by Tom Parisi
For nearly 17 years, Judith Hermanson served as second in command of CHF International, helping grow the non-governmental organization (NGO) into a $400 million annual relief and development operation and powerful catalyst for positive change in communities worldwide.
Her clients, program sponsors and strategic partners have ranged from the U.S. Agency for International Development and United Nations organizations to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and World Bank.
When a tsunami devastated Indonesia in 2004, Hermanson was on the beach within three days, directing disaster-relief operations. She personally has led humanitarian-aid missions on five continents and to such countries as Afghanistan, Sudan and Darfur.
Now Hermanson is beginning a new chapter in her life at NIU, where she hopes to shape a new center that will set the “gold standard” for the way NGOs, or nonprofit organizations, operate domestically and abroad.
Hermanson has been named director of NIU’s newly created Center for NGO Leadership and Development (NGOLD). Pending approval from the NIU Board of Trustees, she will begin in her new post in July.
Spearheaded by the colleges of Business and Liberal Arts and Sciences, the NGOLD program is an outgrowth of NIU’s strategic plan. NGO studies is an emerging area of academic study, and the NGOLD program is one of the first in the region.
Center associates will conduct outreach to nonprofits – from local organizations in DeKalb County to international NGOs. Additionally, the center will foster scholarly research among NIU faculty and students and house an interdisciplinary undergraduate academic program in Community Leadership and Civic Engagement.
While introductory courses will be offered as soon as this coming fall, NIU is working toward launching the new major a year later, pending Illinois Board of Higher Education approval.
The Community Leadership and Civic Engagement curriculum is being designed to train young people who will lead, work for or collaborate with nonprofit agencies. Within the major, emphases will be offered in advocacy, enterprise, the environment, engagement with NGOs worldwide, and the arts and humanities.
Hermanson will lead the center’s scholarly and outreach activities, help develop curriculum and teach courses.
“Dr. Hermanson brings extraordinary experience in the NGO world that will serve her well in strengthening and establishing new NIU connections to domestic and international non-governmental organizations,” says Chris McCord, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
“She has the ability to quickly get us up to speed in providing valuable services to the nonprofit sector. At the same time, Dr. Hermanson is an accomplished scholar who is well equipped to develop curriculum and lead our research efforts.”
Hermanson holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from George Washington University. An expert on the factors needed to make nonprofits flourish, she is widely published and frequently invited to speak on international development topics.
At CHF International, she played key strategic and hands-on roles, working to enhance community development through local self-sufficiency and bringing about enduring change for the better in poor communities.
She has experience in most major global development sectors – including humanitarian assistance, microfinance, urban issues and policy – and direct field experience in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Earlier in her career, Hermanson served on the Peace Corps staff in Washington, D.C. She also served overseas as an associate Peace Corps Director in Uganda and in the Philippines. Her selection as NGOLD center director followed a nationwide search and was made with input from students, faculty, administrators and local nonprofit leaders.
“Dr. Hermanson clearly stood out, not only because of her experience but also because she articulated an inspiring vision for what NGOLD can become,” says Kurt Thurmaier, director of NIU’s Master of Public Administration program and interim director of the NGOLD center.
“She envisions NIU as setting the gold standard for the way NGOs are managed, and she knows what is needed to accomplish that goal,” Thurmaier adds. “She also is amply qualified to lead our efforts to provide a worldview to students about the value of public service.”
Hermanson says she was captured by the enthusiasm for NGOLD among NIU faculty and administrators and encouraged by their creative thinking.
“There is a need for a center such as this,” she says. “It has the potential to become the leading organization worldwide for innovation and leadership development among nonprofits. Our goal will be to professionalize the overall approach to nonprofit management in the same way that other fields have been professionalized.
“I’m excited about the challenge of building something new and groundbreaking,” she adds. “I think we can achieve something with the NGOLD center that’s very special at NIU.”