Project coordinator, Jennifer Craig: life on assignment

19 Sep 2023

Jennifer Craig studied law at the Australian National University and then went on to do a Masters in disaster mitigation and reconstruction at the University of Newcastle. She has built a career with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) over five overseas assignments, starting as a supply chain logistician in Nigeria in 2016. She then went on to work in Tanzania is a logistics manager, a role she also held in Cambodia in 2018. Later that year she returned to Cambodia as a project coordinator, a role that she continued with in her most recent assignment in Palestine.

After her time working overseas, she has now settled in Australia and is a member of the recruitment team at the MSF office in Sydney. She kindly spoke to us about her time with MSF.

How did you first hear about MSF?

Like many people, my first encounter with MSF was with the wonderful face-to-face fundraisers. I was still in high school, and while I was aware of MSF, I had no tangible knowledge of the organisation. This meeting sparked my interest, so after meeting the face-to-face fundraisers, I bought some books and began reading about the humanitarian world.  

Jen with head hygienist

Jen with the head hygienist, in the waste disposal area of her project in Tanzania. They had just received a long-awaited order of coloured buckets for waste disposal which everyone was very excited about.

How did you build a career with MSF?

I was interested in a career with MSF from a very young age, however, I ended up studying law and felt that I didn't have a useful skillset for humanitarian work because I wasn't a doctor or an engineer.  

I had a friend who was working in South Sudan with another organisation; he approached me about a vacant logistics position, as he felt I would be a good fit. I applied and was accepted. After 8 months in South Sudan, I made a very deliberate decision to apply with MSF on the basis of their charter, the work I had seen them do in South Sudan, and their impressive reputation, both inside and outside of the humanitarian community. 

Convoy of cars that Jen travelled in.

Each day Jen and her team travelled in convoy from Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania to the nearby village they lived in, within a strict curfew, because the road became dangerous after dark with armed hold-ups and car robberies. 

What skills would you recommend gaining before applying to work for MSF?

I cannot stress enough how important managerial skills are on assignment. Most international positions require team management skills, which can be the part of the job that people find the most challenging. Being a good manager, making difficult decisions, having difficult conversations, and the ability to motivate diverse teams of staff, often in challenging conditions, will all contribute significantly to the success of the project.  

Another essential quality is having work experience in remote or low-resource settings. You need to be resourceful enough to work with the tools that are available, and continue to work effectively under both physically and mentally challenging conditions. For instance, medical staff may find that they do not have access to the tools, or even medications, that they might have at home. They may be the only senior doctor on staff, have no colleagues alongside them to collaborate with (although there are technical advisors available), and they may very well be presented with medical conditions that are much more advanced than they would see in Australia or New Zealand. The ability to work quickly and independently with the resources available cannot be overemphasised.

It’s also important to be able to adapt to your living and working circumstances. During my time with MSF, I have lived in guesthouses with bucket showers, shared rooms, little privacy or no hot water. The most challenging environment I lived in was on a project in northeastern Nigeria where, due to security considerations, we were not allowed to leave the building. This meant we lived and worked in the same building for three months and the only outside area we had access to was the car park. Therefore, it’s important that if you’re considering applying to work with MSF, you have the ability to manage your own physical and mental wellbeing within these types of environments.  


Can you tell us about one of the most challenging parts of working overseas?

For me, the most challenging part of working overseas is needing to be flexibile and adaptable to the assignments you are placed on. You need to be able to roll with any changes and not get too attached to the project you are being sent to, as it may very well change at the last minute. MSF will place you on an assignment where you are most needed, so you shouldn’t have your heart set on going to a particular country or context. 


An example of the types of problems you’ll need to deal with as a logistician, Jennifer was told there were “a few bees in the warehouse” while on assignment in Nigeria.

Have you had any work experience that helped prepare you for working on assignments?

Working on the London Olympics I had a manager say to me one day that we were working towards a massive, immoveable deadline with a team of staff who were doing these jobs for the first, and possibly only, time in their lives and that it was not going to be perfect that but it was going to happen, and that the only person who would notice the imperfections in my team during the event was me. It was a really valuable lesson in learning to let go of making things absolutely perfect and instead realising that there were some things that were just going to have to be perfect enough due to time and resource constraints.


Can you tell us about one of the highlights of your time working overseas?

There have been so many! I loved working in Tanzania as a logistician because literally every day was different. It was a huge project and in logistics every problem tends to come across your desk, so it was endlessly interesting.  

My favourite project was the hepatitis C project I worked on in Cambodia. We were looking to demonstrate a method of screening and treating hepatitis C in low-resource, rural areas that could be rolled out in other regions. Our findings were published in the journal Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, so it was a very satisfying project to be a part of. I'm a bit of a data nerd with a passion for equitable access so it was an ideal project for me in many ways.  

Jen presenting to the Ministry of Health in Cambodia.

Jen presenting the hepatitis C project findings to the Ministry of Health in Cambodia. 

What tips would you give to someone applying to work overseas with MSF?

While professional and technical skills are absolutely essential to working overseas with MSF, the recruitment process is extremely competitive, and even after somebody is recruited, getting a first contract remains a competitive process. 

Firstly, you should ensure that you meet all of the essential criteria, but there are other things that candidates can do to strengthen their applications. This includes:

  • Researching who MSF is; understand where the organisation has come from, find out the core beliefs it is founded on, and the type of work that is carried out.
  • Developing managerial skills or experience supervising / training a team to prepare you for the type of work on assignment.
  • Learning a second language; most of our projects are in French, Spanish and Arabic-speaking countries, so learning one of these languages will strengthen your application hugely.
  • Gaining experience working in remote or rural regions to develop the skills you’ll need to work in a low resource setting.

Finally, be aware that as an emergency response organisation our needs do change periodically. While we may not be recruiting your profession at the moment, it doesn't mean that we won't be in the future. A great way to keep up to date with changes to our recruitment is to sign up for our newsletter. 


Learn more

Jen featured in a recruitment webinar where she talked about her career with MSF, watch the webinar on demand. To stay up-to-date with the latest recruitment needs we recommend registering for updates to receive a monthly email newsletter.