described how others thought she was mad for trying to implement such a project in a place at the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that she would respond by saying that if she was willing to dream it was possible.

To Moira’s surprise, last year she received a phone call from inside Palestine informing her the project was  going ahead and could she please send some money to fund it!

Unfortunately the Gaza garden remains yet to be built, however Moira remains hopeful that one day the project will come to fruition.

Moira said her role models were Mother Teresa, whom she worked alongside in Calcutta when she was only 21 in 1985, and Pope John Paul II. She explained that her Catholic faith provides her with a sense of meaning and purpose.

When Moira was asked by Rob how she keeps her ego in check, she spoke about retaining a sense of perspective. She gave the example of reminding fellow aid workers in Albania that their difficulties paled in comparison to the citizens of that country who could not escape the situation once they had had enough. She also spoke of telling her son  Emmanuel that despite his success on The X-factor talent show, he still had to clean his bedroom.

Once the interview between Rob and Moira was complete the microphone was handed to audience members who had the chance to voice their questions to Moira.

In response to challenging questions from the audience, Moira said her most important job in life was being a mother and that she felt she had sacrificed nothing.

The night finished with a terrific performance by Moira’s son Emmanuel. Emmanuel hit to fame last year with his rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ on talent show The X-factor. The performance has since been viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube. Hearing Emmanuel sing was a great end to a fantastic night.

Learning about compassion and leadership proved to be an interesting and thoughtful topic. The two themes are not often combined, and may sometimes be seen as in contradiction, but Moria’s leadership showed that compassion can be a powerful force in leadership.

To see some of the photos of the night please click here