“My sense of wanting to learn about new places & new people has to be coupled with being useful. Where I’m not taking the space of somebody.”

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Episode notes

Kate Moger is Regional Vice-President for the Great Lakes region at the International Rescue Committee. She’s based in Nairobi, although currently that’s in flux due to COVID-19.

We start with her rather interesting route into the sector by way of a dubious Russian travel agency, some traumatic early experiences, and how and where this turned around into a fulfilling career.

We then go deep on professionalisation and ethics in the humanitarian sector, and what this means for managing people in the present day. This includes her own experiences caring for a young child, and where the sector still needs to grow away from its macho roots.

Topics discussed:

[02:45] Avoiding conversations about her work. Why it’s hard when things tend to get ‘quite deep, quite fast’.

[06:25] A trajectory that runs through the UK, South Sudan, DR Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Kenya. But starting off at a questionable Russian travel start-up in a living room.

[11:45] Working for deaf-blind people and children at risk in the UK. Studying at the same time to help do justice to the seriousness of the work.

[15:10] Landing in South Sudan not terribly well prepared. Several hard learning moments, and returning to the UK in a fragile condition.

[22:50] A very different experience in the DR Congo. Changing her attitude to people, and to learning. How the humanitarian system approaches those critical first few early-career jobs.

[29:40] The appeal of working in politically tough and insecure environments. The importance of solidarity, and looking for situations where there’s a very clear case for outside help.

[37:55] Worrying about taking up space that would be better filled by others. Necessary structural changes in the humanitarian sector, including difficult conversations about power.

[47:00] Lessons learned over a long career. People being emotionally ready to change the way the humanitarian sector operates.

[50:30] How the sector treats its people. Experiences as a mother.