Practitioner Pathways: Establishing a Career in the Humanitarian Sector

The ATHA team marks the release of each Humanitarian Assistance Podcast with a live, online Launch Event. These events give our network of practitioners the chance to listen to the latest podcast as a group, to ask questions about the material, and to build relationships with other professionals. The Launch Event for this latest episode is being held Wednesday, 26 July, 2017. To register for the event, click here. Already registered? Click here to join at 10:00 am (EDT) the day of the event.


Despite the significant growth of the humanitarian sector in recent years - now employing over 250,000 professionals - practitioners often express concerns over the lack of clarity, predictability or support in establishing and maintaining a humanitarian career. Frequently cited challenges include acquiring the requisite skills, experience, and qualifications necessary to apply for open positions at the entry level, as well as how to continue developing a career from entry to mid-career to senior management.

Organizations like the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, RedR, the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, and Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP), have increasingly responded to the growing demand for training and professional development in the humanitarian sector, but a number of important gaps remain. For one, potential humanitarian practitioners struggle to enter the field. Once there, they may struggle to access mentorship, professional development opportunities or specific skills trainings - all of which can be difficult or costly to pursue. Given the often short-term nature of contracts in the humanitarian sector, and the high degree of mobility for international staff in particular, it can be difficult to establish the types of longer-term networks and relationships critical to career development in any field. Moreover, practitioners with diverse profiles - including national staff, women, LGBTQ, minorities, persons with disabilities, etc. - often face additional professional development challenges not commonly reflected in available offerings.

The challenges faced by humanitarian practitioners as they enter and attempt to move up in their career paths are not only important to individuals, but are also tied to important questions for the sector itself. What values does the humanitarian sector hold and reflect? What makes a good humanitarian, and how can the sector continue along its course of professionalization? What are the most critical skills or qualifications, and how do these skills and qualifications connect with the broader aims of the humanitarian sector? How can the humanitarian sector find the right people for the job, without overlooking those who lack access to traditional pathways into the field.

In conversations with experts, trainers and practitioners, this podcast will explore humanitarian education and professionalization, pathways into the field, and opportunities for professional growth within the humanitarian sector.

Key Questions

  • How do humanitarian practitioners define themselves as professionals?

  • What are the most important skills or qualifications for an aspiring humanitarian to acquire?

  • What are some current options for humanitarian education and how well do lessons taught in a classroom or online apply to the field?

  • In what ways has the growth and professionalization of the humanitarian field impacted recruitment and retention of staff?

  • How can aspiring or new humanitarians find mentorship and career guidance?

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