Tackling Humanitarian Crises from Home

Since June, the majority of our Global Surge deployees have been operating from home, providing assistance in the most demanding humanitarian crises.

With the long-standing support of the USAID - Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), our Global Surge has been providing surge capacity support in emergency operations since 2012 through the Standby Partnership Mechanism.

In a significant shift this past June, our Global Surge deployees were in majority working remotely rather than directly on the field. That month, 57 per cent of our deployees were assisting partners and clusters from their home or remotely. –  a first  since the inception of our Global Surge program in 2012. As this change mirrors the evolving nature of our work, it does certainly reflect the diverse challenges facing humanitarian actors over the world. 

One frequent reason for home-based deployment is the complexities of obtaining visas in countries where the populations we assist are based. Sometimes, the process can drag on for weeks or months, while immediate assistance is needed. Additionally, security concerns can bar our deployees from entering certain countries physically. For instance, the rapid escalation of the crisis in Sudan needed swift and immediate support, while large swaths of the country remained inaccessible. 

“The beauty of being an Information Management Officer is that you essentially require only a laptop and a reliable internet connection”, highlights Ketankumar Trivedi, a Gender Information Management Officer seconded (through the Standby Partnership Mechanism and with the support of USAID – BHA) to UN Women Sudan from his home in Gandhinagar, India. “With the right tools, tasks such as data collection, analysis, and management can be performed from vast distances”, concurs Mohamed Mowlid, another IMO, seconded to WHO in Sudan from Mogadishu, Somalia, adding that he feels “as efficient as on the field.”  

However, home-based deployments present their own set of challenges. While IMOs can function with just a laptop, accessing the necessary data is essential for effective work. “Without access to the required data, effective work is impossible”, explains Abdoul Karim Sow, deployed to the Global WASH Cluster (through the Standby Partnership Mechanism and with the support of USAID – BHA) from his home in Dakar, Senegal. Sometimes, IMOs need to persuade partners on the ground to grant them access to essential data – a task often easier in face-to-face conversations than virtual ones. “Entering someone's office in person tends to be more impactful than sending an email”, Abdoul Karim adds with a smile. 

“Coordination and communication present the greatest challenges”, concurs Ketankumar. “When interacting with staff on the ground, they might be facing dire situations and would have other things on their minds. This must be taken into consideration when you are reaching out.” Remote deployees then put in extra effort to carefully communicate and coordinate with partners on-site. Rubyath Binte Hasan, seconded (through the Standby Partnership Mechanism and with the support of USAID – BHA) to UNICEF in Myanmar for the Global Child Protection AoR/Cluster, underscores the importance of mindful communication. “When engaging with partners on the ground, you need to demonstrate how the data will directly benefit them in continuing the response”, recommends Rubyath, from her home in Chittagong, Bangladesh. 

Maintaining a constant connection with the field is crucial for remote deployees, starting even before their assignment begins. While some may have prior experience in the country they are assisting, others might find themselves remotely deployed to unfamiliar territories. Rubyath, who had not been to Myanmar before her assignment, extensively researched the country's situation. “I tapped into shared knowledge by connecting with other iMMAPers who had worked in Myanmar. This helped me deeply understand the intricacies of the situation and avoid any harm,” she explains. Alongside insights from colleagues and former peers, remote deployees also independently do a “good amount of homework” prior to their deployment, explains Rubyath, through “reading any recent publicly available documents” from their area of work to get a clear understanding of the situation on the ground. 

Remaining technically linked to the field is one aspect, but emotional connection to the ground realities is equally vital. Abdoul Karim compares this to the experience during the COVID-19 pandemic: “When infection rates surged in remote areas, it was easier to deal with mentally. However, the data we deal with aren't mere numbers – even when we're not physically present.” This connection to the field realities is especially strong given that many remote deployees have extensive field experience. Rubytah, who has been deployed in Ethiopia and Bangladesh for the last five years, emphasizes this. “Having been in the field, I can empathize with the pain and vulnerability people experience. Also, while on-site presence provides unique insights on what is happening at ground-level, direct experience only belongs to those directly affected.” 

Whether in the field or hundreds of miles away, deployees share a common goal: delivering aid to those most in need – regardless of the circumstances. “While sending someone to the field is ideal, remote deployments are a viable alternative when on-site presence isn't feasible,” Rubyath points out. With humanitarian access shrinking in many countries, it is of paramount importance to reach affected populations without exclusion: “We cannot leave people behind – just because we cannot physically be there,” states Rubyath. “We have to make sure that we are reaching the affected populations, no matter what – home-based or not.” 

5 Essential Tips for Successful Home-Based Deployments

  • Create a Comfortable Workspace: set up a workspace that promotes focus and comfort. Make sure you have a reliable internet connection and establish clear working hours to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • Do Your Homework: Prior to your deployment — especially if you don’t know the country – immerse yourself in the country through readings and discussions with fellow iMMAPers that know the situation.
  • Consider Field Realities: Always take into account the challenges faced by partners and national staff working directly on the ground when you are reaching out.
  • Prioritize coordination and communication: Put an extra effort into staying connected with colleagues and partners, ensuring a seamless flow of information and collaboration.
  • Stay Current: Keep yourself updated about reality on the ground, developments and best practices.