International NGO Safety Organisation



Function: Country Director
Location: Syria
Nationality: American

How did you start working at INSO?

I was working in Afghanistan, and had been doing a range of jobs; working for an anti-corruption advocacy NGO, and then a consulting organisation. And I started getting the reports from INSO, which were always useful.

I always had the desire to learn a bit more about security, and I was looking around for a new role and spotted INSO had an opening for a Safety Adviser. So I applied and got the job! The work was really interesting. It was really the first job where I felt like, “Wow, this is really cool”.

After a while I left for another opportunity, first in Libya and then in Syria, but once INSO expanded there and I saw all the progress that the organisation had made I was like, “Hey, sign me back up”. And here I’ve been ever since.

What makes working at INSO different from working in the other organisations that you’ve worked at?

It’s a 21st-century organisation. A lot of organisations are struggling with hundred-year-old legacies. But INSO was born in the modern world.

Compared to other places I’ve worked, there’s just been a lot less nonsense. And because it’s new, were still able to shape the culture.

I started at INSO when it was about four people, just in Afghanistan, and now its 1,000 staff strong. In the past few years I have had a chance to course correct issues I’ve seen in other organisations, both directly in my management roles, but also with the organisation growing the way it is.

There’s just so much that we’ve been able to do to be the kind of organisation I would like to work for, which is, at the end of the day, at least as important as the work that we do.

What’s your favourite thing about working at INSO?

The environment. I get to do really cool things with really cool people. I’m surrounded by people that are asking interesting questions and who are deeply engaged with their subject matter. I get really excited about it.

In this industry you need your workplace to be a little bit more than the workplace. It is kind of your family, because you’re moving around, and you’re often so geographically isolated. So, I think to say that you can have a purely professional relationship with the organisation you’re working for in the humanitarian sector is a stretch.

Tell us about a time when you felt like you’ve had an impact whilst working INSO.

I think when one of our partner organisations have had an incident, and you’re the person that they trust to go to. I can share a whole range of examples but overall I think when someone is in crisis or they need a piece of information and they choose to come to INSO, that’s really powerful.

When I was Country Director in Iraq, often organisations would come to me if they were receiving threats and we helped them to navigate them. We helped them determine if they were serious or routine, and advised on how to handle them.

Other times people would come to us for advice on the issues they might face if they opened an office in Baghdad and we could tell them “these are things you need to be concerned about, these are the ways that you can mitigate”.

This had a lot of impact because the fear and the caution, they’re completely understandable. And people just need some data, and some patience, and some rhetoric to argue with.

What motivates you at work?

It really is promoting new talent and building the organisation. I want to see INSO achieve its full potential. I think we’ve got enough of the right people in house that that we can we can get there. And then I want to build up those people.

Ever since I’ve started managing people, I’ve always hired people who are so much better and so much smarter than me. And I want to have a place for these people.

I feel like if I was back to graduate school, this was the job that I always wanted to do. I didn’t know what INSO was and it didn’t exist yet. Now I’ve found INSO. But even better, now I’m in a position where I can help people realise their ambitions and that’s a good thing, because they’re all doing it better than me.

We need to make sure that we use their talents, and so that’s what really guides me.

And what would you say to somebody who’s considering applying for a role at INSO?

Working at INSO can be inspiring and challenge you in a positive way. INSO is a place for people with diverse backgrounds. There’s a role for people with a security background, and there is a role for politics nerds that like to study languages, like me. And this also means that you’ve got a wide variety of interesting colleagues to learn from and we help each other develop.

In a lot of ways, INSO is at the cutting edge. And as such a young organisation there really is the chance to shape the organisation and actually be able to make the slow, incremental differences that will be necessary to create change in the sector more broadly.