Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tip of the Day: Downsides of Being an Aid Worker, Advice: Work for a Proactive Employer

Prior to the early 1980s, being a humanitarian aid worker was not only a respected calling, but one whose work was appreciated and respected. At the time, it was also relatively safe work, although that is no longer the case.

Although aid workers have been targeted for ages, strangely, after the early 1980s, suddenly all foreign aid workers went to the top of every terrorists "To Do" list!

Previously, it was a field of endeavor where few aid workers were targeted by indigenous and trans-national extremists who suddenly woke up one morning and decided that a great strategy would be to injure, kill and terrorize aid workers who were attempting to improve the lives of those who had few advocates. 

As we all know, aid workers come in all sizes, shapes and nationalities:

There are United Nations peacekeepers; Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs); national-level foreign assistance agencies; the hundreds of organizations working under the auspices of the United Nations; regional development banks; and groups such as the World Health Organization (WHO); Doctors without Borders; the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and literally thousands of what are described as direct and indirect aid organization with general and very focused goals.

I would also like to emphasize that the manner in which all of these foreign aid organizations view proactive, risk management differs dramatically, which is really  the focus of my Tip for the Day.

Simply stated, regardless of one's nationality, it is relatively EASY to determine a reactive versus a proactive foreign aid organization by asking to quickly review the below documents and asking several very pointed questions:

For job-seekers ask the following questions:

For optical purposes, take notes during the interview:

1. Prior to the interview, ask in advance for a copy of all security support benefits that are provided to foreign workers including, but not limited to the following:

a.  Hazardous duty allowance;

b.  Cost-of-living differential;

c. The maximum life insurance you can request that your employer will pay for;

d. Whether you are transported in light-armored or fully-armored vehicles while deployed in duty status;

e. A list of all human resources benefits you are entitled to if you are injured and/or killed as a result of hostile action;

f. Whether you are provided international medical treatment and evacuation coverage at no cost to you in the event you are injured and/or killed as a result of hostile action. If you are required to pay for such coverage, what is the total cost to you while deployed? NOTE: Depending on your compensation level, you may have the option of asking that your employer cover the cost of such insurance; and

g. A list of all special protective equipment you are issued to prevent your being injured.

2.  Ask for a copy of the position description that you're applying for;

3. Ask for a copy of the mandatory security training you will be provided in order to fulfill your position description;

4. Ask your prospective employer how many foreign workers have been injured or killed in the line-of-duty in the last five years;

5. Ask your prospective employer for news clippings on the incidents that have occurred over the last five years;

6. Ask your prospective employer how the incidents could have been prevented;

7. Use your networking skills to discuss with former employees of the foreign aid organization how they were treated, particularly as it relates to security support;

8. Ask for an example of a threat situation that would be so perilous that you would potentially be evacuated from the conflict zone you have been assigned to?;

9. Ask whether your prospective employer provides "ransom-kidnap-extortion" coverage and what the maximum financial level of coverage is?;

10. Ask for a copy of your employer's organizational security guide for all employees, although they rarely will provide you a copy until you actually become an employee; If your potential employer tells you that they don't an organizational security guide for employees, this should be viewed as a "flag"; and

11. Ask for a copy of your employer's organizational Crisis Management Plan for all employees, although they rarely will provide you a copy until you actually become an employee; If your potential employer tells you that they don't have a crisis management plan, consider refusing employment if they do offer you a position. 

If you are required to sign a contract for work in a conflict zone, ensure that all eleven of the items ABOVE are included in your contract.

The majority of high-threat positions for foreigners, particularly in conflict zones such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. very often include a high probability of your being abducted, injured and/or killed as a result of some of the threats of terrorism you may confront on a daily basis.

Consequently, it is incumbent on you to negotiate the very best salary and benefits package that you can for yourself as your life and your future may very well depend upon it.

Typically, foreign aid workers in conflict zones particularly have one opportunity and one opportunity only to negotiate the very best deal for themselves. Once they have signed their contract on the dotted line, it is too late, so be very, very sure before you sign.

Remember, foreign aid workers have one of the highest rates of abduction and/or injury and death when compared to other foreign occupational categories.