I had a new experience working on my latest programme, I was in a car that was ambushed; I was covered with a hood and made to lie on the ground with gunfire all around me. Fortunately this was a simulated exercise – it was part of the Security Risk Management programme in Thailand run by UNHCR’s Regional Centre for Emergency Preparedness (eCentre), co-organised by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
It was certainly a new experience for me; I’ve never started an action learning programme in quite such a startling way before!
28 participants from the Asia Pacific region were sharing their experiences and learning how to improve their security risk management skills and expanding their capacity for emergency preparedness and planning. The course has been running for many years but for the first time included action learning.
Embedding learning so it’s there when most needed
Participants identified a challenge that related to how they would implement the learning from the programme. They then experienced a taster session of action learning in small groups of 7. While 2 of them presented their challenge to the group, participants often talked about the big issues that if unresolved would seriously affect their ability to lead effectively in high risk or emergency situations.
Examples included managing people of different cultures; creating common expectations of behaviour within a staff team; managing local staff from a distance when safety considerations mean that it is impossible to be nearby.
Most participants grasped the concept of open questions even in these short sessions and could see the power of peer coaching to enable the presenter to identify actions that would work in their context.
I loved being with people who were working in 19 different countries and I was humbled by their stories of working to support refugees in the worst situations of the world – South Sudan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Jordan. I have a new respect for the logistical challenges UNHCR staff face and I learnt a lot about the generosity of the Japanese government in providing much needed aid.
I am encouraged that this taste of action learning will have an impact on their leadership and management style for many years to come, and equip them to deal more effectively with the huge challenges they face in often very difficult and challenging circumstances.
I’ve been part of international action learning programmes many times before, but perhaps none more poignant as this one at this time. I’m pleased that the work we do can have a positive impact on those working in often dangerous and trying situations.