Muhammad Aslam works with the Canadian Red Cross Delegation in Pakistan, as a programme coordinator. He has 14 years experience in humanitarian and development work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In June 2014, he successfully completed the online diplomacy course in Humanitarian Diplomacy run by DiploFoundation and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). In this interview he describes the value of the course in his environment, and how he faced the challenges of online learning.
How did you hear about this course, and why did you decide to apply?
Following many years of experience in the social sector, I joined the Canadian Red Cross as program coordinator in September 2012. As part of my orientation, I met Mr. Surein Peiris, Humanitarian Diplomacy and Movement Coordinator working with the IFRC Pakistan delegation. Mr. Peiris provided a very nice presentation on humanitarian diplomacy and shared his own experiences in Pakistan. He had attended the Humanitarian Diplomacy course as well, which was basically my inspiration and motivation to enroll on the course and pursue a career in humanitarian diplomacy. This also fit well with my master’s degree in international relations.
What kind of knowledge and skills did you gain through participating in this course? Can you provide some examples?
I was an ‘empty glass’ waiting to be filled with knowledge and skills relevant to the RCRC movement. As this was my first job with the Movement, I had to learn everything about RCRC from the start. Following the course, I feel very confident to build on the new skills and better support the delegation on the humanitarian diplomacy parts of my work here in Pakistan. I feel I can work as an advocate for vulnerable people at all levels.
The course exceeded my expectations. It was the first ever online course I had taken which allowed me to work with highly experienced and skilled facilitators and lecturers, and also provided good grounds for me to interact with a diverse group of colleagues all around the world.
I am building on my skills in developing understanding of organizations, which is a key aspect of my work. This includes developing networking with stakeholders, persuading decision-makers of the Hosting National Society of Pakistan (HNS) and other stakeholders on the agenda of violence prevention, disaster management, internally displaced persons, and providing strategic assistance and support to the delegation on key aspects of our work with the HNS. This course not only provided me with tools and skills relevant to my professional work with RCRC, but indeed it also provided added value to my personal career development.
What did you learn from studying with a diverse international group in this course?
The course provides best practices and practical tools for working with teams and distance management with objectivity. The key learnings out of working with a team remotely and with a diverse group of participants was that each individual is unique in his own context, culture, and thinking, so it is crucial to respect and value the diversity, and respect the views of others while working together as team. The course challenged the idea of competing with other team members/colleagues, and instead taught us the importance of teamwork and understanding in a challenging environment.
What was the most valuable or useful aspect of this course for you?
The most valuable aspect of program was its tools, and the skills of the facilitators for knowledge transfer and preparedness of humanitarian diplomacy personnel to face real world challenges. It was not any easy course and really put us on the task. It needs strong commitment and serious efforts to learn and develop skills to be a humanitarian diplomat in the future.
What do you recommend to other applicants working in similar conditions as you to consider, before applying?
For anyone working in the humanitarian field, I recommend that we need to be prepared for the worst conditions. Keeping in view that we operate in very challenging conditions, we should have good anticipation skills, so that if the time comes, we are ready to face the challenge.
Following from this, I recommend to all who are interested in the Humanitarian Diplomacy course, who have challenging and demanding day-to-day jobs, to act proactively in all parts of the course and plan time management. Complete course tasks ahead of time: this allows you to submit your assignments on time, while not compromising the quality of your work-related tasks and responsibilities as well. Having good equipment (tablet, laptop, internet devices, smart phones, etc.) in hand and other IT support is critical for successful completion. My colleagues never felt that I was taking part in an intensive course as it did not negatively affect my day-to-day task management and field visits.