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BLOG: Saving lives: and the humanitarian effort

Sep 21, 2016

Category: General / Posted by: pjones

Dorothea Carvalho, Professional Development Project Director, at the CILT speaks to one of the first graduates of the programme, Tabinda Syed, who talks about her work as Supply and Logistics Specialist at UNICEF Syria Country Office, and the Certification in Humanitarian Logistic Courses on its 10th anniversary. 

Dorothea: How long have you been in your current job and working for your current organisation?

Tabinda: I joined UNICEF’s Syria country office in mid-October 2015 and I have been with UNICEF for almost 15 years.

Can you tell me what your work has involved since you joined UNICEF?

Over the years I worked in very diverse areas of supply chain, from developing concept of operations at the inception of a humanitarian response to implementation and switching to the development phase. While based in UNICEF’s Supply Division in Copenhagen I was involved in product evaluations through beneficiaries’ feedback and developing local or regional procurement strategies for critical commodities.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing is it's not just a job, it's making a difference in someone's life by providing life saving drugs or therapeutic food or educational material. Especially making a difference for children, working with UNICEF and here in Syria where children really need all the support we can give them. My job expanded my horizons in so many ways through interacting with multiple cultures, working in a vast number of countries and having a global perspective on issues as well as solutions.

And what made you decide to follow a career in the humanitarian sector?

The humanitarian sector is an evolving sector with constant opportunities to learn as every response is unique and we have to keep improving for saving lives. Also, the diversity of cultures make it a global village for learning.

You have completed two CILT qualifications, the Certification in Humanitarian Logistics and in Certification in Humanitarian Supply Chain Management. Why did you enrol on the Fritz/CILT Certification programme?

I was always keen to have an academic perspective on humanitarian supply chains. Back in the day there was not much available on the subject and a lot was done intuitively or using common sense. CHL not only provided the theoretical foundation but also reinforced the confidence in my abilities to manage the massive supply chain in remote parts of Pakistan by confirming that the subject matter experts were recommending some of the same methodologies. It was particularly interesting when some of the assignments would pose a similar challenge that I had in real life and my solutions mostly reflected what I was doing on the ground. In a way it was getting confirmation from experts that I was on the right track.

Secondly, I think that it's equally important for supply chain staff to have a strong academic background just like in other areas within the humanitarian sector. While doctors and engineers design and implement health or water and sanitation programmes, supply chain was left to generalist. The reality is that between 60% to 80% of immediate response is based on how well the supply chain is functioning. We need strong professionals in this sector to improve the ever increasing needs for humanitarian response around the world.

I was invited to become a pilot student for the Fritz/CILT Certification in Humanitarian Logistics (CHL) in early 2006 before the full certification programme started in September 2006 because UNICEF was part of the advisory group which helped to develop the certification programme. Whilst I had a Bachelors and Masters degree, I had no supply chain qualifications when I started my first job in the UNICEF Afghanistan Country Office in November 2001 based in Peshawar, Pakistan. Our job was to manage the cross border movements. In fact I did not know that there were professional or academic qualifications in supply chain management and especially that there were qualifications in that subject for the humanitarian sector. So I was very happy to be selected to study for the Fritz/CILT programme.

The course started at the peak of the Pakistan earthquake response, in October 2005, and I switched to UNICEF’s Pakistan country office as Logistics Officer to work on this.

I was one of the first two students to complete CHL and was invited to a conference in Geneva to talk about my experiences. Let me say first of all, how relevant the programme was to my job. Whilst I had not been doing too badly without the training, what I learnt in some cased validated decisions I had taken based on common sense and in other cases the programme gave me the tools and techniques to do things in a different way.

Shortly before I completed CHL, I had to train staff from UNICEF and Red Cross in Myanmar. I used most of the course work to develop training materials which were translated into the main local language. A few months later, in May 2008, the country was hit by one of the worst cyclones in Myanmar’s history. I was deployed there for the immediate response and was later retained as international professional staff member to operate the supply chain, initially for the emergency response and later to cover the wider needs of the development programme in the country. I was able to use what I had learnt during the programme in training my team and extended this capacity development to other humanitarian partners. The most gratifying experience was developing the capacities of government counterparts, particularly Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education by training their staff and developing inventory management systems for more visibility and control of these critical supply chains.

Has the certification programme helped you in your career as a humanitarian logistician?

The Certification gave me the confidence of a certified logistician and later certified supply chain specialist. It played a significant role in my professional development and opened vistas for growth as I was able to couple field experience with academic qualifications. I have been using the materials since 2008 to train humanitarian workers in formal settings in multiple countries including Pakistan, Myanmar, North Korea and Syria, to name a few, and informally on-the-job training in many more.

What are the greatest challenges in your job?

The humanitarian sector requires immediate action with little time to plan. This is coupled with a lack of resources, both monetary and human resources. The challenge most of the time is to plan, implement and show results in a short time with limited trained staff. Also every emergency is different and requires adapting to the context.

So what motivates you to keep learning and developing in your job?

After every emergency I have lessons that help me do a little better next time that translates directly into reaching more people with limited resources, perhaps saving more lives and making a difference in a child’s life.

Finally, what advice would you give someone who is considering entering the humanitarian logistics sector?

Humanitarian logistics is a vast and growing field with huge potential for improvements. There is increasing interest from donors and key decision makers including governments in mainstreaming supply chains due to its substantial impact on the entire humanitarian response. To succeed in this sector both academic and field experience helps and above all a mind set to embrace diversity, constant change and open-mindedness.

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