International NGO Safety Organisation

Meet INSO

Mo

Function: Senior Information Manager
Location: Headquarters, the Netherlands
Nationality: Syrian

Mohammed (Mo) is the Senior Information Manager based at INSO’s headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. His background gives him a unique perspective on INSO’s work improving aid worker safety through data.

Where did your journey toward Senior Information Manager begin?

I started with INSO in 2017 as Information Officer with the INSO Syria platform based in Gaziantep, Turkey. Before that, I was working for Danish Refugee Council as their database officer – quite a similar role.

A few years later, the Information Manager role became available. I applied and was selected. I moved into that role while I was still in Turkey before relocating to Amman, Jordan – where our Syria platform country office is based – in April 2019. Then eventually a role came open in the headquarters for an Information Manager, so I applied again and got it. In 2021, I moved to The Hauge.

What makes working as an Information Manager with INSO so unique?

The Information Manager fills the gap between INSO’s Safety Advisors, our data and our partners. They provide technical and data-visualisation skills. They also have an understanding of the conflict and context, in order to create relevant charts and maps. One of the Information Manager’s unique traits is their attention to details, which is needed to keep the data accurate.

The data we work with at INSO is unique. You can’t find anything like it in any of the other humanitarian organisations. Information Managers need to know how the data flows, how to do quality checks, understand the backend and know how to extract a meaningful data.

What information managers often do is visualise data simply enough for people to understand it easily. Our partners are busy, they have only a few minutes to look through our reports to get the information they need. Having attractive visualisation means it’s more understandable. If you put 20 pages of words in front of someone, they might struggle to engage with it. But offer them a beautiful map and they’ll be like, “Oh yeah, now I get it.”

So what’s your background?

My background is actually in engineering. I studied civil engineering, but I always had the interest to work in data science since I was in school. I even built a few applications back in college. Unfortunately, because of what was happening in my country, Syria, around that time, some of them didn’t see the light of day. It was my graduation project, a software to design and build dams. I spent more than a thousand hours on it. That was around 2012 and 2013 when the conflict in Syria had just started to erupt, so I just had to finish everything and just leave.

In Syria, I’ve also done some data management work with a humanitarian NGO, in a project migrating and digitalising a lot of paper documents, otherwise we would’ve lost those documents forever because of the expanding conflict back then. When I got to Turkey I worked for a little while as a programmer, before starting with Danish Refugee Council.

How has your personal experience influenced your work?

I have the technical skills, contextual knowledge and attention to detail, which gave me the edge to clean our data, understand it, and make a good use of it. And that serves INSO’s goal, to keep the humanitarian workers informed.

In addition to that, reading incidents on daily basis can be emotionally exhausting, especially when it impacts people you know. But feeling sad about that will not help anyone, what might help is doing a good job in checking and recording these incidents, which can help humanitarians in delivering much-needed aid.

What drew you and your information management skills to the humanitarian sector?

My field isn’t really connected to the humanitarian work itself, so it doesn’t attract a whole lot of people who excel in this field. They are more likely to go to the big corporates. I found a knowledge gap in this sector that I can help to fill.

Do you have an example of this impact?

Yeah, in one of my previous roles I faced a list of beneficiaries that wasn’t collected or classified in a good way, which might result in the assistance not reaching the people most in need. That’s why we built a robust database and created a ‘scoring’ system. A year later, I was able to join house visits to some of the people we’d helped. I felt like we did a good job, I could see that these people chosen as a result of that system were really in need, and I’m glad I contributed to that.

What would you say to someone thinking about joining INSO?

I’ve never seen such a number of smart and nice people under the same roof at one time as in this office. You can throw any problem at this group of people and you’ll find a solution in the blink of an eye.

Plus you get to do stuff you’ll never do anywhere else. You have the space for it, and you have brilliant minds around you that can support you. For example, when I suggested to my colleagues that we look into machine learning they said, ‘Let’s do it!’. And you get to see the impact as well, you get to see how the NGOs use our data.