Mark Forsyth is Refugee Support Services Coordinator with the British Red Cross. His work focuses on asylum seekers and refugees, in particular unaccompanied child asylum seekers. In February 2014 Mark attended the Humanitarian Diplomacy online diploma course run by DiploFoundation and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). In this short interview, he describes how he benefitted from the course, and the aspects he found of most value.
How did you hear about this course, and why did you decide to apply?
I heard about the course through the IFRC website. I was looking for a new challenge and there is also a growing focus in the British Red Cross to advocate on behalf of vulnerable groups on top of our direct delivery to beneficiaries. I felt that the course could help guide me in my work trying to influence UK authorities to act in the interest of vulnerable people.
Your work focuses on asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. What specific skills relevant to your work did you hope the course would deliver? Has it met your expectations? Can you give an example of how skills developed during the course have been useful in your work (either during the course, or since then)?
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Diplomacy conjures up many images and this course clearly sets out the similarities and differences between traditional diplomacy and Humanitarian diplomacy. A specific skill that I feel I have gained is how to structure a persuasive argument. The underpinning knowledge gained has allowed me to use these skills to advocate for other groups of asylum seekers and refugees and not just unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
The course has also been useful in clarifying the Red Cross’ responsibility to persuade decision makers and has helped me articulate this to those who have reservations about the Red Cross’ role in this field.
Also, my research assignment for this course has been used in discussions to inform the future direction of British Red Cross advocacy regarding unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
One of the key features of the course is the high level of interaction both between participants and lecturers, and among participants. Did this interaction help you to learn? Can you give an example of how?
There is a weekly feature of the course called Hypertext entries. This is a where we are asked to read a document, add comments and start virtual discussions. This method really brings the text to life and the insight gained from discussing the document with dozens of other participants from all around the world is invaluable.
What was the most valuable or useful aspect of this course for you?
The most valuable aspect of the course was having access to lecturers and tutors who have decades of experience in the humanitarian diplomacy field. Their insights ensured that all theoretical discussions and tasks had strong connections to the realities of practice.
What are the main challenges in attending this online course? What do you recommend to applicants to consider, before applying?
The biggest challenge to attending the course is the time commitment. To get the most out of the course you need to be engaged with it on a daily basis for the duration of the course. The content is interesting and motivating but applicants should consider if they are able to accommodate the extra hours into their working week.