Insider Reflections on Humanitarian Compassion

In the past year, we have witnessed political unrest, exceptional pain, and disruption due to COVID-19. On the other, positive social shifts and awakenings have been felt across the globe.

Through the turmoil induced by global uncertainty and suffering, the voicing of the toll of mental strain, stress, loneliness and burnout, commonly seen as shameful, private or taboo, is now globally talked about, heard and accepted. Increasing acknowledgment, across sectors, that these facets of the human condition are matters of social concern and responsibility, should be embraced.

The need for humane support, for accountable human interdependence, social responsibility, and human connection, has accelerated and opened up opportunities; it has placed these topics at the forefront of serious research and major business strategies.

In the humanitarian sector, this wave has manifested itself in an empowering system-wide response.

Most recently, the Core Humanitarian Standards Alliance (CHS) had led two conferences in which I had the opportunity to join the #HHR2021In these projects, humanitarian experts, relevant HR personnel, managers and donors directed their attention and available resources towards staff care and well-being.

Such initiatives bring to the surface and give proper space to uncomfortable personal, interpersonal, and organizational matters that have been simmering underground and often treated only with temporary solutions or, in some cases, brushed away causing greater complexity. Committing time, resources, expertise and space of mind to explore the deep meaning of this change has unfolded a clear need to both unlearn unhealthy organizational cultures and leadership traits as well as, to facilitate a wide range of possibilities for positive change at all levels of the system.

In practical terms, some examples of the identified unlearning work to be done is by changing existing problematic management attitudes and expectations at the leadership level and tackling the organizational procedures which foster these attitudes. Specific negative practices of this would be with staff being expected to practice altruism and self-sacrifice, have unlimited resilience, lack of emotion while encouraging limited communication and a stiff upper lip culture.

On the same note the tangible possibilities for positive change are many; to name a few are leadership soft skills and management training, facilitation of communication mechanisms and skills training, staff support mechanisms, creation of minimum standards for staff wellbeing, well-being and mental preparedness training, and a rating of organizational compassion levels as a medium for employer regulation.

It is an appropriate moment to acknowledge and highlight this shift and the special manner by which the compassion of the humanitarian system has directed itself inwardly.

Such a system-wide response towards compassion and support for wholesome positive change is something to celebrate.

The system itself, its organizations and staff are daring to take the path of reflection and authentic connection. Such compassion-based organizational culture of the sector will undoubtedly retain staff, attract highly qualified professionals, and ultimately and most importantly, improve operational performance and services for its beneficiaries.

We at the Garrison Institute International look forward to supporting this process by caring for those who care. Providing sustainable attitudes, skills and tools that are known to strengthen resilience and compassion for individual staff, teams and organizations and help with stress management.

Let us take this opportunity of global reflection and compassion to create the so-needed push for a paradigm shift and direct the innate compassion in the humanitarian mission inwards.

– Chamutal Afek Eitam
CBR Director and Head of L&D at Garrison Institute International