Combining an HR skill set with humanitarian work

21 Apr 2020

Australian Hazel Singh worked on an assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2019. She reflects on her role as a Human Resources Manager, helping staff in our projects to improve their skills, knowledge and experience.

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Hazel Singh worked with MSF as Personnel Development Manager in Kenya. © MSF

What led you to join MSF?

Working with this organisation has always been a dream of mine: I believe in healthcare as a basic human right and was inspired by MSF’s work to bring medical assistance to people who need it. I started my career working in the corporate sector, in human resources (HR) roles in the legal and engineering industries. When I realised I could apply my skill set to a role with MSF, I jumped at the opportunity for my work to have a meaningful impact.

“Human resources work is at the backbone of any project, ensuring that our medical operations run smoothly and effectively.”

What are our teams doing in Nairobi, Kenya?

While in Nairobi for six months, I worked on two of MSF’s projects in Kenya – in Nairobi, the capital, and Homa Bay in the west of the country. In Nairobi’s Eastlands area we run a sexual violence clinic, as well as a 24/7 emergency department and ambulance referral service, serving people from the Mathare and Eastleigh slum areas. In Homa Bay, more than half the patients admitted to the MSF-supported hospital are HIV positive. Here, we are focusing on diagnosis and treatment for people with HIV, including those with co-infections like tuberculosis.

 

What were your main responsibilities?

As Personnel Development Manager (Learning and Development), my role focused on establishing learning and development frameworks for the Eastlands and Homa Bay projects. This area of work is all about enabling staff to improve their skills, knowledge and experience, so they can be more effective in what they do. I worked closely with team managers to identify learning and development opportunities for staff, coached them to play an active role in guiding staff to use these and developed initiatives for Kenyan staff to work in other MSF projects. I also looked after recruitment and organised staff induction programs and trainings.

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A training session for MSF staff facilitated by Hazel in Homa Bay, Kenya. © MSF

Why is HR an important component of MSF’s work?

HR teams provide staff with support and guidance, which is particularly essential in the challenging contexts in which MSF operates. This type of work is at the backbone of any project, ensuring that our medical operations run smoothly and effectively. HR is also important in its capacity to develop the people that make up the organisation so they can, regardless of their role, contribute to providing high quality medical care where it is needed.

“MSF has many dedicated, motivated and experienced staff who are locally hired in Kenya; their skills and expertise are invaluable, and they are also the ones who remain in the project and maintain its momentum."

What was most memorable for you from this assignment?

One of my tasks was to promote mobility amongst the Kenyan staff in both Nairobi and Homa Bay as a way to improve their job satisfaction and retention: detachments (opportunities for staff to work with MSF in other countries for a fixed period of around three months) were available, but the uptake was low. I decided to survey the staff on what they knew about mobility and facilitated training sessions so they could better understand the process and benefits for their careers. The training was very successful: multiple people applied for detachments, and during my time in Kenya I was able to organise detachments for a few. It was really satisfying to support them in this. MSF has many dedicated, motivated and experienced staff who are locally hired in Kenya; their skills and expertise are invaluable, and they are also the ones who remain in the project and maintain its momentum.

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A staff member attends to a patient with HIV in the Homa Bay hospital, west Kenya. © Patrick Meinhardt / MSF

What advice would you give to other people considering an HR role with MSF?

Even if you aren’t a doctor or someone with a medical background, you can still make a meaningful impact. I have found it so rewarding to play a role in supporting both medical and non-medical staff. If you want to leverage your HR skill set and combine that with humanitarian work – as well as seeking an adventure – then an HR career with MSF is your answer!