31 May 2010

It has never been easy to find international staff for Haiti. When I first went there, for Plan, my predecessor had been in place for well over five years. And I know that my successor only left recently, after staying on for almost seven years – unusually long, and no doubt due to the difficulty finding a replacement.

After the earthquake recruitment has only become more difficult, with every agency trying to hire from a relatively small pool of French-speaking international emergency and development professionals. Where on 11 January there were some 1200 NGOs registered in Haiti, already quite a lot for such a small country, now there are over 3000 (!!), and all need expatriate managers to run the business, from general management to sector specific programs.

Save the Children also found it difficult to get the right number of right people. Shortly after the disaster the organisation defined the need for a very large contingent of international staff, some 80-90 of them, but finding them has been another matter. Or keeping them: as a colleague of me pointed out, the prospect of coming to Haiti seems to be very unhealthy for family members. We had an unusual number of last minute contract cancellations of new recruits due to sudden deaths in the family, mostly grand mothers – or so they say.

As a result we still have many openings.

For example, I have been doing three jobs for the last two months because we cannot fill vacancies. Apart from being the Emergency Team Leader, I am also the Program Director – the one responsible for program design, integration, quality and everything else to do with the nature of our interventions -, and at the same time I am doing the job of Operations Director – making sure our sub-offices work, as well as our support functions from logistics and procurement to IT and administration. Both Program Director and Operations Director are supposed to report to me, so at least this way I can stop them from fighting, and make sure they always agree with the Emergency Team Leader, but obviously, doing all three of these senior management jobs, it is impossible to do any of them well (which doesn’t seem to worry the organisation that much – but it worries me!).

We also have gaps in other areas, where we simply don’t get enough quality people. Short term is no problem, everybody wants to come for a few weeks – so they have been here, too (we should do special T-shirts). We haven’t been able to hire a media and communications specialist yet, but every media and communications person in the entire organisation has been here to help out, for a few weeks; we almost never got the same person back… In all fairness, this does not apply to every short term staff member that has come to Haiti. Especially in the beginning many in fact rushed out to come and support the rapid response efforts, under tough and primitive circumstances – far from a holiday, working 7 days a week, 16 hours per day or more. But we are now more than four months after the earthquake, and one would have hoped to have made progress with longer term recruitment, more progress than so far: 20-25% of those international jobs are still open. One also would have expected, perhaps, that – similar to what some UN agencies do – the organisation would lean a little on some of their most competent staff members around the world to convince them to come to Haiti for a while, as a career opportunity. Come to contribute not only to the organisation’s largest and most complex operation, but also its most visible at present, and potentially its most vulnerable if things go wrong.

next: the engineering works

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