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My Career: CEO Belong To Moninne Griffith


By Sarah Finnan
27th Jun 2024
My Career: CEO Belong To Moninne Griffith

As the CEO of Belong To, the national LGBTQ+ youth organisation, Moninne Griffith is dedicated to supporting and empowering LGBTQ+ young people to help them achieve a world where they are equal, safe and valued. Instrumental in getting Marriage Equality across the line, it’s still one of her proudest achievements to date. Here she takes us through her career journey to date.

Did you always want to be a charity CEO?
I grew up in Ireland in the 80s, so I wanted to be President of Ireland and a human rights and equality campaigner like Mary Robinson. She had a huge influence on so many of us. As Bille Jean King said, “If you see it, then you can be it.”

In college, I studied… Law in UCD straight after school and then went on to Blackhall Place to qualify as a solicitor. I went back to do an MA in Women’s Studies in UCD in my early thirties and that changed my life! It blew my mind open to a whole new way of looking at the world, power, privilege, systems and structures that we accept as ‘the norm’ but are in fact socially constructed.

My most formative work experience was… working as a director in Marriage Equality. I got to work with changemakers like Anne Louise Gilligan, Katherine Zappone and Ailbhe Smyth and collaborate with local, national and international leaders from across the private, public and community sectors to build a movement for equality. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of one of the proudest days in my life – when Ireland voted Yes.

My first real job was… I had all sorts of jobs as a teenager: babysitting, doing the paper rounds, working in Funderland. After I qualified as a solicitor, I went into business with my mum and ran a small suburban practice with her for over five years. It was an amazing opportunity to be a small business owner and to work with a broad range of clients.

The most invaluable thing I learned early on in my career was… accountability. As the CEO of Belong To and in the past, as a business owner, I have learned that the buck stops with you. It’s a lot of responsibility, so I learned to listen, communicate clearly, manage expectations and take it on the chin when I mess up.

A common misconception about what I do is… that it’s plain sailing for young LGBTQ+ people these days, in post-marriage equality Ireland. The truth is that after a global pandemic, there has been a noticeable shift online in terms of hate towards groups of people such as LGBTQ+ people, migrants and folks trying to address climate change. Anti-LGBTQ+ language, misinformation and disinformation are some of the tactics being used to dehumanise people and create mistrust, with the ultimate objective to destabilise democracy. In 2015, we told young people in Ireland that it was ok to be LGBTQ+, that we respected them as equals and that they deserved equality. Unfortunately, that is not the experience of many of them and mental health problems and associated risks such as early school leaving and substance abuse are worse in 2024 than in 2015 according to the latest research from Trinity College Dublin, Being LGBTQI+ in Ireland, 2024.

My main responsibility in work is to… lead a team of passionate changemakers who are dedicated to supporting and empowering LGBTQ+ youth and achieving a world where they are equal, safe and valued. My role as CEO involves everything from strategic planning, governance and financial oversight, to fundraising, public speaking and managing the team.

Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from?
I have been really lucky to have had many mentors and coaches throughout my career, including Denise Charlton, former CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, now CEO of the Community Foundation for Ireland, and Bernie McDonnell, my coach. My parents have been a big influence too. As well as my mum giving me the opportunity to set up a practice with her, my dad also made the move from the private sector to being the founding CEO of Fighting Blindness, a charity close to our hearts. He is still good for chat when I am working through stuff. I often go back to the well of what I learnt from Dr Ann Louise Gillian and Dr Katherine Zappone, two important role models and mentors for me, on a leadership course they ran many years ago on progressive change. I have my notebook from the course beside my bed and I dip into their words of wisdom now and then. Their top advice was “be a real human being, know and understand yourself”; then model the way with your own behaviour; inspire a shared vision with an exciting future and strong dream; challenge the process by changing the status quo and looking for opportunities to grow; enable others to act for example by collaborating and lastly encourage the heart to sustain wellbeing and motivation.

The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far is… leaving the practice that I set up with my mum to go back to study and move to the Community and Voluntary sector.

I wake at… 6.30am to have breakfast with my family, my wife Clodagh, daughter Edie and dog Honey before I set off for work.

The first thing I do every morning is… check the news headlines to see what is going on in the world – and like many of us in Ireland – I also check the weather!

My morning routine is… busy as our family prepares to get out of the house, but I always prioritise making time to do some meditation in on the train to ground me for the day ahead.

I can’t go to work without… hope, that we can make things better.

I travel to work by… train. I take the Dart and I love the breathtaking view on my journey around Killiney Bay every morning and every evening on my way home.

On an average workday I… lead a team of 26 people during a busy year of change and growth. Our current strategic plan is all about sharing the learning and expertise built up within the organisation over 21 years of working with LGBTQ+ young people. We now have a busy education, training and community practice team building capacity amongst professionals across Ireland so that young LGBTQ+ people have access to safe and supportive schools, youth groups and other services.

I start my working day… by checking my emails, diary and messages on the train in to work. I am at my desk by 9am.

The first thing I do at work is… make a coffee and have a quick check-in with one of the team.

I usually spend the first portion of the day… planning my day and the rest of the week around achieving the goals I have set for that week. As CEO, there are often last-minute events or meetings that mean I need to be flexible to respond to the needs of the organisation.

I break for lunch at… 1pm and usually have leftovers from dinner the night before! We all sit around a big table in our kitchen at Belong To to eat lunch and we have great fun together – it can be a highlight of the day!

The most useful business tool I use every day is… Asana, a work management tool. It helps me remember everything that needs to be done and importantly, the deadline. We started using it last year across the team and it is a huge help in streamlining our work.

I save time by… picking up the phone to talk to people instead of emailing them. As well as saving time, this is an important part of relationship building.

I rarely get through my working day without… laughter with team members. It is an antidote for some of the heaviness of the stories we hear from young people about the bullying and violence they experience just for being themselves.

The best part of my day is… coming home to a hug from my daughter.

The most challenging part of my day is… reading the findings in Being LGBTQI+ in Ireland report, showing the high level of self-harm and suicide ideation amongst young LGBTQ+ people – 15 is the most common age for a young LGBTQ+ person’s first suicide attempt.

I know it’s been a good day if… I get an email from someone with generous feedback about one of our amazing team and how they have helped them either to be themselves or support a young person to be themselves.

I usually end my day at… 5pm, but sometimes I have board meetings and external events to attend. June is Pride month, so it is different – there are work events to attend almost every evening.

I switch off from work by… listening to a podcast on the way home, and a brisk walk home from the Dart station. I love Brene Browne.

Before I go to bed, I’ll… journal or listen to a meditation on my Headspace app.

I often prepare for tomorrow by… journalling, reflecting on my day and making an intention for the following day. I also pick what I am going to wear. It is one less decision to be made in the morning!

After a long work week, I destress by… meeting friends, laughing, playing music, singing and dancing. I like a game of cards too.

The accomplishment I’m most proud of is… coming out in my early 30s. It is never too late to be yourself.

If you want to get into my line of work, my advice is to… volunteer with an organisation that is close to your heart, donate your time and expertise. Start making a difference with the skills that you can bring to the table.

I’ve just finished working on… Being LGBTQI+ in Ireland, 2024 a national study on the mental health and wellbeing of the LGBTQI+ communities in Ireland. The findings are a tough read, but they paint a roadmap for us in terms of what we need to do here in Ireland to reduce stigma, prejudice and bullying to address the high numbers of LGBTQI+ affected by mental illness as a result. At the moment I’m working on our next strategic plan. I love the strategic planning process and the opportunity to plan for the future and get direction from so many of our stakeholders including educators, volunteers, policy-makers, board members, staff and LGBTQ+ youth.

Belong To has been selected as Grand Marshal of Dublin Pride 2024 and will lead the parade on its 50th Anniversary with hundreds of young LGBTQ+ people from across Ireland.

Imagery courtesy of Moninne Griffith