This interview is the beginning of a new Illustra.tv feature in which we interview managers directly to learn about their challenges, needs and experiences.
Laure Foglietti is the HR coordinator for the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mission inHaiti. MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières in French) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists inFrancein 1971. Today, MSF provides independent, impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect or catastrophe primarily due to armed conflicts, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care or natural disasters.
As the coordinator Laure is responsible for the management of HR for theHaitimission. Laure began working for MSF in 2001 and served various missions in Africa such asKenya, South Sudan, RDC Congo,Uganda, andMozambique. She is currently on a yearlong assignment in Haiti.
I.TV: I would imagine that at times you must end up in some dangerous parts of the world in order to provide MSF services. How are you trained to deal with that?
LF: We don’t really get trained how to manage the insecurity of our assignments. Once on site, we get briefed on all the specific dangers of the country and we are given very specific rules to follow, especially in a country at war. Kidnapping being the highest hazard for us, we are trained in the mission on how to react in case of kidnapping. Of course, above and beyond the rules, common sense and maturity is very important.
I.TV: That’s interesting because I know that reporters get training, especially when they go into war zones. But don’t you at times have to go into war zones?
LF: Yes, we do go into war zones. For example inAfghanistanwe have very straight security rules and we can’t move around easily. Walking is forbidden, transfers are made by car only. We have a curfew. Women must wear local fashion clothes.
I.TV: with your management responsibilities under what type of circumstances do you find that you perform the best?
LF: MSF is a nonprofit organization which is working on a team basis whether it is in the headquarters or in the field. We have a coordination team based in the capital of each country we work in, and in the field the projects also have coordination teams, so it’s all teamwork. The most important thing is whether I have a good coordination team or not, because we work together, we live together, we share every minute of our lives so we have to behave in an intelligent way.
It helps me when I can do my job without micromanagement from my supervisor, then I can do my job the way I enjoy it. Of course I have to follow MSF rules and regulations, but if I can do it following my own way and maintain good consistency in what I am doing – then to me that is very important. It’s important also for the staff because if I work a certain way and apply the rules using my own insights then the staff will feel more secure. They will see that I am following a certain path of management, and if this path of management is consistent they trust me and work well.
I think that the worst situation is when there are some conflicts amongst the management team. The staff can feel it as a threat. That’s when it becomes very difficult for them to perform well.
So that’s how I feel the most comfortable– and as a matter of fact, it is great right now. I have a good relationship with my supervisors and the team is very professional. Nobody is interfering in my decisions and it is enabling me to grow further and perform very well.
LF: When something like this happens, it’s always about security issues. In that case, the coordination team has to decide quickly what to do. Fortunately the type of management that MSF has, allows us to do so. But we are not alone, we can be in touch with headquarters very quickly and they will help us make the decision and supply their support.
In Human Resources, the kind of tough situation we may get into can be around terminating someone on the staff who we consider to be a danger to the organization (like stealing MSF property). At times we do have to make those decisions and make the decision fairly quick, to preserve the security of the staff and prevent any kind of retaliation against us. At my level, I have to make sure that the person is treated equally and in total fairness. Bad HR management is a threat in itself as most of the security issues that we have against expatriates or local staff is often following a bad termination deal.
I.TV: Can you give me an example?
LF: Recently we had an incident in a slum where we are running a hospital. It’s a project we were terminating. Understandably, some of the staff got very annoyed; those people would be losing their jobs, so they starting tagging the walls of the hospital and demonstrating in the streets around it. We had a meeting with them to explain why we had to close down the project but some people were still annoyed and started throwing stones at the expatriates working for MSF. We knew that some people demonstrating worked for MSF and were being paid by some people who had organized the demonstration. One of them was our security manager!
He was supposed to be the one maintaining a safe connection between the slum’s gangs and us. He’s the one who’s supposed to give us all the information in case of mob movements. We had little choice except to terminate him. We have to be careful to always treat everyone the same way and be consistent otherwise people will not respect us anymore and this becomes a security issues in some places.
This was quite exceptional. We are usually very well accepted everywhere we work and people appreciate what we are doing for them. The withdrawing of MSF activities from the hospital made them quite desperate knowing that 300 people were losing their jobs. It means hundreds of people without means of survival.
I.TV: What inspired you to get involved in this type of work?
LF: I was getting tired of watching TV and reading all the news about things happening in other parts of the world where people where obviously in desperate situations. So I decided to go and see what I could do to help. I could see that some of the people in some countries were under very harsh conditions and were not getting any help, not even from their government. It became more meaningful for me to do my job in a situation where what I was doing would be making a difference for some other human beings. Of course I could have stayed inParisand remained at my job there, but at the end of the day when you work in these types of countries and see not just the hardships but the help you can bring and the appreciation that people express it’s incredibly gratifying. It’s really different. Doing something which has a meaning for you gives enthusiasm and motivation to perform well. I believe you have to find what is meaningful to you.