ExtraOrdinaryStories: managing humanitarian projects

I'm testing this new section, ExtraOrdinaryStories. I see this place as a public square, where inspiring people tell their stories about project management: sometimes they change the world, sometimes not, but for sure they always keep pushing their limits. This post is by Roby, a really really really special (more than a) friend. Have a good read! - Gianmarco.

My name is Roberta but most people call me Roby. I was born back in 1988 which makes me closer to the 30s than the 20s. I am passionate about exploring places and cultures and I have always managed to combine study and/or work with traveling. I have a BA in Interpreting and Translation from the University of Trieste and the University of Lisbon and a MSc in International Humanitarian Action from University College Dublin in Ireland.

I started working as Project Manager in 2013. Where? In Jordan. Where is that? In the Middle East, close to Syria and Palestine. Why Jordan? Good question but the answer is a long story.

To be brief, I am a humanitarian practitioner working in humanitarian responses. In the past 5 years, I have mostly worked in the response to the Syria refugee crisis from Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq and more recently, in the response to Europe refugee and migrant crisis from the Greek islands. Do I volunteer? No, I am employed by humanitarian organizations and I receive a monthly salary. Do I go to Africa and try to feed babies? No!

The humanitarian sector is way more complex and vast than what most people think.

The industry, if we want to call it that way, can be seen as divided into different clusters (sectors of intervention) such as Education, Protection, Health, WASH (Water and Sanitation), Shelter, Logistics etc.

I have managed projects in different countries and in different sectors with a focus on Protection and more specifically, Child Protection, Education and Health and more specifically in Reproductive Health.

What does it mean to be a project manager in the humanitarian sector? It means to be always READY, COMMITTED and POSITIVE. Ready for the worst, committed to the best, positive when hope is not to be seen.

It means managing large teams of staff coming from all over the world with their own background, working pace, understanding of the job, language, attitude and personality. It means assessing needs in the onset of an emergency, designing activities, recruiting staff in the shortest time possible, mobilizing resources, writing project proposals, finding donors willing to financially support your organization to fill the gaps on the ground, it means working 20 hours per day, it means working on weekends, it means burn-out, curfew and security regulations, it means restrictions of movement, it means trainings, opportunities, constant learning, professional growth, it means EXPERIENCE! In my project manager path, I have been responsible for several areas of work:

  • Budget management: How much money is available for specific activities? Are the funds spent as planned? What are the challenges? Is there a need for reallocations, extensions etc.?
  • Team management: Put a group of people together – more or less skilled - and make them work AWESOMELY being a good leader while providing support and direction
  • Monitoring and evaluation: What is the project target? What about the indicators? How many beneficiaries have we reached? Is data collection done properly? What are the challenges in the implementation of activities? What are the lessons learned and recommendations? Best practices?
  • Coordination: Put all those stakeholders together, coordinate, avoid duplication, communicate, share information, meetings, working groups, documents, define areas of responsibility. How can we ensure a coordinated response to a specific crisis with hundreds of organizations working in different sector?
  • Representation: Be ‘the good face’ of your organization, of your teams, of your activities in front of government, United Nations, humanitarian organizations, local actors, donors and your staff
  • Human Resources: What staff do we need? Interview people, select staff, offer inductions and trainings to new employees; conduct performance reviews; ensure policies and code of conduct are understood and followed
  • Media: Meet journalists, give interviews, follow your organization’s media policy, agree on messages to be delivered, be ready to be on microphone and in front of a camera – media outlets talking about your programs – be excellent!
  • Advocacy: Speak out; fight for change; support your causes

Multitasking while speaking three languages at the same time, looking fresh, convincing and inspirational when all you really want to do is scream! That is why I love my job!

Discover more about Roberta Businaro on her website No Matter Where You Go | Taking chances. Want to tell your story? Drop me a line.

Roberta Businaro