“90% of the time it didn’t go how I wanted it to. But 10% of the time it did, and often I look back and think, ‘Actually, those were the key moments’.”

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Episode notes

Christine Williamson runs a consultancy firm called Duty of Care International, and has spent twenty years in human resources management in the aid world.

It’s well-known that this is a very difficult area. The sector puts large numbers of people into tough operating environments, with a tiny fraction of the support that’s available for diplomatic or military personnel. It’s built on short-term funding contracts which interfere with efforts to professionalise and plan the workforce.

Perhaps most difficult of all, there are a range of equity and oversight issues that come with shipping expatriate staff into places with weak regulatory systems.

With all this in mind, this is a wide-ranging conversation about ethics and professional excellence in managing human resources.

Topics discussed:

[2:20]  Christine’s early days in the aid sector, and latter days starting her own company. The common thread of working for justice and fairness in human resources management.

[09:30]  Key challenges for human resources management in the aid sector. Distinctions between expatriate and “national” staff, and the bad practices that tend to follow.

[13:00]  Professional development in the aid sector (or lack thereof). The need to think at a system level about the labour market, rather than organisations blindly competing with each other.

[20:20]  The current trend for tighter “safeguarding” to prevent abuses, in the wake of the Oxfam Haiti scandal. The role of proactive HR management and the true costs of cutting corners.

[30:35]  Developing a healthier overall work environment for people in the aid sector. Individual and organisational responsibilities to sustain mental health.

[39:40]  Whether a lifelong career in the aid sector is sustainable, or even a good idea. What individuals and organisations can do to improve both longevity, and the quality of the experience at any given time.

[48:30]  Takeaways from a few decades in the aid sector and elsewhere. Embracing the “wacky” ideas.