Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Marc Moorghen. I'm a British-born American living in California. My professional passion is the field of strategic communications, while my personal interest is the study of human interactions through languages, music and culture. I recently returned from a round-the-world trip with my wife, Jona.
Why the funny name? Where's it from? How do you pronounce it?
"Moorghen" is pronounced the same way as "Morgan." My father was born on a small island in the Indian Ocean called Mauritius. It was colonized by the Moors, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French and finally the English, before it gained its independence in 1968. I believe the name has Dutch origins and means "morning" or "tomorrow." It could be Tamil, as there are many Mauritians of Indian origin on the island. You may know Mauritius because of the famous (and long-extinct) dodo bird which once thrived there.
What's your story?
I was born in South London (Croydon) and grew up in the UK, Belgium and France. One of the benefits of this nomadic childhood is that I'm bilingual in English and French. I can also get by in Dutch and German.
In 1992, I headed back to the UK for college, attending Southampton University where I was awarded a degree in European Studies in 1997. Shortly after graduation, I returned to Belgium for a master's in European Studies at the University of Leuven, one of the oldest schools in Europe.
During the summers of 1996 and 1997, I interned at the British Embassy of Brussels and NATO's Office of Information and Press respectively. In 1998, I was selected for a competitive internship at the European Commission (the executive branch of the European Union). These early experiences provided me with an intimate look at what goes on behind the scenes in government.
After the Commission, I found employment at a private conference-organizing company, where I managed an annual defense industry conference. Seeking to enter the field of communications, I moved on to a position at a trade association for the paper and packaging industry. My work involved daily communications tasks for the organization, including website management, publication design and external relations.
However, I was soon drawn to the wider world outside of Europe. After traveling to Africa and Eastern Europe, I decided to move to Japan for the adventure of a lifetime.
There was no other way to deal with the culture shock of living in Japan than to dive in head-first. I soon found work at one of the largest foreign language institutes in the nation, teaching kids, teenagers, business people and retirees. I loved it. Working with Japanese students taught me the fundamentals of communication and the art of conveying information.
For a year, I delighted in the joys of teaching, before being recruited to provide cultural acclimatization training to incoming teachers to help them adapt to their new environment. I missed the classroom, but this new position gave me the opportunity to observe a Japanese corporate environment up close. It also taught me the value of cultural diplomacy, while my hiring and training sessions yielded invaluable lessons about human nature.
One of the unexpected benefits of my job was meeting and falling in love with a young teacher from California named Jona (pronounced "John-ah"). We were soon married at our local city hall. After more than a year in Japan, Jona really wanted to return home to obtain her special education credential and become a full-time teacher, so we said goodbye to our friends in Japan and moved to California.
In those early days, Jona went back to school for her master's degree and teaching credential, while I did some freelance public relations consulting for a friend from Japan. He was trying to obtain funding and equipment to film a documentary about motorcycle gangs in Japan. This was in 2003, before social media existed. We created a website and a blog (before there were blogs), interviewed experts, built relationships in the media and created a network of supporters. I'm proud to say that the film was completed a few years ago and lived up to our expectations. With the project relocating to Japan for pre-production and shooting, I started looking for another line of work in California.
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
When I came across the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, it was a perfect match. The more I learned about the founder and the organization's mission, the more I wanted to join the team. Conrad Hilton founded Hilton Hotels and left most of his estate to the Foundation when he passed away in 1979. His motto, "Dream Big," appealed to my imagination and his mandate to “relieve the suffering, the distressed and destitute” without regard to race, religion, or country, won me over. I was specifically moved by the Foundation's work to end homelessness in Los Angeles.
For my first six years at the Hilton Foundation, I managed the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, an unrestricted annual award of $2 million given to an exemplary nonprofit organization. In this role, I was responsible for the daily operations of the department, from processing nominations to reviewing and evaluating nominees, to preparing for the annual jury meeting, coordinating the winner announcement and organizing the award ceremony. My travels took me to San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., London, Zurich, Geneva, South Africa, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal and mainland China. During the course of these year-long cycles, I was privileged to meet some of the most inspiring people on the planet, working to solve some of the most intractable problems known to mankind.
The Hilton Prize was a fascinating and humbling learning experience, but I knew I had found my dream job when the opportunity arose to create a communications department for the Hilton Foundation in 2010.
I love that all the disparate threads of my life converged into one profession. Being a communications expert means maintaining a perfect balance between being a problem-solver and a creative change agent. In recent years, I was responsible for strategy development, planning outreach efforts, coordinating public relations projects, refining our marketing efforts, managing communications channels (website, social media, publications and events), improving staff dialogue, counseling executive leadership and channeling the voice of the organization. Over the course of seven years, the department grew into a four-person team, but, in reality, our work involved the whole organization and many partners — including other funders, governments, international institutions and think tanks. We worked with all other departments of the Foundation and with numerous external colleagues who functioned as an extension of our team. The constant desire to improve our performance prompted me to return to graduate school to earn a Master of Communication Management degree from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Shortly after graduating from the program, I made a decision to take a break in order to take stock of my career, re-focus my energy and consider my next steps.
That's where things stand today. Jona has taken her own sabbatical from the public education sector, for many of the same reasons. In September 2017, we set off on an adventure around the world. We recently returned to the United States after nearly nine months on the road, with a renewed focus and ready for the next chapter of our respective careers.
Our time on the road has been an incredible gift, which has taught us many life lessons. It has also provided us with valuable insights into international cultures and societies. We have learned a lot about ourselves and the world we live in. We look forward to sharing some of these experiences with you and to seeing you on the road sometime soon.