International NGO Safety Organisation



Function: Regional Director – Central Africa
Location: Headquarters, the Netherlands
Nationality: Canadian

Nadia, INSO Regional Director – Central Africa, was a journalist for 20 years before moving to the humanitarian sector and joining INSO.

What were you doing before you started working for INSO?

My background is in journalism. I worked for media outlets in Canada for about 20 years.

In 2008, I decided to move towards humanitarian and development work. My first assignment was with the Canadian programme “Uniterra” in Botswana. For three years I was a Communication Advisor with local NGOs. In 2011, I joined Internews in Chad where I trained local journalists at the community radio stations. And after taking a study break for a master’s degree in Development and Emergency Practice, I worked in Senegal as a Communication Advisor and then as a Public Information Officer for OCHA in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In this last role I came across INSO and I got very interested by their work. I felt it was perfect fit for me: as a former journalist and communication professional and having studied conflict analysis.

I applied for a position with INSO in Central African Republic (CAR), where I spent a total of three years, starting as a Safety Advisor and then moving to the Country Director position. Following my time in CAR, I became Country Director in DRC. I’m currently the Regional Director for Central Africa based in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Could you tell me about how the skills that you used as a journalist applied to your roles at INSO?

I find there are quite a lot of similarities to what I was doing in my previous career. As a journalist, you get information from different sources and you have to evaluate its value, compile the information, find the right angle and write a piece that is understandable for the readers.

I found this journalistic background very helpful in the Safety Advisor role, as you always have to evaluate the relevance of the information you receive. This background was also helpful in training the staff to write comprehensive analysis.

A lot of people perceive that the safety space is dominated by people with a military background and men. That isn’t your profile. Have you ever felt that’s been a barrier for you?

I did not see it as a problem for me. I came to INSO as someone who was really interested in safety and security, of course, but mostly I came as someone who already had an experience in humanitarian coordination.

I think as long as you’re able to demonstrate that you have a good understanding of the context, and you’re able to draw relevant analysis for NGOs then you’ll have no issues.

Of course, you need a good understanding of safety and security concepts in complex environments, but I think when you come from a different background you are probably able to take a step back from the pure safety and security point of view which focuses on physical protection and see the bigger picture; what it means for NGO access and acceptance, why is this important to NGOs, how to work safely in such context, and so on.

What’s your favourite thing about working for INSO?

The working environment is exciting, despite the high pressure in time of crisis or the tight reporting schedules. You have to be on alert all the time because contexts are changing continuously, and that’s what I like about this job. The coordination part with NGOs is also something I really enjoy.

I also really like the analysis element of my work. I enjoy looking at the data and then trying to make sense of what it means for NGO’s safety and access.

On top of this, I really enjoyed working with the teams in CAR and DRC. In DRC, many of our staff have been with INSO in DRC since the start in 2012. We are lucky to have such a good team and staff who have stayed with us for a long time and who have extensive knowledge of the context of the conflict. Now that I’ve moved to a new position at INSO headquarters, I can see the bigger picture and combine this with the knowledge and experience I have gained in the field to better support our country offices and contribute to the growth of the organisation.

What advice would you give to somebody who was considering applying for a role at INSO?

Some people might feel they don’t have the right skills to work at INSO because they don’t have a security background, but that was not my background. I was a journalist and a comms professional before.

I would tell them that if they have experience in the humanitarian sector, if they have worked in the field and they know how humanitarian programmes are conducted in complex environment, and they understand access and acceptance concepts, then there’s a place for you at INSO. If they like to write and are good at analysing context, then a Safety Advisor role is a great place to start.

INSO is still a young organisation; it’s only 11 years old. I really like feeling of being part of a growing, cutting-edge organisation and that I can have a meaningful impact with my organisation and also within the wider sector. That’s a great motivation and I feel really proud to be part of it.