Today, Siobhan is based in Suva, Fiji, and working as an Information Management Officer with the food-assistance branch of the United Nations.
With a focus on emergency preparedness, Siobhan is part of a widespread and diverse team, and is responsible for developing data collection tools and guidance frameworks to ensure Pacific communities are better prepared for crisis.
Prior, Siobhan has worked globally throughout Africa, Europe, and the Pacific, in natural disaster-, refugee-, post-Ebola-, drought-, and conflict-response.
It seems like a world away from her life a few short years ago when Siobhan was splitting time between working in tourism throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and various public service roles focused on records and information management within policy teams.
“I realise now, looking back, that those two skill sets prepared me quite well for work in the humanitarian sector.
But for Siobhan, it wasn’t enough to rely on a pre-existing set of skills; developing a formal foundation of evidence-based best practice was critical.
“I wanted to join and ultimately influence the sector properly, as someone who is formally qualified to perform in certain roles and therefore better equipped to make a positive contribution to the humanitarian sector.”
Pre-existing skills reinforced by theory, practice, and industry insight.
“When I started looking at various courses and understanding my options, I began to understand I was entering a profession, and that the Master of Humanitarian Assistance was a particularly good way of preparing me for that. From my perspective, there weren’t too many other options available to me that would do that.
“I got my start in the humanitarian sector, realistically, by chance. I was in Vanuatu as part of the Australian Volunteers program. Six weeks into my assignment, a large cyclone hit the country. Supported by my Master of Humanitarian Assistance course advisor, who reviewed and shared my CV with HR colleagues she knew in the location, I gained experience volunteering for an NGO’s emergency response program which turned into a longer term volunteer posting for the remainder of the cyclone response, continuing into the El Nino drought response.
Working in the early stages of my career while studying the course, I could see how the Master was formally preparing me for things I was already doing daily in the sector.
“The practical nature of the assignments—and particularly the six core units that every student is required to complete—were very well aligned to the reality of what you actually do in the sector.
“It makes total sense, because the course has been designed by people who work in the sector and have vast experience themselves.
“For example, one assignment involves analysing secondary information and writing a situation report, which is something I have done on a weekly basis in certain roles.
“You learn practical skills like writing proposals, creating budgets.
“In some situations, I actually had the reverse experience, where I found the assignments easy because of how similar they were to the work I was already doing on a daily basis in my professional role.”
A broader perspective of the humanitarian sector, with practical skills to match.
“The Master of Humanitarian Assistance starts off with a broad introduction, and then once you figure out what area you want to work in, you can narrow it down and use the electives to build your qualifications in a particular specialisation
“When I first began researching course options, I had an interest in admin and logistics because that resonated with my background, having come from the tourism industry.
“As I gained more industry experience, and also through meeting other students and teaching staff, I realised there’s more nuance and broader options within the humanitarian sector.
“I realised my experience in the Australian public service was much more relevant and I actually had expertise within monitoring and evaluation, and information management.
“My job has ended up being totally different to what I envisioned when I first enrolled: which is partly due to on-the-job exposure, but certainly due to the wide set of skills I gained from the course.”
I am better at working in humanitarian response because I have background and theoretical knowledge, knowledge of good practice, and knowledge of the legislation that sits behind what I am doing.
“My experience of the course was very complimentary to what I was doing on a day-to-day basis at work. The practical nature of the assignments—and particularly the learning from the six core units that every student is required to complete—were perfectly aligned to the reality of what you do in the sector.
“It makes total sense, because the Master of Humanitarian Assistance has been designed by people who work in the sector and have experience in doing that job themselves.”