August 5, 2019
Elena has gone from working in the volatile banking industry during the financial crisis to reassessing her priorities and embarking on a new life that fits her personal values. She currently works for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and is excited about the next phase of her career and working in the humanitarian sector.
We spoke with Elena and asked her about her transition.
Tell us about yourself and your early career.
I have 18 years of experience in different fields (automotive, finance, engineering, communication, travel) as an assistant or executive assistant. My employers have been BSI, RSI, Qualcomm, Crossair, and Fiat Auto Suisse. The industries were very different however my role has always been to support managers and their teams with administrative tasks. This kind of work exists in every organisation and is similar in all sectors.
What made you look into the humanitarian sector?
After many years spent supporting commercial enterprises, I realised that my skills could be useful in an industry that contributes something good for society so I began to look at the not for profit environment. I was open to a variety of possibilities and explored opportunities in volunteering nearby. This is when I discovered the MAS in Humanitarian Logistics and Management at USI. I believed that this was a good way to gain an introduction to the humanitarian world and meet people active in the field.
Do you feel that humanitarian organizations play an important role in the world’s social agenda? Why?
They are fundamental! Humanitarian organisations give support where and when it is needed. There are regions at war where even a person with the best intentions cannot enter; instead, humanitarian organisations have access, the recognition of their role allows them to go into conflict areas, they already have people in place around the world to act quickly and provide aid to people in crisis.
What did you do to change industries?
The MAS in Humanitarian Logistics and Management was the perfect way for me to learn about the humanitarian world. MASHLM gave me an understanding of the opportunities and challenges directly from individuals working in various roles in humanitarian organisations. When looking for a job, it showed my prospective employers that I was willing to invest in myself and committed to changing my career to work in the humanitarian sector.
What challenges did you encounter in changing industry?
Everything was totally new to me from when I began the MASHLM. Yet studying with people already working in the field gave me an enormous knowledge of the challenges that humanitarian workers face daily, and provided concrete methods to find solutions.
Working at the ICRC has certainly been different and it can be complicated. They have many tools and programmes specific to their organisational model. However, I have changed industries before and my background has given me skills and confidence to approach new situations in a way that yield a successful outcome. I know how to work with others, respect and listen to colleagues, learn new methods, and improve operational processes.
Describe your current role and responsibilities?
My job is Assistant & Information Management Officer. I think of this role as the same I have always had: assisting an individual or group to reach a goal. In this particular case I organize the flow of information to donors, and am responsible for sharing and filing correspondence. The donors require accountability for their investment and this is the focus of my role: Information management. I take care of meetings and events, manage agendas and travel arrangements for all members in the Unit.
How do you like it so far?
I’m very very happy. I’m learning a lot. I’m so proud to be part of the ICRC. After graduation, this was a wonderful way to start my career in the humanitarian world.
What qualities are necessary for a successful career in the humanitarian sector?
You need to be able to understand that people are not the same and it is important to accept others’ beliefs, traditions, and cultures. The qualities to succeed are therefore openmindness, multi-cultural awareness, cooperation and empathy.
Did your experience at USI help you get where you are today?
Yes. I did not have any experience in the humanitarian field, and in one year with MASHLM, I was able to learn a lot. The combination of my experience as assistant and having the MAS degree certainly made my profile more interesting to the ICRC.
The courses gave me skills that were useful in the recruitment process at the ICRC, which included 3 exams, 2 on languages, and one on job skills of an assistant. What I learned during MASHLM was helpful in this process.
What competences and skills acquired in your USI Study Program are useful for your professional career?
Having the MASHLM degree is important in the ICRC since it is a well known humanitarian programme. The programme gave me skills that I hope to use; certainly the project management skills will be very useful in this career.
What did you like best about your USI experience?
Studying with people from everywhere in the world was valuable. Having exposure to professionals who know the humanitarian field was also a great experience. And the teachers were very good! They were professional, motivating, gave interesting lessons and the work was also stimulating. The teachers involved you, and even if they worked in another field, they really focussed on humanitarian concepts. They were all passionate about their topics and about the opportunity to interact with humanitarian professional. It was a participative learning environment.
What would you say to anybody willing to change career?
If you would like to work in the humanitarian field, the MASHLM is perfect. It gives you the tools to become a qualified professional.