AHA CENTRE INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE (DISASTER MONITORING & ANALYSIS)
Recently the AHA Centre has been supported by Justin Chin, undertaking an internship on disaster monitoring and analysis. The following article is an insight into the experience from Justin, including the experiences and learnings he gained during the time.
Before I embarked on my disaster monitoring and analysis internship with the AHA Centre, the most closely related experiences and knowledge I could rely on was a passion in serving and empowering communities through volunteer work, using scientific knowledge on natural disasters from my undergraduate studies. My goal for this internship was to explore this field of humanitarian assistance and disaster management that was essentially entirely new to me. And as I look back on my internship journey, I can say what an eye-opening ride and valuable experience it has been!
The range of opportunities to learn and perform can be diverse in the AHA Centre, if only one is open and willing to venture even when the opportunity may lie outside of your skillset and speciality. This also means that the internship is never boring or repetitive – an exciting prospect for those who dislike mundane or office-bound work! I am glad that I approached the opportunities offered with an open mind to learn and gain experiences beyond my core role scope, even if they potentially distracted me from my everyday work. Of the many experiences and tasks worked on throughout my internship, I will focus on three of the highlights here.
Firstly, the 12th ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT) Induction Course. It was a privilege to learn from experienced ASEAN-ERAT members and work alongside these veterans, who shared their stories and knowledge and patiently guided us through the intricacies of disaster response based on their unique perspectives from past deployments. As part of the exercise control team, I helped facilitate the 72-hour disaster response simulation, which gave me an overview and understanding of the simulation exercise progress and the preparation work that went into it even before the course began; a taste of running such a course and exercise. I also saw first-hand the bigger picture of how all the smaller segments of work come together to achieve the purpose and effectiveness of the ASEAN-ERAT operations on the ground. Ultimately, it was fulfilling to see all 23 course participants become qualified ASEAN-ERAT members who can respond to any natural disaster in ASEAN within 24 hours, and heartening to know that ASEAN has such an established regional response system.
Secondly, I got to contribute, through my own research project, to forming a country-specific statistical basis for recommendations on the AHA Centre’s response actions at the ASEAN regional level. This also increased my understanding of the recent history of natural disasters and responses in the ASEAN region.
Thirdly, as part of the AHA Centre’s response to the Lao PDR floods in September 2019, I monitored the disaster impacts and needs, contributed to the analysis work, and co-produced daily situation reports. It was a stressful and tiring period, with difficulties in obtaining quick and reliable information on the disaster situation, impacts and humanitarian needs. Flexibility was required to deal with the unpredictable changes as the disaster response unfolded. At the same time, this proved useful for honing my skills in information management and my understanding of the ASEAN regional mechanisms and frameworks in emergency response and disaster management, including how the AHA Centre transforms to an Emergency Response Organisation structure, and one of the AHA Centre’s core operations and purpose of existence – emergency response.
Justin Chin is final year student from Nanyang Technological University, majoring in Environmental Earth Systems Science.
Written : by Justin Chin : | Photo : AHA Centre
MR RAY SHIRKHODAI
Mr Ray Shirkhodai has spent the last 20 years of his career developing science and technology for disaster reduction. He is currently the Executive Director of the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) – a global science and technology centre for disaster risk reduction and intelligence managed by the University of Hawaii – and a steady partner of the AHA Centre since its early years. Ray was the primary architect of DisasterAWARE, PDC’s advanced multi-hazard early warning and decision support platform, powering PDC’s mobile and internet applications, as well as AHA Centre’s Disaster Monitoring and Response System (DMRS). Ray has also led PDC’s support of major international disaster relief operations both at home and abroad. With a background in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, he has been at the forefront of disaster-related technology since joining the PDC in 2002, and after a career in software engineering dating back to the 1980’s.
Originally serving as Chief Information Officer (CIO,) and then Chief Operating Officer (COO), Ray became the Executive Director of PDC in 2007, by which time he had already began his engagement with disaster management in the ASEAN region. He remembers those early days, including the 2004 launch of the ASEAN Regional Programme on Disaster Management (ARPDM), when pledging PDC’s partnership to the regional disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts. “My personal engagements with ASEAN have included direct involvement with the 10-member NDMO ICT Gap analysis, establishing the Disaster Information Sharing and Communications Network (DISCNet), the first AADMER Strategic Work Programme 2010-2015, Interim AHA Centre ICT Gap Analysis and proposed position staffing, and of course, DMRS deployments, just to name few,” Ray said.
Ray also highlights partnerships with individual nations as important, citing PDC collaborations and agreements as an integral part of the overall regional approach. “We’ve had decade-long partnerships in DRR with many of the Member States, including DisasterAWARE deployments in Thailand (2006-2008), Viet Nam (2012-2017), Indonesia (2014-2019), along with other risk assessments and DRR-related engagements with those Member States as well as with Myanmar and the Philippines. We’ve also collaborated very closely with Singapore to deliver various trainings, and build DRR capacity.”
He also highlights current ongoing programmes with ASEAN, including enhancing DMRS and Information Communication Technology (ICT) adoption and DRR application usage in the region, working both directly with Member States, as well as with ASEAN through the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM) and the AHA Centre.
Ray also has a lot to say regarding the impressive advances he has seen in the ASEAN region – both within individual Member States and the region as a whole. “ASEAN and its Member States have made significant individual (national) and collective (regional) strides in information technology adoptions related to DRR within a relatively short 15-year timeframe” he said. “The ratification of AADMER, along with strategic development plans have helped the nations and the region to steadily invest in, and improve usage of new technologies for DRR purposes.”
When questioned regarding the importance of ICT for DRR, Ray is strong and passionate in response.
“Technology can help us save more lives, faster. I believe that the trends for adoption and utilisation of AI and ICT are destined to accelerate with the commoditisation of ICT and related services brought about by cloud-computing” he said. “It is therefore, most important to invest in the development of DRR applications and content to influence the effectiveness of DRR policies and practices within the region.”
Written : by William Shea : | Photo : AHA Centre
Alistair Cook is one of the ASEAN region’s leading academics in the disaster management field, and has been engaged with the AHA Centre and its work not long often the organisation was founded during 2011. He currently sits as a senior fellow and coordinator of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief programme at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS Centre) at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
As Alistair explains, “this basically means i am in a team of five researchers that focus on humanitarian affairs in the Asia-Pacific, tracking longer-term trends, understanding localised contexts, and reflecting on past experiences to inform policymaking today and planning for the future”.
His journey to his current situation is full of experience, with Alistair arriving in Singapore in July 2009 to take on a position as a post-doctoral fellow on the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fund Asia Security Initiative at RSIS. “At that time, the MacArthur Foundation had selected RSIS, through the leadership of the NTS Centre, as a core institution to head and lead research in Cluster 3 on Internal Challenges in 2009” Alistair explains. Prior to that, Alistair completed his PhD studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia, focused on the emergence of regional humanitarian norms in the Southeast Asian region.
When asked about his interest in researching non-traditional security issues, Alistair highlights regional disaster management mechanisms as of increasing importance. “Non-traditional security threats are issues that pose challenges to societal wellbeing, yet have varied levels of interest by decision-makers in governments and non-governmental actors compared to higher profile security issues like interstate conflict, terrorism and nuclear proliferation” Alistair tells us. He continues to explain that such NTS issues affect more people, and pose longer-term challenges to states and societies. “This is particularly important in Southeast Asia, where countries in the region face natural hazards as well as internal conflicts that threaten the safety and security of people and states” he says. Alistair then continues to explain the context of disaster management and emergency response as policy issue areas that States and societies in Southeast Asia can cooperate on for the mutual benefit of the entire region and its people. “This area of cooperation provides policymakers with insight into developing people-centric and whole-of-society approaches, and through my academic research and reflection I hope to offer insights and constructively contribute to this policy area.
Alistair also talks about the AHA Centre’s role in the region, and how he sees it into the future. “I think AHA Centre knows its strengths and is building upon them, however there is still work to be done on communicating to others on what this role is” he explains. “I imagine that stronger linkages to other relevant entities in the international community and at the sub-national level will be growth areas as we move forward to implementing the ASEAN Vision 2025 on Disaster Management.”
Finally, Alistair also highlights the future for increasing interaction between the scientific sector and decision-makers in disaster management, identifying the need for balance and understanding the value of ‘slow-burn’ research activities. “If we’re not able to take a step back and reflect on the whole picture, then it will ultimately affect our ability to be relevant and offer insights from our research” he reminds us. Alistair states that while sometimes academics are able to offer more immediate observations, their research space is an area worth protecting to allow for reflection and critical engagement with the actions, directions and trends emerging in the region over longer periods of time.
“For humanitarian affairs this is all the more important” he says, “as we’re often in a fast-paced environment with relatively little time spent to reflect on the actions and direction of the sector”.
Written by William Shea : | Photo : AHA Centre
Having played a large role as a facilitator within the AHA Centre Executive (ACE) Programme over recent years, New Zealand’s Chris Webb continued his interaction with the ASEAN region’s next disaster management leaders during 2019’s programme, taking on his role as the lead facilitator of the Critical Incident Leadership course. Alongside engaging with participants to learn about new concepts such as meta-leadership in Jakarta and then in New Zealand, Mr Webb also worked with the group during a number of their activities visiting New Zealand’s disaster management sites and institutions.
Before taking on a role as a facilitator, Mr Webb worked in the New Zealand National Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) as Professional Development Manager, and for the 12 years before that he was the head of the Emergency and Disaster Management Department at the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. Mr Webb’s postgraduate qualifications in Emergency and Disaster Management also come from the same university, and add to his vast knowledge and experience in the disaster management sector.
Engaging as a facilitator in the ACE Programme for the past five years, including during 2019 in Jakarta and the New Zealand study trip, Mr Webb states that he has enjoyed every minute of the experience, and is always impressed with the enthusiasm that ACE participants show towards learning. He is confident that ACE graduates will strongly contribute to the future of disaster management in their own nations, as well as in the wider circles of the region and the world. Mr Webb feels that the relationships established and maintained by ACE participants definitely have great value for the One ASEAN, One Response vision. He likes to use the term “Leadership is a journey – a personal journey”, and at the end of the programme often sees that participants have embraced this form of personal development within their own context.
Outside of the ACE Programme itself, Mr Webb also believes that the greatest need for the ASEAN region is that Member States and supporting bodies continue to extend their focus outside of just disaster response, and further into the areas of disaster risk reduction and public education. He reminds us that disaster is very complex, and that the world of disaster management is part of the environment that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). Establishing and maintaining relationships, as well as communicating and leading across a wide range of groups, cultures and thinking preferences is critical as ASEAN continues to move forward in disaster management. He says that as future leaders in ASEAN, ACE participants must acknowledge that leaders need to work with others, and must learn to lead themselves. Being a self-reflective leader is critical in disaster management, and it forms an area that Mr Webb is passionate about.
Mr Webb finishes his chat with us by highlighting what he sees as one of the greatest opportunities for the AHA Centre to have a valuable influence in global disaster management – which according to him is the Centre’s own experience, and the reality of such experiences. The AHA Centre understands the complexity of managing disaster within populous areas and with a variety of different cultures and peoples. He reminds us that there is a wealth of experience within ASEAN, and if this can be harnessed further, it could contribute greatly to the current body of global disaster management knowledge.
Written by : Putri Mumpuni | Photo : AHA Centre
DR. WILLIAM SABANDAR
Continuing on from last month, this volume’s Other Side draws on the experience of an ASEAN’s leader in disaster management – Dr. William Sabandar – an experienced presenter in the AHA Centre Executive (ACE) Programme’s Leaders Talk series. Dr. Sabandar is the CEO of PT MRT Jakarta, the entity charged with the recent delivery and operation of Jakarta’s modern train network. However he is also renowned for his leadership throughout a range of ASEAN’s largest disaster events that have occurred over recent decades. The insights into Dr. Sabandar’s talk were provided this month by the ACE Programme’s own Sridewanto Pinuji.
Dr. Sabandar has been an ASEAN leader for decades, moving from business into the disaster response field, and most recently leading the establishment of the modern and effective MRT system in Jakarta. Dr. Sabandar drew on these array of leadership experiences as he spoke about the key qualities of leadership during an emergency event. Such experiences include the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, leading recovery after 2008’s Cyclone Nargis, and how these skills could be transferred leading the establishment of Jakarta’s MRT.
The key defining aspect of all such work, Dr. Sabandar reminds us that leaders must be on the ground. By doing so, they can talk to affected communities in order to understand and fulfil their needs, and supporting in any way possible from the front. “Leading in a crisis is to maintain certainty and belief, and also ensure no further casualties” he highlighted in the session. Another key lesson Dr. Sabandar has learned from managing various crises is how to develop a strong, supportive mentality for teamwork and togetherness for all members of a team. This is closely followed by building trust that a team will work together to eventually solve the problems and complete their job with quality and good timing.
Dr. Sabandar believes that strong leadership during a crisis can also attract more people to engage and provide support. This, he said, only can be achieved when the leader can maintain integrity and trust. Trust is key in a crisis, as if it diminishes, it can jeopardise the work and efforts that have previously been developed.
“THEREFORE, WHEN SUCCESS CAN BE ACHIEVED, LEADERS SHOULD MAINTAIN THE MOMENTUM AND BUILD ON THIS OUTCOME”
DR. WILLIAM SABANDAR
Dr. Sabandar also believes that not only do disasters engage current leaders, but they can also create new leaders, as everyday individuals are thrust into roles that highlight their internal leadership qualities. People who are on the ground during disaster can often find themselves in situations where they are required to take the lead, and skills such as communication, decision-making, focus and preparedness to change can all come to the fore.
Overall, while Dr. Sabandar has high hopes for the future of disaster management in the ASEAN region, he also highlights a number of key areas requiring more attention as ASEAN continues in its disaster management journey. Firstly, he recognises that preparedness and prevention require more attention through education, particularly for communities to understand disaster risk be empowered to undertake their own prevention and preparedness efforts. This requires attitude shift and extra resourcing, with focus moving away from the historic response-orientated context.
Secondly, Dr. Sabandar believes more attention needs to be afforded to clearer understanding of the nature of the disaster itself, which requires knowledge regarding the science and complexity of a phenomena, to help determine proper action to take. Lastly, when looking at the role of bodies such as ASEAN and the AHA Centre, Dr. Sabandar recognises the important role played by ASEAN in bridging governments and various humanitarian institutions. This role, he said, can significantly enhance the preparation, response and recovery efforts during the aftermath of a disaster. Central to this is the AHA Centre itself, which forms a new and innovative model for managing disaster in the region – a mechanism that can be followed by other regional bodies around the globe.
Written by : Sridewanto Pinuji | Photo : AHA Centre
MS. ANTHEA WEBB
This month, The Column sat down with Ms. Anthea Webb, the Bangkok-based Deputy Regional Director of World Food Programme (WFP) for Asia and the Pacific, to learn about her experience in disaster management. Having built her career as a humanitarian for over 20 years, Anthea has been involved in numerous emergency responses across the world, such as in Kosovo, China, and Indonesia. Throughout her professional journey, she has witnessed the evolution of technology – and while this has significantly increased support emergency responses – she still maintains that the “natural alarm” forms our best warning system.
Anthea’s interest in humanitarian work developed from her university days in Australia, where she was involved in fundraising campaign to support the Cambodian refugees in early 1990s. From there she chose to “park” her journalism degree and volunteer in a social project supporting Vietnamese asylum seekers in Hong Kong. She then moved to work in the Vatican City, Rome, and then joined the World Food Programme in 1998. Anthea believes the initial challenges she experienced in the humanitarian field were overcome due to her natural passion for learning.
“Among the people I’ve been pleased to work with, there is a real drive to keep doing things better. Every emergency is different but often, some of the patterns are the same. Each time we intervene, we want to go faster, make the outcomes for the affected people better, do it at a lower cost in a way that leaves the organisation and the community stronger to face the next emergencies.”
Anthea also acknowledges the presence of natural hazards as a part of life. She states that while we may not be able to avoid droughts, floods, cyclones, and earthquakes, we can be prepared to respond to the impacts. The single question to reflect on is “How we can do it better?” Reviewing her past experiences, the mother-of-two highlights that a greater challenge than logistics occurs when different agencies do not incorporate their planning for disaster response. Anthea believes that groups like the AHA Centre can help overcome this issue and focus on getting people to work together.
“For me, one of the most interesting outcomes from the Sulawesi response was how much closer it brought us to the other humanitarian Country Team members. Being forced together like that is really important, and it is really important to continue that relationship. Exercises, simulations, joint-projects and missions help us to understand each other’s ways of working, motivation and goals,” she said.
Anthea keeps in mind that disasters can strike at any time and highlights the importance of technology in forecasting the impact of disastrous events. One of the innovations that Anthea co-initiated with Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ) is VAMPIRE, that stands for Vulnerability Analysis Monitoring Platform for the Impact of Regional Events. VAMPIRE integrates and promotes data innovation through visualisation of traceable drought impact on vulnerable populations.
“The project started in 2015 when the world – particularly Southeast Asia and Indonesia – was facing a very strong El Niño and its significant impacts. When we saw how large the impact might be, we realised we didn’t have a fast system for forecasting what a big drought would mean for rice and food production in Indonesia, as well as impact on farmers’ income. With PLJ, we developed a system that automatically catches available data, and automatically updates it, allowing us to spend our time on the analysis, and not waiting for the information itself. We were also able to integrate other related data, to support identification of areas most in need of government intervention.”
Following its successful adoption and use in Indonesia, similar forecasting methods as part of an early warning system are being piloted in other countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. While technology brings a lot of positives to emergency response, Anthea doesn’t forget her first deployment with WFP in Kosovo, when open-source online map and GPS were not widely available nor accessible. Relying on printed maps pinned all over the walls and floors – in the absence of desks – her team had to identify the correct sites to deliver relief items. She still admits that even the most sophisticated technology can fail us at times, and reminds us never to underestimate the value of original and hand-on techniques.
“In the context of a tsunami, the earthquake is the warning. That is the initial siren telling us to move to higher ground”, Anthea reminds us. “When hey sense danger, most people will act to protect themselves and family. Thus, it is important to get the message through to the people at risk”.
Written by : Shintya Kurniawan | Photo : Personal collection of Ms. Anthea Webb
MS. MYAT MOE THWE
Ms. Myat Moe Thwe’s journey in the disaster management field is one of turning personal experience into passion and desire for advancement. As Director for Coordination and Research Division in Myanmar’s Department of Disaster Management, Ms. Moe is responsible for international cooperation and coordination on disaster preparedness, relief, response and recovery for the nation. Her busy schedule sees her coordinating between local and international disaster management organisations on the development and implementation of policy and guidelines, undertaking disaster risk management research, and also being Myanmar’s go-to person for the nation’s ever-expanding engagement in the regional One ASEAN One Response movement.
It was, however, a more personal reason that ignited Ms. Moe’s passion for all things disaster related. Experiencing the full brunt of Cyclone Nargis when it stormed through Myanmar in 2008 not only affected Ms. Moe directly, but also voluntarily participated in the emergency relief and response operations and family reintegration programmes that took place in the days, weeks and months following the significant disaster. “The needs were so immense and broad at the time” Ms. Moe recalls, “but resources were very limited. There were very few organisations who could support early disaster relief, and even many of the responders ourselves were also victims of the disaster”. While providing whatever form of physical and emotional support she could, the engagement of numerous international disaster management organisations in the time following the disaster saw Ms. Moe involved in training and capacity building ‘on-the-ground’, that allowed her to learn more about what she had just been involved in, and learn lessons about disaster management on a daily basis.
“Experience is the best teacher – and learning from experience is the most important tool for individual development” says Ms. Moe.
“There were mistakes that I made during that very first experience due to the lack of knowledge and skill in dealing with disaster. However, this in turn drove my passion to learn more about disasters, and further pursue skills in disaster management.”
When taking about the present – and the future – for disaster management in Myanmar and the ASEAN region, Ms. Moe is quick to highlight the importance of technology to support improved preparedness and response for the communities. She identifies the important role of technology, and how it can support increases in human capacity for disaster management practices. “We have ideas and experience related to disaster management, but they need to be combined with technology for increased outreach and speed”, explains Ms. Moe. “By doing so, our valuable ideas can be transformed into technical tools for effective management” she continues. With this idea in the forefront of her mind, Ms. Moe led the development of a mobile application called Disaster Alert Notification. Ms. Moe explains that it is a simple yet useful example of utilising technology for communicating and disseminating information on disaster, allowing for an integrated and common platform through which people can obtain information easily and communicate in the face of disaster.
All innovation and technology aside, it is Ms. Moe’s humanitarian values and empathy that clearly form the base of all that she does. She states that “disaster teaches us to be more humane, humble, tolerant and resilient, and these are the kind of values that are so important even outside times of disaster”. Ms. Moe believes that these humanitarian ideals should be nurtured, and the collective strength that overcoming disaster requires should be continuously developed. She is also a strong believer in preparedness, saying that “disaster preparedness should be part of people’s everyday life, with education and awareness raising directing us to do the right things in the wake of disaster”. It is these values that Ms. Moe instils in herself throughout all facets of her work and life – reminding us that for disaster managers, work and life are often one and the same. “I seek to make my working environment feel like home, which means developing friendly relationships with my colleagues, and thinking of them as my family” she says. Ms. Moe emphasises the importance of mutual sharing and caring, and finished by reminding us all that “some external factors are out of our control, so we must accept this reality and make life more enjoyable for ourselves and others”.
Written by : William Shea | Photo : Personal collection of Myat Moe Thwe
MR. ADIRATNA WIRA ADNAN
The diversity of the ASEAN region is reflected through the pool of talents within the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ERAT). The range of expertise and skills combined also showcases the inclusivity of ASEAN humanitarians – who meaningfully enrich perspectives of decision makers while engaged in emergency response. For this Volume of The Column, one of the ASEAN-ERAT Information Management specialists from Malaysia shares his story with us in between his packed schedule.
Now sitting as the Senior Assistant Director in the Technical and Infrastructure Department of Malaysia’s National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), Mr Adiratna Wira Adnan has found himself on a career pathway that was somewhat unexpected. A background in engineering, and numerous strategic roles in public works and infrastructure development had Mr Adiratna working across some of Malaysia’s largest road and development projects, coordinating teams and collaborating with experts while contributing to Malaysia’s rapidly expanding infrastructure sector.
Adi – as he likes to be called – recalls being seconded to NADMA three years ago, and he was immediately interested in the work due to a range of other disaster relief experiences he encountered during his time in the private sector. “It’s not what I had originally envisaged”, Adi tells us, “but perhaps it is my pre-determined fate, and I am truly glad to be working here”. Adi also recognises the value brought by an engineering mind with disaster management, highlighting the relationship between risk-awareness in engineering that is also central disaster risk reduction (DRR) practices. “Trained as engineer, it helps me promote the safety-first awareness, analysing it qualitatively and later taking necessary action to avoid, mitigate or reduce the risk – particularly in safety and security aspects of DRR-related tasks”, Adi says.
As a member of the ASEAN-ERAT, Adi is one of the few members that have been deployed three times in less than one year, with the region calling upon his expertise during 2018’s Typhoon Mangkhut and Central Sulawesi emergency responses, as well as the preliminary needs assessment mission in Rakhine in early 2019. Adi highlights the varying natures of each deployment – the different contexts, aims and experiences all unique in their own way. Adi’s first response to Typhoon Mangkhut saw him taking part as a Team Leader of a small team gathering information that was complex and time-sensitive, while in contrast, the Central Sulawesi response was a large deployment in numbers and scope of work, collaborating with partners from both local and international parties. “It put all the existing related procedures and policies – not only ERAT but national and regional – to the test”, he remembers.
More recently, the preliminary needs assessment for repatriation readiness in Rakhine was a slow-on-set mission, seeing the more intense tasks taking place at the end of the 10-day deployment. Adi tells us that this was the “first extensive humanitarian assessment by ERAT, covering different and diverse aspects of assessment outside of the usual ERAT scope. It reflected the importance of safety and security aspects during deployment, that were perhaps often secondary during other previous response deployments”.
Adi’s tips for other ASEAN-ERAT members are highly relevant to his array of experiences during deployment. Primarily, Adi says “it is of the utmost importance to be well-prepared for deployment, physically and mentally. Personal preparedness should also include gathering relevant information, as well as useful tools for use when deployed. These efforts will help remove any self-doubt, and elevate your motivation, as you will perform strongly with the right tools at hand”. Adi has also facilitated workshops and trainings as part of the ASEAN-ERAT courses, as well as other related courses at universities and schools.
He enjoys such engagement, and recognises the value that learning from each other’s experiences can hold. “I consider myself facilitating a knowledge sharing session, of which I believe each person has something valuable to share that everybody can benefit from. Thus, the enthusiasm and energy within the class or the session always inspires me to do more.”
Finally, Adi also highlights the importance of work-life balance, even if your role is committing to serve your nation at all times. He tries to keep his work and family life separate, and undertake any extra tasks late at night as not to affect quality time with his loved ones. However, he also highlights that his fellow responders are his second family, and is always ready to give 100% commitment during responses. It is this mix of work and home life that provides Adi with his happiness, and he states that “I pursue happiness and challenges in work. I believe we will be happy if we give something to others and when we acquire something for ourselves. In this field, the opportunity to give – a new idea, a new way to do things, new technological advances improving regular relief efforts – this is as endless as disaster and its risk management itself, it is as broad as the seas”.
Written by: Shintya Kurniawan, William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre
MS. JENNY LEE
Lunch time at the AHA Centre’s office has become merrier since the beginning of 2019. The laughter, casual conversations, as well as thought-provoking discussions shared during the break involves a new friend from a neighbouring country – Australia. Ms. Jenny Lee has been assigned to support the AHA Centre as a Senior Civil-Military Coordination Specialist through the Australia Assists Programme – for the first half of 2019. Her temporary assignment with the AHA Centre aims to strengthen humanitarian civil-military coordination, safety and security policies for the ASEAN-ERAT members, and AHA Centre staff. With more than 12 years of experience in the humanitarian sector, Jenny has established her expertise in civil-military coordination, safety and security, and gender. She has contributed to numerous emergency responses, in parts of Central America, Asia and the Pacific as well as supporting the search for missing MH-370 in the Southern Indian Ocean. The AHA Centre is pleased to share with you one of our in-depth conversations with Jenny.
“I was drawn to the humanitarian work because of my late grandmother. She did not introduce me to organisations like the United Nations, or different NGOs or other humanitarian agencies, but she showed me the positive impact a person can make if they have the right attitude and intentions for the community”, Jenny explains when asked about the start of her professional journey. As she recalls her childhood memories, Jenny remembers her grandmother being the unofficial “community leader”, whom neighbours turned to whenever they needed help, often creating a safe space to listen and provide support for others. This experience created a lasting impact leading Jenny to believe that becoming a humanitarian starts in one’s own home and community – regardless of education or experience.
Having worked in the humanitarian sector for over a decade, Jenny saw the impact of conflict and disasters from the affected communities. In the topic of gender, she saw similar challenges for men, women, boys and girls in 12 countries. It was common to see women and girls consistently experiencing the same obstacles that stem from gender inequality. Challenges to accessing schooling, challenges to balancing professional lives as mothers and wives, to difficulty in accessing basic female hygiene kits and health services to mention a few things. This exposure has drawn her to realise that addressing root causes of gender inequality would need to be a collective effort from everyone in all parts of the community, organisations and at the political level regardless of gender. She’s also learned that perspectives do matter, and it is crucial to understand different perspectives are important for suitable solutions.
Adopting gender lens and understanding the impact of inequality takes time and effort, and may not come naturally for many people. In this context, advocacy is difficult, and “buy-in” (convincing people that this is worthwhile) from the right people is also difficult to achieve. Advocating for anything that deals under the umbrella of gender – from organisational policy, safety and security in the field, gender balanced representation in leadership and staff, emergency humanitarian aid – can be very challenging. However, the courage to raise such issues and empowering both men and women that their perspectives are important, and can be rewarding and lead to better solutions to different issues.
Jenny has learned over the years that “how” you start the advocacy discussion makes all the difference. She’s come across soldiers, military officers and police officers who were not only keen to addressing gender inequality and wanted to make a difference on changing the structural discrimination for women to ensure they have a more effective force. However, many did share insights of how it wasn’t pleasant to be cornered into a “gender-insensitive” individual by many activists. To Jenny, she’s learned this from a friend who admitted that understanding the concept of gender perspectives and seeing what this looks like from a practitioner’s point of view was difficult as this is asking him to shift away from the mindset that he has built for over 30 years in the security sector.
Moreover, Jenny acknowledges strong leadership is a key to achieve gender equality. Leadership starts with individuals at all levels, but executive leadership is crucial for an organisation to learn and adapt to the needs and requirements to ensure that everything within the work of an organisation is gender sensitive. She’s observed different approaches of senior leaders on how they do this. Some show leadership on this as a result of personal experience and ideas, some leaders who are new to this concept choose to rely on their gender expert and rely on them to ensure that all issues are addressed.
Jenny learned that with all these leaders (male and female), when asked why they decided to take this forward, they simply stated that “it is the right thing to do”. Organisations should reflect the global 50:50 male/female ratio at all levels to ensure that the work they do sees better quality, better effect and better solutions. Another key characteristic of their leadership was that they empowered those who were working for them, giving them chances to make “productive mistakes” which always helped everyone to become better at what they do. This helped everyone on their learning journey on understanding the intricacies of gender sensitive policies and what this looked like at the practitioner level which made a huge difference.
She concludes that, “Back in Australia, in my previous role without the leadership support, I would never had the freedom and the confidence that I have today to advocate for this. So, leadership support is key, and their empowerment of my work was also a key. On reflection, the amount of trust they gave me, was quite phenomenal and I think this helped in achieving a lot of huge tasks – as well as their open-mindedness to learn new things to make the world a little bit better than yesterday. Everyone has a room to contribute and no contribution in this sector is small.”
Written by: Shintya Kurniawan | Photo : AHA Centre
PROF. DR. KUNTORO MANGKUSUBROTO
Prof. Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto is one of Indonesia’s and ASEAN’s leading figures on disaster recovery and reconstruction. With a deep background forged through a variety of governance and private business roles focused towards energy and natural resources, Dr. Mangkusubroto is also the founder of the School of Business and Management of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). His leadership as the head of the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency from in 2005-2009 – which saw him oversee post-tsunami reconstruction and utilisation of local and international assistance to rebuild the shattered region – elevated Dr. Mangkusubroto to become one of the region’s most renowned leaders in disaster management.
Dr. Mangkusubroto’s success leading post-tsunami reconstruction efforts has seen him become a go-to resource in other ASEAN disaster response and recovery efforts – being invited to engage in disasters across ASEAN Member States including Myanmar and the Philippines, as well as international efforts in Nepal and Japan. During 2018’s AHA Centre Executive (ACE) Programme’s Leaders Talk series, participants had the opportunity to learn about the key concepts and integral elements of strong leadership in disaster recovery from Dr. Mangkusubroto himself. Central to Dr. Mangkusubroto’s message was the importance of trust and integrity of ASEAN leaders in disaster management and coordination.
To gain this trust, Dr. Mangkusubroto says, leaders must be able to approach key players and parties to ensure efficiency in logistics and other disaster management processes. He emphasises that knowing who to approach and what to say is key to overcoming the variety of obstacles that can arise during a disaster response. It is through these approaches and the conveying of succinct and clear information that shows one’s integrity, and with this integrity the trust is then strengthened. Dr. Mangkusubroto also highlights the importance of understanding specific contexts and cultures of communities across the region, and that leaders must be prepared to recognise and, importantly, overcome issues for better results for the people as a whole.
“As a leader, people will come to you continuously – they may be angry, sad or unstable due to their losses”, he said. “Just let them release, listen to them, and just give them your sympathy, as once you’ve finished your work, they’ll realise you are serious.” .
To gain this trust, Dr. Mangkusubroto says that leaders must be able to approach key players and parties to ensure efficiency in logistics and other disaster processes. He emphasises that knowing who to approach and what to say is key to overcoming the variety of obstacles that can arise during a disaster response. It is through these approaches and the conveying of succinct and clear information that shows ones integrity, and with this integrity the trust is then strengthened. Mr. Mangkusubroto also highlights the importance of understanding specific contexts and cultures of communities across the region, and that leaders must be prepared to recognise and, importantly, overcome issues for better results for the people as a whole.
Recalling the experiences from the huge reconstruction efforts after the Indian Ocean Tsunami in Aceh, Dr. Mangkusubroto highlights the importance of remaining calm and focused during the midst of high emotions and traumatised communities. “As a leader, people will come to you continuously – they may be angry, sad or unstable due to their losses”, he said. “Just let them release, listen to them, and just give them your sympathy, as once you’ve finished your work, they’ll realise you are serious”. These are just some of the challenges faced by disaster managers and leaders in the field, and overcoming these calmly and reasonably are a big part of what regional leaders must aim to achieve.
After discussions on a range of contexts and experiences faced by leaders in disaster management, Dr. Mangkusubroto concludes on the key elements of efficient and effective disaster management leaders – particularly when in the field in the period after large disasters strike. He emphasises the importance of coordination and communication, whether with governments, local and international responders, logistics providers and the affected communities themselves. He highlights that all parties are there to help and support in their own way, and it is up to the leaders to ensure all parties come together to achieve the greatest results. Dr. Mangkusubroto insists that regardless of the mix of contexts, cultures or political influences at play, the best outcomes can and must be achieved for an effective and sustainable recovery and reconstruction phase. And this, he reminds us, is the key role of ASEAN leaders on disaster management.
Written by : William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre