Being a desk in 2023

Members of Solidarites International on the field. @SolidaritesInternational

When Alain Boinet asked me to paint a portrait of a geographic manager at Solidarités International, my position within the NGO, I first asked myself the question: who am I really within my team?

The answer to Alain’s question seemed obvious to me: a geographic manager is just one entity within this organization. Indeed, our job descriptions identify a position, but we are working, and I stress the word we, all of us are working to reach the most remote populations, who have the most complicated access, in order to bring them help. This work is a common approach. Each department has a central importance in our mandate.

However, ethics, dignity, quality, understanding, the time we have to respond in emergencies and so many other common values… all these responsibilities can only be carried on the shoulders of the operations department as a whole, as each department/ service at headquarters and in the field has a role to play and our mandate is only better implemented with this ensemble that makes up Solidarités International.

The tasks of a desk officer can only be accomplished by understanding the whole that makes up his or her position, that is, all the people who work towards the same goal.

Water supply installation. @SolidaritesInternational

With the people, together.

The headquarters of Solidarités International is today a machine that closely resembles a small business – a company in which everyone has a function. We do not make a profit on sales, we reach out to people in crisis to help them. Each department works towards a single objective: that each human being is considered in his dignity, his need and his entirety. The needs of the populations are identified WITH the populations. We work TOGETHER to ensure that the organization’s mandate is implemented as precisely and as closely as possible to the people in need. Our mission is to meet the basic needs of the population. We do not provide health care. We provide drinking water, we build shelters, we sanitize latrines, we dig wells, we replant fields…

In this ensemble, a complete team of experts works in France in collaboration with the experts on the ground. As in every organization, the orchestra conductors are the working authorities.

For me, each conductor is different in a similar profile. My role as desk officer with my team is to federate the teams around the mandate of Solidarités International, to listen to the problems, find solutions and above all, move forward together to help the population. I am particularly attached to the notion of humanitarian access, to our ability to be as close as possible to the populations even in conditions considered extreme. Thus, I myself sometimes reopen axes, roads, areas… to take the first step with the teams in the field towards the most remote areas. It is likely that I consider exemplarity as a virtue and that I will not ask from others what I will not do myself. In this team dynamic, a pairing is fundamental: the country manager and the desk manager. The notions of trust and support must be an integral part of the relationship. It must be a partnership that allows the autonomy of the mission and the country manager without abandoning them. This relationship is sometimes wonderful, sometimes stormy. It’s a human relationship in its entirety. We carry the desk and the team the strategic vision of the missions, the innovative ideas and the projects with the objective of accompanying the populations to regain their dignity.

The daily life of a desk team.

The day-to-day work of a desk team at headquarters is to accompany and replace, if necessary, the people in the field. To be the second brain of the understanding of a context, the second eyes of a report rereading, the second ears on the quality of a program.

In order not to jeopardize our responses, the head office sometimes takes over when a team member is absent on the mission.

Our daily task is to support and accompany the autonomy of our missions without ever “cutting the cord”. I’ve been accused of being too involved in the follow-up of my missions. But I know that I am and will remain a field humanitarian. I will not be changed.

As in every profession, sometimes the conductors set the tone. In our case, we push to reach new populations in need. However, we must not ignore the fatigue of our field teams who are far from home, in contexts that are often very difficult. It is all the more important for my headquarters team to support these field teams, by allowing them to take a break, by going to the field, by getting their hands dirty…

Finally, one of the roles of the desk is to be the voice of our missions, both internally and externally. To define, describe, bring the messages of the beneficiaries as close as possible to the politicians, the media, the international authorities…so as not to forget, to continue to shed light on the situations in which the people we help live.

I’m probably repeating myself, but for me, a desk manager is a desk, it’s a team, several brains, several intelligences. It’s a tight-knit group with a single goal: to help people in need.

Justine Muzik Piquemal
Geographic Manager Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique

Justine Piquemal Muzik is a jurist specializing in the law of religions and is in constant training. She began her career negotiating for humanitarian access with state or de facto militaries. She is currently responsible for the geographic area of Solidarités International and is currently monitoring CAR, DRC, Sudan and Mozambique. From one country to another, crisis after crisis, each road traveled allows her to support the teams to reach the most vulnerable people.

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