Deakin ‘virtually’ supporting humanitarian leaders across world

A global network of Deakin students, staff and alumni are convening a virtual workshop every week to help solve humanitarian problems exacerbated by COVID-19, which is pushing foreign-based leaders to their physical and emotional limits.

Staff from the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership, based at Deakin University in Melbourne, are coordinating the video conferencing sessions each Tuesday night to help leaders in 17 countries, including Australia, to find new ways to solve enormous local challenges.

Each session has the network collaborating with two groups of leaders speaking both French and English, many based in countries with new restrictive isolation measures making it even more difficult to give adequate support to local people experiencing a multitude of harrowing conditions.

The centre’s co-founder and Deakin Associate Professor Connors said the pandemic has caused an unprecedented challenge to the world’s humanitarian system.

“COVID-19 has further illuminated the weaknesses of the system, which was set up to provide a surge force of experts from global bodies and international NGOs when there is a disaster. But with travel restrictions, local organisations have been forced to take the lead,” Associate Prof Connors said.

“This has put enormous pressure on leaders on the ground and shown we need to change our thinking and build local capacity through a global systems approach. These virtual meetings are our initial and humble response to mitigate some of these issues.”

These workshops are quickly also becoming a ‘safety valve’ for leaders who are being pushed to their limits, many working 15- to 16-hour days.

Foreign-based and domestic humanitarian leaders from the centre include:

  • ‘Adisa,’ who works with ‘Save the Children’ in Niger, West Africa, where under 20 ventilators service the entire country;
  • ‘Amber,’ an Australian aid worker who is ‘virtually’ managing Australian relief for populations affected by Cyclone Harold in the South Pacific; and
  • Brad Fogden, Acting Commander of District Eight with Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA), who is managing local issues and feeding information into the CFA’s pandemic team.

Mr Fogden said that while individual circumstances are different across countries, there are many similarities to their experiences.

“Hearing how the others are dealing with varying levels of lock-down and workloads is helping me to develop better strategies. I’ve had to become more adaptive and find ways to empower my team. Large-scale disasters can create greater resilience. People realise what they’re really capable of,” Mr Fogden said.

The Centre for Humanitarian Leadership is a partnership between Deakin University and ‘Save the Children’. With over 650 graduates from 85 countries, it was set up as a global network to help transform the humanitarian sector.

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