When Humanitarians Train, Communities Gain

By Kendall Brown
Relief International Contributor

In the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh, human traffickers scour the shops and farms, luring young men with stories of wealth and adventure, and often kidnapping those who don’t come willingly.

It is Najmul Islam’s job to help reintegrate the men who survive the ordeal and return home. As associate manager of Relief International’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) program, Mr. Islam oversees job training and psychosocial support for the returnees, and often works with them on a personal level. It is work that requires a high degree of empathy.

"It is very sensitive,” he says. “They are in a traumatic situation. They have a common tendency to distrust people.”

But now Mr. Islam has some new tools in his box. Mr. Islam was one of two RI staffers who recently participated in Relief International’s Talent Development Program, a three-year humanitarian leadership initiative aimed at helping humanitarian leaders and senior managers build stronger, more effective relationships with beneficiaries and colleagues. Throughout 2016, Relief International will partner with Leadership for Humanitarians to offer senior-level training programs in Kenya, Jordan and Bangladesh. A total of 17 people from local and international humanitarian organizations participated in the Bangladesh training. The third of four programs in Kenya is currently underway. The program is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development through the START Network, a coalition of 24 leading international NGOs.

Mr. Islam says the course taught him to improve his performance – and what he can deliver to beneficiaries – with planning and time management skills, listening techniques and communications skills. He also learned to solicit feedback from colleagues.

"I didn't practice getting feedback from my field level staff," he says. But when he took his new skills for a spin and asked a colleague in Cox’s Bazar whether he needed anything, the man gave him a wish list. Mr. Islam plans to fulfill it.

Other NGO executives say the Talent Development program has helped them forge deeper, more effective connections with beneficiaries. Afreen Kahn co-founded the Dhaka-based I Can Foundation, which addresses poverty and gender disparity in underdeveloped parts of Bangladesh. Ms. Kahn says in the past she would send out her field team with a long list of questions for beneficiaries. Now, she says, she follows a maxim found in the program: first understand and then be understood.

"That target group has a low literacy rate, they are living in poverty, they are engaged in their daily labor, and they don't have time to spend answering all these questions,” she says.

Instead, Ms. Kahn now spends extended periods of time with the target group, gently weaving her questions into conversation. She says she gathers the same information, but does it in a more effective way that also allows her to build trust with the beneficiaries. Though she has always sought a deep understanding of her beneficiaries, Ms. Kahn says the program has given her the skills to achieve it.

"Now in my head there's a structure,” she says. “I know the tools. I know the techniques."

To learn more about the Talent Development Program or to apply for the next session, please visit our Talent Development page.