The rights of refugees always come first

After a decade, Stig Glent-Madsen is stepping down as chairman of the board at the Danish Refugee Council. He has reached the maximum period of 10 years as head of the board – 10 years during which justice has continuously been a founding pillar for Stig Glent-Madsen, whose daily job is as a judge. For him protecting human rights, not least the rights of refugees, always come first.


Stig Glent-Madsen is known and respected among friends and in his local community. It was made especially clear, when he turned 60 a month ago. He declined to receive presents and instead asked his network to support his own fundraiser for families displaced due to the conflict in Syria. In no time he had managed to raise more than USD 15.000 - a record among private fundraisers for the Danish Refugee Council.

For Stig Glent-Madsen the role as chairman has been a significant part of his life over the past decade. People, who spend time with him, know that he often manages to turn the conversation into one where the work done by DRC, the plight of refugees and the people, DRC assists and whom he has met, is at the centre. This is not an attempt to avoid talking about himself. It is simply because to him, the overall cause of helping refugees always comes first.

“I have gained so much from being chairman. I cannot imagine that anyone could spend one’s life in a better way. Maybe I haven’t watched a TV show in 20 years, but I’ve gained so many other things. What really matters in an organisation like DRC, is that many people collectively are doing amazing work. No one is on their own – it’s a joint effort. DRC consists of so many great employees and volunteers,” Stig Glent-Madsen says.

For DRC’s Secretary General, Christian Friis Bach, there is no doubt, that Stig Glent-Madsen has had a tremendous impact on the organisation.

“Stig has been what you might label as a ‘super volunteer’ for the organisation. He has spent thousands of hours, been a respected role model, managed DRC through both difficult and good times, and – personally – he has given me unique support during my first year as Secretary General. He deserves a huge thank you for all his efforts,” says Christian Friis Bach.

“We can learn a lot from others”

Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Liberia, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Greece, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The list of countries, Stig Glent-Madsen has visited shows that he doesn’t just sit behind a desk. He has had the opportunity to see with his own eyes the difference DRC’s work does and he is always ready to share the stories of the people, he has met.

“We can learn a lot from others. In DR Congo, I met a woman who had to flee from her village with her husband and seven children, when armed groups attacked. On the run, they found a 10-year-old girl whose family had been killed and as the most natural thing in the world, they took her with them. I’ve also been in a refugee camp with 12,000 people including 500 orphans. However, there was no need for an orphanage since they all took care of each other. This is something, we can really learn from,” says Stig Glent-Madsen.

The journey began 30 years ago

Stig Glent-Madsen’s journey into the Danish Refugee Council literally began with a journey. When he and his wife, Bodil, were on their honeymoon in 1987, they travelled among other places to India where they met a priest who was heading a project offering legal aid.

”I think in many ways that this is the best kind of aid. Instead of, for instance, the small donations that the church for many years have been handing out,” says the judge from the Danish city of Viborg, who has a very clear opinion: All people deserves to be treated with respect, dignity and equality. That is also one of the reasons why he, besides fighting for justice in the courtroom, has served as referee in sports competitions including swimming and soccer.

After the honeymoon, he found out that the priest was supported by the Danish Church Aid and he became a part of that organisation, where he ended up as chairman of their board in 1997. DanChurchAid is a member organisation to DRC and when Stig Glent-Madsen was elected chairman of Denmark's largest humanitarian organization, DRC, in 2008, it was with a lot of valuable experience.

During his time leading the board, Stig Glent-Madsen has – together with the Executive Committee and the Executive Management Team – guided the organisation through both still and rough waters and has always been ready to assist and support and advise the Secretary General. At the same time, Stig Glent-Madsen, explains, the chair also has a pivotal role in terms of serving the member organisations that elected him.

“I found it very important to ensure that the Danish volunteers also had an important voice and suggested that they would have a seat at the Executive Committee,” he explains and underlines: “If people are to remember me for one thing, I hope it is that I worked hard to ensure inclusion.”

A change in the way we talk about refugees  

When thinking back on his 10-year as chair of DRC, it is obvious that a lot has happened. Both in the world around us and within DRC:

“If we look at the global overall picture, the situation is moving in the wrong direction. The numbers of refugees and displaced have increased and at the same time there has been a change in the narrative around refugees and migrants. Things that never would have been uttered publicly in 2007 has suddenly become mainstream. In such a situation, it is important to ask yourself; how do you react to that?” Stig Glent-Madsen says: “I think DRC has responded in the right way. We’ve grown, we assist more and more people and we are an active participant in the public debate. Nationally and globally.”

Throughout the past 10 years, DRC’s turnover has grown from around 100 million USD in 2007 to 500 million USD in 2017. The number of staff and volunteers have doubled from around 4,000 in 2007 to more than 8,000 in 2017. But for Stig, quantity and numbers won’t cut it:

“That’s why I’m very proud that we’ve been ranked as the third best NGO in the world. It is a huge recognition of the work being done and I’m especially pleased when I look at the criteria upon they judge us on: Accountability, trust, transparency and a constant presence in the growing number of crisis around the world,” says Stig Glent-Madsen. However, he also offers some advice for the organisation in the future:

“We need to be even better at taking advantage of our global presence and knowhow and become a stronger voice regarding facts about refugees and humanize the many men, women and children who have been forced to leave their home, so they do not drown in numbers, statistics and prejudices. The Danish Refugee Council can become an even stronger advocate for those who do not have their own voice. We have the ability – and hence also the obligation – to do more,” says Stig Glent-Madsen. But he also underlines that he has no doubt that the organisation is in safe hands:

”I don’t think I’ll be missed – and that is a very positive thing. I know the organization, I know the management and I know the staff. And I know they will ensure an even stronger DRC in future. For the benefit of the displaced persons in the world.”

Stig Glent-Madsen works as a judge at Vestre Landsret in Denmark. He is married to Bodil Abildgaard and the couple has four adult children. He has served as the chairman of DRC since 2008, which means the maximum of five periods of two years. The seat as a chairman to the board is an unpaid position.