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Building a humanitarian sector career: understanding the education vs experience tension

journal contribution
posted on 2019-05-06, 00:00 authored by Matthew ClarkeMatthew Clarke, Sophie Perreard, P Connors
Each year over the last decade, there were on average 400 humanitarian disasters or emergencies, killing more than 100,000 people and affecting a further 200 million. Such humanitarian events require immediate responses as well as effective longer-term activities to aid communities recover. The global response is now valued over US$27 billion annually. More than half a million people are estimated to work in this sector, the majority being locally engaged staff. The international community provides significant resources to assist local communities impacted by these humanitarian emergencies. This aid flows through multiple channels, including national and regional governments, international non-governmental organisations and local community based organisations. Increasing the skills and knowledge of leaders and managers of these responses is a critical need to ensure the most effective recovery in communities as well as use of resources. Understanding the professional journey in the humanitarian sector is vital, but currently limited. As the humanitarian sector continues to expand, greater focus on the skill-set needed by humanitarian workers responding to these events is needed. However, tensions exist between the primacy given to the experiences and soft-skills of humanitarian workers over the value of academic qualifications. This paper provides some suggestions how this tension within the humanitarian sector may be addressed and reconciled. This paper presents new data based on interviews with 20 humanitarian professionals from a range of humanitarian aid agencies and considers their experiences and reflections on building a career within the humanitarian sector.



Third world quarterly


1 - 15


Taylor & Francis


Abingdon, Eng.








In press

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2019, Global South Ltd