Monday, 20 April 2009

Job description - Post 13


Many of Kacper’s friends actually wonder what his work is really about. He always finds it quite amazing to find out about misconceptions people have about aid workers and what they do.

Some people, many of them in Poland, treat Kacper like some kind of a missionary, or a half-saint, who has decided to swap his earthy pleasures and possessions to misery and suffering, in service to the poorest, so that he would find his way to paradise, the very moment he gives his soul to God. Then, there are people, especially those in successful businesses, who treat aid workers as scouts, who are unable to fit in normal societies, and certainly are unable to do anything useful, in a professional manner. Finally, there are also those, especially in countries, where humanitarian, or development projects are implemented (but not only there), who look at aid workers, as some kind of neo-imperial colonisers, whose only desire is oppressing and abusing, and making people dependent on aid, so that they – the humanitarians will never get out of work.

Kacper has been wondering about these various opinions for a while and decided that there are probably very good reasons why people have such assumptions about aid work – none of which seemed true to Kacper. ‘Perhaps, NGOs themselves have failed to communicate to the public at large, what they were trying to achieve and why?’ he asked himself.

Whatever it was, Kacper felt a need to explain to his friends, what he thought he was doing.

It will soon be three years that Kacper has been working for his present employer. The organisation he is working for is truly global, and specialises in water/sanitation, food security and livelihoods sectors among the others. Before that, for nine years, he had worked for one of the leading international nutritional organisation, operating largely in humanitarian crisis situations.

Kacper’s official professional title was global humanitarian programme manager, which meant that Kacper was based home in Poland, and travelled around the world to places, where his organisation believed there was a need for his skills. In nature, his deployments were fairly short. Kacper would go somewhere, help setting projects and programmes up, and once they were functional, hand them over to teams, which worked in these places on long-term basis. Once his tasks were completed, he would return to Nowy Sacz, and wait until he gets a call from his headquarters with instructions on why and where he would go next.

As Kacper specialises in humanitarian problems, he would normally go to places that are struck by some kind of a disaster, let it be natural, or human-made. Consequently, Kacper would often go to regions that were flooded, destroyed by earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, or droughts. Sometimes, he would also be sent to places affected by wars/civil wars and military conflicts. Actually, most of the time, Kacper ends up in environments, where people suffer from more than one of the described misfortunes. He often worked in places at war, which were affected by droughts, or floods in the same time. A term Complex Emergencies is used for such situations.

For last few years, Kacper has been managing programmes rather than projects. This means that he coordinates activities of many projects that constitute a programme. He makes sure that the whole programme is logical, and is coherent with the needs of the people. Kacper would need to ensure that all teams within his programme coordinate their own work on many different levels. It is Kacper’s job to make sure that activities are well designed, implemented, monitored, and then when they finish, evaluated for future learning. Often, it is his responsibility to ensure security of the organisation’s clients (beneficiaries), personnel and assets. More often than not, he needs to cooperate with funding teams to ensure that there are enough financial resources for the projects’ implementation. He also needs to make sure that all entrusted funds are spent the way, they are supposed to, and that no money is misused.

His work involves a great deal of external coordination. He negotiates and coordinates his organisation’s work with authorities, United Nations, international and national NGOs, external companies, and above all, he makes sure that he has got a constant contact with communities, they strive serving, so that whatever is done is actually useful for people!

Kacper frequently needs to be involved in media and advocacy work, as well as various national and international campaigns. This is to help his organisation’s work has got a larger positive impact on lives of people they work with.

It is understandable that most of his efforts concentrate at making teams of various people work. Kacper manages national and international staff, and reports to multiple stakeholders in the same time.

In many ways, Kacper treats his job, as an ordinary profession that takes him dealing with many unordinary situations. It is just a job, like any other, where you need to perform, be organised, and do your best, otherwise you risk your employer not being happy with you, which might in turn lead to all kind of professional sanctions – loosing your job included.

What Kacper likes underlining is that humanitarian workers are not any kind of super-humans, or heroes – making sacrifices of their lives. ‘We are all paid, and well looked after’ he explains to his friends, whenever they ask about his job. ‘Believe, me’ he adds, ‘I like having a fancy computer, or go for holidays to attractive places, as much as most people do, and I do not enjoy living in some dirty s…holes. I only do it, when there is no other choice.’

Kacper loves his job, and he believes that his work has got this ‘something’ that makes it special. ‘You definitely deal with extreme suffering and poverty, and this affects you as a human being – whether you like it or not, and no matter how tough you are’ – he once explained to a group of young students at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. ‘You need to be open, and compassionate’ – he carried on. ‘I do not think that you can do the job well, if you do not try imagine how suffering really affects people’s lives… something that is easily forgotten, when you have yet another report to write, or deal with poor management of goods in a warehouse.’ He looked at his listeners, who seemed quite interested and waited for an opportunity to ask questions.

‘Of course, what I have explained is not always that simple and easy’ he carried on. ‘More often than not, things get messy and complicated, and sometimes even tragic, but handling all of these problems and finding solutions to seemingly unsolvable puzzles is what I love the most’ he concluded his lecture.

PS. It is late at night, and Kacper needs to go to bed. Tomorrow is Monday!

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