PODCAST 175: Protecting Migrant Children: International Social Service


In this episode of the Sales Hacker podcast, we’re thrilled to welcome Jean Ayoub, the Secretary-General and CEO at International Social Service (ISS).

The ISS is a nonprofit organization that specializes in complex cross-border case management to protect migrant children.

Join us for a moving conversation about some of the challenges facing workers who reunite children with families and how sales plays into their success.

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If you missed episode #174, check it out here: Mastering Sales Expression with Tom Stern

What You’ll Learn

  • What ISS is and the work it does
  • Challenges that advocates for migrant children face
  • How Jean came to work with nonprofits
  • Fundraising, financing, sales skills, and advocacy awareness

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. About Jean Ayoub & ISS [4:50]
  2. 3 challenges facing advocates for migrant children [10:14]
  3. Jean’s love for nonprofits [13:28]
  4. Migratory patterns and causes for separation [15:48]
  5. How sales is present in nonprofits [19:45]
  6. Sam’s Corner [26:03]

Show Introduction [00:09]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, it’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the Sales Hacker podcast. Today, we’ve got a very special kind of guest, one that we really haven’t had before, because we want to bring you voices that are not just exclusively from the world of startup sales, but voices from around the world.

This week’s guest is Jean Ayoub. Jean is the Secretary-General and CEO of an organization called ISS, International Social Services. It’s an incredible organization, it’s a nonprofit focused on assisting individual children when they are separated from their parents due to migratory issues. ISS comes in and advocates on specific individual children. They process over 70,000 different cases every single year, trying to reunite children with their parents and make sure that they find a safe place.

And of course, sales is part of that, because Jean is selling by virtue of storytelling and telling people about the organization. It’s also an attempt to bring some different perspectives to the show.

Before we get to the interview, we’ve got a couple of sponsors to thank and the first is Outreach. Outreach has been a longtime sponsor of the podcast. They just launched a new way to learn, Outreach on Outreach, the place to learn how Outreach does outreach. Learn how the team follows up with every lead, learn how they run account-based plays, manage reps, and so much more using their very own sales engagement platform. Head to outreach.io/onoutreach to see what they’ve got going on.

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Now without further ado, let’s listen to my interview with Jean Ayoub.

About Jean Ayoub & ISS [4:50]

Sam Jacobs: Today on the show we’ve got Jean Ayoub. Jean is the Secretary-General and CEO of ISS. This is going to be a different kind of show than we normally have because we’re talking to somebody that runs a nonprofit focused on saving children, which is pretty amazing.

Beginning with the Red Cross as a volunteer, and then becoming an operations director during the Lebanese civil war, Jean served field missions for the IFRC before relocating to Geneva to design and manage response to worldwide disasters as USG and director of operations. At the turn of the century, Jean spent several years as a consultant dealing mainly with turnarounds, change management, and coaching. Since 2009, Jean has been the Secretary-General and CEO of ISS, leading the transformation of the organization ahead of its 100th anniversary in 2024. Jean, welcome to the show.

Jean Ayoub: Hello Sam. Hello everyone. And thank you for having me.

Sam Jacobs: We’re excited to have you. First of all, we want to understand. Most people that are listening don’t know what ISS stands for, or what it is. So what is ISS, the organization that you run?

Jean Ayoub: I never heard about ISS before joining. It is an international organization today, 97 years old. It’s very specialized in cross-border case-by-case management. In the sense, if you are migrating from let’s say Mexico to the United States, and then you fall and tumble, you don’t have papers, you don’t have access to healthcare, education, you don’t know your rights in the host country and things like that.

This is why ISS for the USA, for example, comes into the picture and tries to help you on the migration routes. To check with you with the authorities, what other actors, what is your best interest? Because we deal mainly with children, adolescents, that means less than 18 years old. We do these custom checks. We do inquiries in your hometown, whether going back would be in your best interest.

Whatever we have the recommendation to do, we do that. Usually, authorities, courts, lawyers, and so on, follow their advice. We work mainly, let me stress on that, for the best interest of the child. This is what we do daily. On a yearly basis, we have 70,000 cases all around the world, we have about 120 offices around the world. This is our core business one.

Core business two is of course advocacy, everything which is linked to child protection on the migration route, searching for the origins, adopting them. They want to learn who were their biological parents born out of surrogacy procedures and they want to know who was the mother, and so on and so forth. This is what we do essentially.

On the other side, we have ISS social workers waiting to greet these people and orient them. Many of them do not speak English, many of them did not know where to go, and this is where our ISS people on the other side of the Atlantic will have helped. We help people on the migration route, but we focus much more on children. Today, 70% to 75% of our casework is essentially children and families.

3 Challenges Facing Advocates for Migrant Children [10:14]

Sam Jacobs: What are the biggest challenges that you face as you pursue this work of trying to advocate on behalf of migrant children?

Jean Ayoub: I think there are three levels of challenge.

The first one is social/ legal because when you cross from one country to another country, obviously laws tend to change, culture changes, language tends to change. And then we end up with people not understanding each other, and we need to facilitate that process.

The second challenge would be the authorities themselves, the receiving authorities. How knowledgeable are they about their own national laws, about refugees and asylum seekers and minors? Should we put them in minimum security prisons? Should we separate them from their families? And so on.

The last but not least problem is the funding of all that. Because most of our cases are not attended to, financially speaking, we are not into mass assistance, like the other international NGOs, the Red Cross, and the UN system. ISS cannot pretend to be present in a camp helping 3000 people, which makes our job in fundraising easier.

What we can communicate on and give information about, is that we case by case, diligently tailor individual solutions for personal problems. This obviously is much more difficult to fundraise for than what I would call mass assistance.

We are called upon for the most complex cases, those cases in which the traditional actors, the traditional agencies did not find solutions. But some of the needs within these refugee or asylum seeker populations in the refugee camp are not related to relief, not related to first necessities of subsidence, it’s related to more existential issues like being reunited with a family or being able to get back to their country of origin. This kind of expertise is not always embedded with humanitarian workers and caregivers.

Jean’s Love for Nonprofits [13:28]

Sam Jacobs: Tell us about how you took on this position. Tell us about your background, and how you came to work in nonprofits, specifically focused on children.

Jean Ayoub: I came to work with nonprofits in humanitarian organizations completely by chance. I was about 17 and I wanted to take my girlfriend to one of the Greek islands and have a good time. We were in my country of origin in Lebanon, we were in the middle of a civil war, she said, “No, this is nonsense. We stay in the country, and we help.” We joined the Red Cross as volunteers basically. We spent the summer helping out the Red Cross as volunteers during the war. Three weeks later, she was fed up with war, and snipers, and bombs, and bombing, and things like that. She wanted out, but I got the hang of it and I liked it very much and I stayed. Actually, I liked it so much that I stayed 30 years with the Red Cross, then the National Red Cross.

Then after that, I was director of operations. I designed the new disaster response system for the International Red Cross. I’m someone who needs the adrenaline, I’m someone who needs to see change every day, which goes for me, change is the only constant thing in life. So I said to myself, I will leave my position. And then I established myself as a consultant, mainly in turnaround and organization building and in coaching. This is where I discovered that actually you can do a lot. You can get a lot of money as a consultant.

But I discovered as well that I was bored like hell and I wanted back in the action, with real people, with real scenarios, with real impact on the field. The International Social Service was one of my clients, and they asked to redesign and reformulate the organization in a turnaround management style. I think they liked my project, but they told me that I’m very expensive as a consultant, and they offered me to be the CEO. This is how I got here.

Migratory Patterns and Causes for Separation [15:48]

Sam Jacobs: We’ve seen a lot of migration due to political instability from Central America and Latin America up through Mexico and into the United States. There’s a lot of migration due to political unrest and war and things like that coming from Africa and different parts of the Middle East into Europe. There’s a lot of different perspectives on what immigration laws should be. Sometimes there’s a domestic quasi-nationalist point of view that people need to keep the borders closed. There’s a different perspective that countries need to let people in, especially when they’re in times of crisis.

What’s the ISS’s position on climate change, and the reality that there will be much more mass migration from very hot places to cooler places? These issues that you are advocating on behalf of are only going to become more prominent. What policies do you think we should have in mind as civilians looking out at the world and looking at migratory patterns?

Jean Ayoub: There’s migration for many reasons, from civil wars, an economy can be linked to the environment, linked to change patterns in the weather, deforestation, and so on. We tend to inherit all the complex cases that other organizations do not find solutions for. As long as one person, one family, one child finds herself or himself on the migration road, falls into trouble, needs ISS and its mandate, we are there.

We don’t really differentiate between this type of migration and that type of migration. As an individual, I think we need to look at migration like that. As long as a child arrives in the United States, it doesn’t really help whether he was fixed security in his hometown, whether he just went there because went to the United States because he seeking a better social life, a better life in general, whether he was running away from floods, from earthquakes, from man-made disasters. The reason is not really important. I say that to understand it as an individual because we all could find ourselves in a migrant and migration situation.

I myself, an economic migrant. I was the director of operations of the Lebanese Red Cross during the war. I think I’ve done a good job with my team. I had gained specific expertise in war situations and search and rescue relief. I left my country as a migrant to other countries to benefit so they can benefit from my expertise, and I can benefit from an international expatriate salary. We all can become for one reason or another, a migrant in a globalized world, and the best way to understand this situation is to actually try to apply it to ourselves on an individual level.

How Sales is Present in Nonprofits [19:45]

Sam Jacobs: Talk to us about how sales is present in what you do. It seems like part of one of your biggest jobs is advocacy to drive fundraising so that you have the money to deploy into the offices so that you have the caseworkers that can handle each individual’s issues as you take them on. What goes into fundraising? What goes into making sure that you’re financed appropriately so that you can run the organization? Talk to us about the sales skills that you’ve developed over the years.

Jean Ayoub: The sales skill is one of the skills I’m using today to talk to you, Sam, and I’m really grateful for this opportunity. It’s storytelling. Today, the caseworkers and the social workers are where the humanitarians were a couple of decades ago. I, myself, as a humanitarian, would say, “I’m doing a good job, I’m away from my family, I’m doing long hours, I’m underpaid and overworked. And stop asking me questions and give me some support to be able to do my job.”

But in a globalized world, in a world where there is more and more competition on the humanitarian side, on the social side, we need to be a little bit more vocal. We need to relate that to the world, explain that what we do on a case by case is as important as the mass assistant, other qualified organizations are in, into refugee camps and large population movements and things like that.

Being a good salesperson in my business is studying the story, telling it to the right audience, and keeping on telling it and reporting back. If we have this reaction from the audience, whether it’s support on social media, whether it’s support in our bank accounts, or with just general support and just support in general. I can give you one example: many people support us by giving us the talents and skills pro bono. Telling our story, telling it to the right audience, telling it more and more so this audience can understand, and recouping all of this information into some form of an information pack that we can deliver to all the audiences, including yours.

Sam Jacobs: How many children are impacted in this way, around the world every year?

Jean Ayoub: It’s very difficult to quantify. I’ll just give you a very small example. One of our caseloads is all these children that are born out of surrogacy. When they are born, they have no identity, so they could be subject to international abduction, they could be kidnapped, and sold on an open market for adoption or something like that. Many of these things happen. While we’re treating cases in the hundreds today, we know for a fact that there are more than 6 million children who were born out of a surrogacy arrangement in the last 10 years. We went from about 30,000, 35,000 cases, to about 70,000. So this is a 100% increase, but only about a 15% increase in our resources. We still today need to differentiate between very urgent cases, urgent cases, important, and not that important cases. And I would turn down factors about 30%.

Sam Jacobs: Wonderful. We can donate money, we can donate our time, what’s the best way to get involved so that we can provide support or assistance?

Jean Ayoub: If you’re in the United States and want to help the organization on the international level, go to the International Social Service website, there’s a button where you can just click and donate online.

Sam Jacobs: If folks are listening and they want to reach out to you, are you okay with personal outreach? If so, what’s the best medium to connect with you?

Jean Ayoub: It’s my email, jean.ayoub@iss-ssi.or.

Sam’s Corner [26:03]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, Sam’s corner. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Jean Ayoub, the Secretary-General and CEO of ISS.

Jean specifically said, “Hey, let’s not worry about the causes of migration because it doesn’t matter why a child is separated from their parents, why a child is in danger, let’s make sure we help them.” I agree with that. But also, this is going to be more and more of an issue because of climate change. Climate change is probably the greatest contributor to our collective global political socio-economic insecurity. It’s not just about the fact that it’s terrifying because it’s extremely hot and people are going to die from the heat. People are going to move, right? People we’re going to be living in places that can no longer support human beings and they’re going to need to move somewhere else.

And we, as the human race, need to think about how we protect those people and how we help those people. That’s why ISS is such an important organization because people are being separated from their families and children need their parents. Children can be exploited, they can be in danger, and children are often defenseless. That’s why I think ISS is such an important organization for all of us to know about.

As Jean mentioned on the show, there are definitely things you can do. First of all, it’s actually a pretty small organization. They’ve got 110 offices, but they don’t have a lot of money. That’s one of the reasons I brought him on the show so that we can generate a little bit more awareness.

But you don’t have to just give money. If you’re a marketer out there, if you’re a salesperson, if you’re somebody that wants to do more, that is looking for a way to give back to the world, one of the ways that you can do that is to volunteer your expertise, right? They’re going to be celebrating their 100 year anniversary in 2024, and they need help from folks like us that know how to spread a message. I encourage you to email Jean. If you’ve got a skill that you think could be useful, jean.ayoub@iss-ssi.org.

Before we go, of course, if you’re not a part of the Sales Hacker community yet you’re missing out. Any sales professional can join to get, ask questions, get immediate answers and share experiences. Jump in and start a discussion with more than 20,000 sales professionals at saleshacker.com.

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If you want to reach me, you can email me sam@joinpavilion.com. I’ll talk to you next time, everybody.

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