From logistician to head of mission with MSF: Meet Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor, from Wellington, New Zealand, has completed 19 field assignments with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). She reflects on supporting people during conflict and natural disasters – first as a logistician, and now as a head of mission.
How did you come to join MSF?
Prior to joining MSF I worked in the construction industry. During my career, I supervised building projects with the non-governmental organisation Habitat for Humanity, which opened my eyes to the prospect of doing humanitarian work. I applied to MSF in 2002 when the organisation visited Auckland.
You’ve worked everywhere from Palestine most recently, to Nigeria, Nepal and the Philippines. What have you found most rewarding about these assignments?
I often find myself working in zones of conflict and natural disasters, in situations that are beyond the ability of local people and authorities to cope with alone. One such situation was after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, where we identified a need for MSF to support the local Ministry of Health with emergency aid. We constructed an inflatable hospital, supported the Kathmandu hospital and treated patients in tents when they were too frightened to enter a building for care. In times like these, our presence is reassuring to communities – it is rewarding to be there for people when they are vulnerable and in need. In each country I have worked in, I have always been impressed by the resilience of the local people who have survived terrible circumstances.
“People often don’t see these practical abilities as something that can transfer to working with a humanitarian organisation like MSF – but none of the medical work could go ahead without logistics.”
How did you make the transition from logistician to head of mission?
I joined MSF as a logistician and worked for some years in this role, developing my knowledge about the organisation and slowly taking more responsibility with each assignment. I was offered the opportunity to transition to head of mission and went on my first assignment in this role in the Ivory Coast in 2007. As I joined MSF late in my working life, I had considerable management experience, including owning small businesses, which helped greatly in developing the skills necessary for a head of mission.
What did your role as head of mission in Palestine involve?
I’ve now been to Palestine on two assignments and will be heading there again this year: I feel very passionate about our work there. We are working both in Gaza and the West Bank. In Gaza, teams are facing a huge volume of patients with very challenging injuries – in the last twelve months, more than 6,500 people have been shot by the Israeli forces, many left with highly complex wounds. It is very challenging to transfer patients outside of Gaza. As head of mission, I work closely with our medical and coordination teams and local authorities to achieve access to the people who need our care and find solutions for their treatment, including pushing for patients to access further care outside of Gaza. I also work to ensure security for our staff in a highly unstable environment.
Could you describe a moment that made you proud to work for MSF?
In 2017 I went on my fourth assignment to Nigeria, where I worked as emergency coordinator in Borno state. We lobbied for other organisations like the United Nations to acknowledge the level of the displacement crisis in the region. MSF had been present in Nigeria for many years, and we were able to use our experience to advocate for others to increase their presence and answer the urgent need for food and other care. Overall, we work hard to respect our charter and our financial independence, which allow us to work in very challenging contexts around the world – this personally makes me very proud.
“After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal . . . we constructed an inflatable hospital, supported the Kathmandu hospital and treated patients in tents when they were too frightened to enter a building for care.”
What advice do you have for others interested in working as a logistician with MSF?
Firstly, you must have a strong desire to work in these environments, as the job means long periods away from home in often uncomfortable conditions. Logistics skills cover everything from engineering to supply and IT. People often don’t see these practical abilities as something that can transfer to working with a humanitarian organisation like MSF – but none of the medical work could go ahead without logistics. This work is absolutely imperative. For anyone considering applying, I’d say: “go for it!” You will do most of your learning while on the job. Don’t underestimate the need or your own ability.