Brussels, novembre 2007
Experiences of larger-scale organisations: an introduction
Working and living in a team
A wide range of practices used by the organisations
There is a wide range of practices used by International Governmental Organisations (IGOs), Governmental Organisations (GOs) and International Nongovernmental Organisations (INGOs) in the field. On the one hand you have an organisation like ICRC that has its delegates both live and work together, to the other end of the spectrum where people are responsible for their own living arrangements. They make whatever arrangement may best suit them – living with a local family; sharing a place with other internationals; living in a hotel, etc.
Many organisations fall somewhere in between.
They may have a house for their workers and others attached to the organisation who come through from time to time, such as consultants. If the organisation is very small (in terms of personnel and/ or programs on the ground), the living and working quarters may be in the same place. Some organisations such as the U.N. may even take over a whole hotel or series of apartment buildings for their personnel.
The influence of security situation in living and working arrangements
Many living and working arrangements depends on the security situation on the ground and how security conscious an organisation is. For example, employees of the U.S. government, either with the embassy or an organisation like USAID, are only allowed to live in places which are deemed ‘secure’ by the U.S. government, often behind a tightly secure and barricaded compound with their fellow compatriots.
This is the norm for all U.S. government employees in almost all overses postings considered unstable. However for IGOs and INGOs, how much of a role they will play in their employees living situations more depends on the security situation on the ground as well as factors that address the liveability factor of the place rather than any coherent policy. For example, it would be more common for international personnel to live in compounds in a Mission like East Timor rather than Kosovo. However, most organisations are security conscious and so encourage group living in places considered ‘secure’. ICRC is the only other organisation that demands of its delegates that their employees live together.
The influence of a family posting in living arrangements
Living arrangements also depend on whether or not the posting is a family posting. In most conflict and post-conflict Missions, the posting tends to be a non-family station.
But some people, not wanting to be posted for such long periods away from their families, move their families to the nearest safe place to which they have easy access. For example, although Kosovo is a non-family posting for international organisations (both for INGOs and IGOs), some people moved their families to Skopje Macedonia (approximately 1 ½ hours’ drive from Pristina) so they could at least spend the weekends with their families. And some postings allow for families to come along, even if it is not a family posting. For example, during the war in Bosnia, many INGOs had their HQ in Zagreb, Croatia for safety reasons. Some workers moved their families to Zagreb even though they themselves might have spent most of their time in Bosnia.
Although neither one of these scenarios is that common a practice, you do find some international workers trying to make arrangements like these, depending on several factors such as how long the posting is, the nearness of ‘liveable’ places, whether the worker has young children, and whether it is the mother or the father working in the field, etc. Mothers would be more likely to make some kind of arrangement to be closer to their families. However, it is much more common to find married men with older children, single women of all ages or younger, single men in the field than it is any other type of person.
Given that most of the smaller INGOs generally do not have family postings as it is expensive proposition and that the vast majority of postings, IGO, GO and INGO in conflict areas are non-family postings it is not surprising that this is the majority composition of those working in the field. However, the possibility of family postings versus non-family postings are one of the factors that distinguish larger scale missions from small peace teams.
There are both pros and cons to living together as a team. If the security situation is such that the organisation explicitly demands or encourages its personnel to live in one place, then the place will have any number of security arrangements and precautions. Internationals who do not live in ‘secure’ conditions are more vulnerable to being targets to local warring factions (the ICRC delegates who were killed in Chechyna for example) but on the other hand those living mixed in with the local community could just as easily be perceived by the local population as more committed and more trustworthy than fellow internationals living behind a secure compound.
Ultimately I think there needs to be a balance maintained between attempting to secure your safety but not being walled off from the environment in which you are living although it is often a delicate and at times competing balancing act.
Aside from security precautions, while living together can produce more of a sense of community and team spirit between individuals working in the same organisation, it can also produce tensions, especially because there is often little other diversion – no families; few extracurricular activities or community involvement outside of the work. Living and working together at the best of times can be a recipe for difficulties but when you add in an unfamiliar environment where there is often nothing much to do outside of work or no one else you can depend on, the closeness that develops can be a two-way street. Most people living and working together in the field find it really important to have their own time and their own space at least some of the time.