International NGO Safety Organisation

Meet INSO

Banu

Function: Regional Director
Location: Central Africa
Nationality: Turkish

What you were doing before you started working for INSO?

I’d been working as a humanitarian aid worker for many years, mainly in the capacity of the Head of Mission and Country Director for ACF and MSF. I’d worked in various parts of the world, but the majority of my time was spent in Africa and especially in the Great Lakes region.

I first joined INSO in 2012. I was the first person hired for INSO outside of Afghanistan. INSO was starting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) because the NGO community wholeheartedly asked us to open the project, and so I was hired to start everything from scratch. I stayed as the Country Director for INSO for four years.

I took INSO DRC from one person operation to a fully-fledged platform with offices in two provinces, and with about like 30 staff at the end, when I left. It’s grown more now, which I’m very proud of.

I then took a three-year break from INSO and worked for a peacebuilding organisation in the region. It was a good experience and allowed me to have an outsider view into INSO and what it’s like to work for a partner organisation, and what they are looking for from INSO. In July 2019, I came back to work for INSO as the Regional Director for the Central and Eastern Africa region. And I will be here for a while!

What was the main thing that drew you to working for INSO?

When I was working with MSF as the Country Director, I had to do a lot of understanding the context and following the security situation. Around the clock, I was trying to figure out the risks and hazards to my teams and how we can continue to operate safely.

But as a Country Director for a big medical organisation, your time is naturally mainly spent on programmatic issues. So, what I did with INSO was exactly what I wanted to do as a Country Director for an NGO, but I never had the time to do it.

INSO sounded quite unique. I looked at the scope of what they were trying to achieve: looking at the contextual information and at the security implications and being a hub of reliable information provided to all the NGOs, and this inspired me to join.

In the Great Lakes region, where I had been working for a long time, you have all kinds of rumours and all kinds of wrong information floating around among the NGO community, which was actually quite risky to base your analysis and your decisions on. So, I found the whole idea of INSO extremely useful.

People often perceive that the safety space is dominated by people with a miltitary background and men. That’s not your profile, has that ever been a challenge for you?

I was the first female Country Director for INSO, and I’m happy to see that that we have more now. And I am the first female Regional Director, and I hope not the last.

But it’s true that people often perceive security and safety to be a male domain. And I think that’s partly because of the perception that you need to have some kind of formal security training to be able to manage security. Whereas, I bring many years of humanitarian experience where I had to do my safety and security management, and I learned how to react to any insecure situations directly from my lived experiences.

Before I worked at INSO, I had to deal with kidnapping situations with my teams, I had been ambushed on the roads, I had to deal with evacuations. So all those things gave me a lot of exposure and experience to safety management.

And I find this experience extremely valuable in a context where we’re trying to support humanitarians, that I can actually bring that kind of experience to the table.

What motivates you at work?

What motivates me actually is knowing that my input is needed, knowing that my teams rely on my support and need my answers, often very quickly.

They’re under pressure because what we do is very time sensitive. And if we delay, then it could be detrimental to what our partners are expecting of us. I know that if there is a risky situation and that the teams are in need of me, that that I should be available.

I also thrive with deadlines. It’s the sense of urgency that motivates me. And maintaining rigour and professionalism even when under pressure.

What’s it like working at INSO?

Particularly in our Safety Advisor roles, your day is constantly changing. But for me that’s the challenging and rewarding part because you’re not living in monotony and stuck doing one thing.

So, for people who like routine – that’s not the role for you. Because you never are able to actually stick to what your plan was for that day, because you might have an emergency coming in, you might have a situation where an NGOs needs your help. You might need to go out to the field to see it for yourself. Every day is an adventure in a way.