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Red Cross training volunteers
The humanitarian and disaster relief sector is moving towards increased professionalism.

Professionalising the sector

There‘s a long history of volunteerism in the humanitarian sector and a great many volunteers still work in a wide range of roles.

While these people do a fantastic job, there’s also been a shift to bring more professionalism to roles in disaster management. The three main reasons for this are:

  1. to ensure codes of conduct are adhered to
  2. to build more skills and greater capability
  3. to identify, respect and engage with cultural differences.

Adhering to codes of conduct

It’s critical for those working in the humanitarian sector to strictly adhere to the appropriate codes of conduct.

Unfortunately, while the personal risk of being kidnapped or suffering other acts of violence or harm is higher for local aid workers, these risks increasingly apply to international workers as well. Likewise, humanitarian organisations operating within foreign countries at the behest of governments also face threats, including expulsion, if they are perceived to be acting for vested interests.

One function of codes of conduct is to keep humanitarian workers safe and to protect the reputation of the organisations they represent. They do this by ensuring that aid workers and organisations are seen to be acting in an impartial and independent manner.

Building skills and capability

The professionalisation of the humanitarian sector is also an important way of building the skills and capability of workers and organisations to better meet the demands being placed on them. In other words, while it’s all well and good to tend to disaster situations with the intention of providing relief, it’s also increasingly important to understand what processes and systems are in place, why they exist and how they best serve the interests of affected populations.

Engaging with cultural difference

Another aspect of the professional training and development of aid workers is helping them to recognise and engage with cultural differences.

By working alongside locals who already know and understand the cultural context of providing relief, international workers can improve their cultural competence and better engage with the communities they seek to help.

Professionalisation in context

For the reasons outlined above, adhering to codes of conduct, building skills and capability, and engaging with cultural difference are all important ways of professionalising the humanitarian sector.

However, while a well-educated and well-trained group of people is going to be more efficient and effective in many ways, we also need to be careful that professionalisation doesn’t discourage people from participating in humanitarian actions.

Your task

Reflect on the concept of professionalisation and how volunteers, trained aid workers and local populations might work best together. Discuss your ideas in the comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Management: Introduction to Humanitarian Aid

Deakin University

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