World Humanitarian Day 2015: Steven Gordon in the Middle East
Steven Gordon is the Middle East Regional Security Advisor for Mercy Corps, covering Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, but mainly focused on Syria.
He has worked on their Syria response since March 2013, after two years covering East Africa. Originally based inside Syria, Steve is now works remotely from Turkey and makes frequent visits to countries within the region, including Yemen and Lebanon.
Hailing originally from Glasgow and starting his career as a photojournalist, we spoke to Steve to find out more about his journey into the humanitarian sector, his perspective on the main challenges faced by humanitarians and his experiences of RedR UK training.
What inspired you to go into aid work?
I was inspired by the experience of going to Kosovo in 1998. I started out on a very different path to where I am now. Originally, I was a photojournalist and only ever worked alongside NGOs. Whilst I felt initially quite distant from their work, my experience covering the conflict in Kosovo opened my eyes to the impact that NGOs can make.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
As a former journalist, I am captivated by major global events. I find myself still having a front seat essentially on major events, which I feel is a great privilege.
What do you think are the main challenges facing aid workers today?
I think the politicisation of aid and donor funding in the post-9/11 environment is having a massive impact.
I am also concerned by a growing perception held by many people today that there is a shortcut to becoming a humanitarian. That, in order to start your humanitarian career, it is most important is to take a particular course and that life skills are not as relevant. An internship and you are up and running.
What is most important is experience and I think the transfer of relevant experience is vital to sector.
There are people from every sector of life who would love to get involved in humanitarian work but don’t apply because they don’t already have actual direct NGO experience. Further education is an incredible asset when combined with experience in the wider world, we need to be able to bring people into the sector with a broad sweep of different life skills, rather than focus on academic ideas of the sector.
Have things changed in this respect since you started out?
When I began as a Programme Manager I spent a lot of time in the field dealing with people directly and negotiating informally. I now find that a lot of aspects of aid work have become more systematized and there an increasing shift toward remote management. I feel that things are more dangerous with that lack of contact and basic interpersonal skills.
Have you attended a RedR training? If so, how has your RedR training helped your work in the field?
I attended RedR Security Management training in 2000 and found it really valid. At this time I wasn’t to focus on Security. I found the content on humanitarian principles really eye opening. Whilst the world has since changed massively, from the Balkans to the contemporary post-9/11 context, I still refer back to the lessons I learnt in this training.
Steven Gordon will be speaking on ‘the Challenge of Armed Groups and the Politicisation of Donor funding: Humanitarian Space in the contemporary Middle East’ at our next RedR Members Speaker Event. The event will take place on October 6th 2015 at 6.30pm in the RedR UK Office in London. For more information and to book your place, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Two men ride a motorcycle somewhere between Aleppo and Azaz in Syria (by Steve Gordon)
A Syrian boy (by Steven Gordon)
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