A brief history of your career since leaving the University of Birmingham

After leaving UoB, I initially found it difficult to break into the field of international development and humanitarian aid. While I had the academic background and the motivation, it was hard to get a foot into the field without much practical experience. My first few years involved a lot of travel, voluntary work, and temporary jobs to try to build up some experience. Eventually I was selected for an international fellowship called the Faiths Act Fellowship, which provided intensive training on interfaith action and conflict resolution. It also aimed at promoting international development, and planned the implementation of a campaign to encourage people of diverse backgrounds in Blackburn - reported as the most segregated town in England - to improve their community relations. This fellowship even received plaudits from Archbishop Desmond Tutu! After the Fellowship, I then worked for a year as project manager at an academic centre as part of Aston University. Then came the first big decision point in my career. I received two job offers at the same time - one was a well-paid policy position at a UK-based international NGO, and the other was a position with a small NGO working in remote areas of northern Malawi, which only paid a small living allowance. I had recently been married and my wife and I made a joint decision to take the bold step and move to Malawi. There, I worked on the management of projects for remote, hard-to-reach communities, with a highly participatory approach from the conception of project ideas all the way to their evaluation. From there I moved to Medecins Sans Frontieres’s (MSF's) operational desk for Yemen, Jordan, Iraq and Syria. This was based in Dubai, and lead on the development and implementation of communications strategies. I provided humanitarian and political analysis/advice for operations, including on crises such as the outbreak of war in Yemen. My role was critical for bringing international attention to the crisis, supporting access efforts and enhancing acceptance for MSF in-country. I was also involved in developing strategies for negotiating humanitarian access to areas controlled by armed groups in the region. My work involved a substantial field presence in Yemen, Jordan and Iraq. I then moved to the United Nations in 2015, working as Special Assistant to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) in Sudan, a challenging context where humanitarian assistance, peace and sustainable development intersected daily. I was involved in the HC's coordination of humanitarian activity in the country, as well as access negotiations to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those in need, as well as advocacy to improve the humanitarian operating environment in Sudan. Since May 2018 I have been Humanitarian Affairs Officer with UNOCHA in Eritrea.

Skills and knowledge from your postgraduate degree have you used in your career so far

I think the most important skills for my role are the essential soft skills gained through my study at UoB. These are things like effective writing, formulating arguments in a coherent and organised way, and communication skills. While the knowledge I gained during my study is also important, in a changing world the knowledge requires constant transformation; the soft skills gained allow me to continue improving my knowledge and to better adapt to the contexts and environments in which I work.

Main work activities in your current role

Working as part of a very small UNOCHA team in Eritrea, my role is wide-ranging. I coordinate with United Nations agencies to promote programming that addresses the basic needs of the most vulnerable people in the country. This involves planning, resource mobilisation, advocacy, and information management, under the leadership of the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator. The recent peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia is also opening up opportunities for improved cooperation in the region, and no doubt the requirements of my role will change to reflect this.

Why did this type of work appeal to you?

I think we all have a responsibility to make sure that the most vulnerable (wherever they may be) are not left behind, and are able to have their basic needs fulfilled. This should be regardless of whether they find themselves caught in situations of conflict, natural disasters, or chronic underdevelopment. The ultimate aim is for people and communities to be self-reliant and resilient, and for the humanitarian system to 'put itself out of business'.

Advice for students looking to enter this area of work?

Understand what motivates you. Be prepared to work on a voluntary basis, or for low pay initially, in order to obtain field experience. Appreciate the various levels of work and their complementary natures, for example: small/local NGOs working with communities on the ground; larger INGOs providing larger contributions; the United Nations system and its impact on wider policy and its relationship to member states and their aspirations for developments. Having or working towards a specialisation within the field can also help to distinguish you from more generalist candidates.