In a world of superhero multiverses, money-spinning franchises and social media memes, the word ‘hero’ has lost much of its impact. World Humanitarian Day addresses this imbalance and celebrates all the real-life heroes who help save and improve lives every day.
Established in memory of the 19 August 2003 bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq – an atrocity that killed 22 people – the United Nations General Assembly formalized the date to advocate for the survival, well-being, and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers.
On that day in 2003, the United Nations’ chief humanitarian in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, lost his life. De Mello was a Brazilian diplomat who spent his career pursuing global humanitarian causes. High profile in life and in death – the Netflix movie Sergio tells the story of his life and work – De Mello was one of the world’s most prominent humanitarians.
As well as honoring De Mello and the 21 other people who lost their lives on 19 August 2003, World Humanitarian Day celebrates the real-life heroes who aren’t so prominent. Every day around the world, people go to work to improve the lives of others. During wars and natural disasters, and in the face of oppressive regimes and global health crises, there are people for whom work represents a daily risk.
Aid in the face of adversity
According to Humanitarian Outcomes, the most dangerous operational settings for aid workers are places where armed conflict is occurring. In its 2021 Aid Worker Security report, the organization says violence against aid workers in 2020 claimed 484 individual victims, 117 of whom died, making 2020 the worst year on record for the second year in a row.
But pursuing a career in humanitarian aid doesn’t necessarily require special training or a move to a war-torn country: aid workers aren’t only those who work on the frontline of delivery. Behind the scenes, there are people who keep the logistics running smoothly, those who ensure essential messages remain in the public eye, and the people who provide legal protection or technical expertise.
Many careers can be pursued without leaving home that help to deliver aid to the people who need it most, as well as those that deliver on-the-ground practical support.
A strategic approach
Global non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charities are a great place to start in a search for a humanitarian career. Like any major global organization, the infrastructure required to keep operations running smoothly requires specialists and support workers all over the world.
The pandemic has ushered in a flexible, hybrid way of working that’s here to stay. Combined with an acceleration in the development of AI technology and technical collaboration in pursuit of global solutions to humanitarian problems, the opportunities for remote working are expanding rapidly across most professions.
Developing and delivering humanitarian aid requires a coordinated, strategic approach. As well as the more obvious qualifications suited to an international aid career in subjects such as policy, sociology, international law, or global governance, a strategy or general management program can provide the solid grounding and knowledge required to work in the humanitarian sector at a leadership level.
At the management level in such a demanding environment, most humanitarian organizations and charities will look for a Master’s degree or more. But there are plenty of opportunities for humanitarian experience that can form the basis of a career while delivering aid.
Schools and colleges often have their own social action initiatives and coordinated volunteer programs – Esade offers individual and international opportunities – and are a great starting point for younger people who want to gain humanitarian experience.
Universities and graduate schools also offer collaborative social justice initiatives that can be pursued as part of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. These initiatives, which can include internships or consulting projects, offer students the opportunity to apply their classroom-based learning to real-world problems.
Participating in local or international development opportunities creates mutually beneficial partnerships: humanitarian organizations and the people they support receive institution-supervised expertise, while the students gain valuable experience and can see first-hand how their learning makes a difference in communities.
Recent projects from Esade’s University Development Service (SUD), include business planning to create subsidized housing for the poor in Nicaragua, economic and legal help for displaced individuals and refugees in Columbia, and strategic marketing to increase the income generated by sales of cacao and handicrafts produced by Indigenous women in Ecuador’s Amazonia region.
For those who aren’t affiliated with a university or graduate school, the United Nations offers opportunities for humanitarian work for volunteers in their own countries, internationally, or even online. For longer-term assignments, the UN has a comprehensive careers platform listing all its opportunities, from internships to temporary and full-time work.
According to the 2022 Global Humanitarian Overview, 274 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection this year alone – an increase of almost 40 million from last year.
The United Nations and partner organizations aim to assist 183 million of the people most in need across 63 countries, at a cost of $41 billion.
This assistance can’t be delivered without aid workers and volunteers. Whether it’s spending a few hours a week fundraising from home, taking a year-long sabbatical to support an overseas project, or developing strategic goals that will have a direct impact on local communities, aspiring leaders with business and management skills have a huge amount to offer.
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