I work for an international humanitarian organization called Concern Worldwide. We work in 26 of the world’s poorest countries, focusing on emergency response and long-term development programs in areas like livelihood, education and nutrition. Within our portfolio of programs, we also do humanitarian training and capacity building.
I work specifically on the Program on Humanitarian Leadership (PHL). It’s a consortium made up of Concern Worldwide, International Medical Corps, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative with technical support from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. It’s a collaborative effort so the program isn’t housed in one organization, although Concern Worldwide is leading PHL. The program consists of an in-person workshop, distance learning, mentoring where participants can be coached by technical and senior-level staff, a community of practice where the participants can learn from each other and some participants receive field placements with Concern or International Medical Corps. By the end of the program, participants will have the skills, knowledge and confidence to take on leadership responsibilities within a variety of humanitarian organizations, ultimately improving the delivery of services to those in need of humanitarian assistance.
PHL is a new program that just started last year. I think the level of interest we saw for the program ?demonstrates how significant the need is for more training programs for humanitarian staff. The humanitarian industry, if you will, is ?relatively new. It has really only gained strength over the latter half of the last century. So more recently there’s been a big push to professionalize the sector and provide training on the capacities staff should have.
Unfortunately, emergencies are not going away. As you see today, there are several protracted and serious crises around the world. There aren’t enough people with the skills and experience necessary to be deployed and manage long-term relief efforts.
When we did our call for applications in 2016, we thought we might break the 100 application mark if we were lucky. We ended up receiving more than 750 applications from people worldwide with varying levels of experience. We had applicants from people working in NGOs (non-governmental organizations), the United Nations., government disaster management agencies, the private sector – across the entire gamut of actors involved in humanitarian response.
It was great to see that so many people were just emphatic about their desire for, career development and training.
We were initially not actually going to be able to run a second round of the training this year. However, we get our funding from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and they gave us additional funding which enabled us to offer another in-person training this year. We did another call for applications and received over 1,500 for 37 spaces. Last year the application was a word document and sometimes people attached their application and supplemental materials separately. It was a very lengthy process to sort through them. If we had done this year’s cycle manually instead of online we might still be reading applications!
We started by screening applications as they came in. Our team grouped applicants into buckets of “yes,” “no” and “maybe.” Within the yes bucket, we used “high-maybe” and “low-maybe” buckets as a way to group our finalists. The sheer volume of qualified applicants meant that we needed a way to flag which candidates might be more suitable. We utilized the ‘label’ function to tag specific attributes of significance to us so that we could easily highlight which candidates had specific skillsets rather than needing to re-read those applications in their entirety.
Our program draws people internationally so we narrowed it down to a shortlist of candidates to call and did Skype and phone interviews. We ranked people with specific criteria during these interviews and then the full team came together to compare the finalists and make sure we were selecting a diverse group representing as many different skills, experiences, and working environments as possible.
Because we’re working on humanitarian emergencies, we definitely wanted to make sure there is a good breadth of experience levels and geographical spread. We have people representing different areas globally where there are major emergencies right now, so for example we have some people who are working on different components of the Syria crisis and crises in Africa.
Within that group, there’s different skillsets. There are some people that might be working on education programs or logistics. We wanted to ensure we were getting people that had specific or unique skills to diversify the group.
I’m one of those obnoxiously positive people, I love my job. We’re imparting knowledge to people who are working tirelessly, in extremely challenging circumstances and settings, doing absolutely amazing work. In the world’s biggest crises, they’re making a phenomenal direct impact. They’re doing the things we see in the newspapers, working closely with communities, to get people back on their feet. It’s a great feeling at the end of the day to be able to learn from them, help them share their best practices with each other, and see them return to their organizations and share the knowledge they got from our program with their colleagues.