Back in December 2020 when I wrote my last blog piece, we were ending the year with less of a bang and more of a whimper as we went into another lockdown in the UK. We are only just emerging from it now, and like many others on this planet we remain unsure of what the future holds and to what extent we can pick up on parts of our lives we’ve been missing.
I for one have longed for more music and dancing. To sing along to a favourite song performed to a live audience, or to sway and shake my body with others to music that uplifts me and makes me feel more alive. I also miss catching up with friends over a meal or celebrating special moments together. I have wanted to feel more part of a community, yet this is so difficult when most of us have been confined to our homes for the last few months – really the last year.
But I have nevertheless found community elsewhere. We can be thankful for having the technology now that enables us to cross borders and time zones from our homes in order to connect with people all over the planet. This in many ways has opened up new relationships for me as I’m sure it has for others. I have found my community through my laptop screen; which certainly isn’t ideal and lends itself to some very tired eyes at the end of the day, but it has been magnificent to see new relationships formed in this way unfold.
It has enabled me to do some of the deep, at times uncomfortable, work on anti-racism that I’m committed to – but where I was acutely aware I was missing deep engagement in the ‘real world’ because of lockdown. And it has enabled me to continue my work, delivering webinars on wellbeing and resilience in the charity sector.
It is also thanks to this technology that I am able to connect with thousands of others around the globe who share my interest in building a more caring and inclusive culture in the aid sector. To that end, I am really looking forward to two online events coming up that I will be speaking at.
The first, on 28 and 29 April, is the Humanitarian Leadership Conference whose theme this year is: Who are the Humanitarians?
The second, on 20 and 21 May, is a CHS Alliance event, entitled: Living our Values: Care, Culture and Power in Aid Organisations, which is under the auspices of their Cultivating Caring and Compassionate Aid Organisations initiative led by Mary Ann Clements and Melissa Pitotti.
In both events I will be discussing what has taken up most of my life this past year: my new book! It is entitled The Vulnerable Humanitarian: Ending Burnout Culture in the Aid Sector, and will be published by Routledge later this year (probably September – but watch this space!)
To say it has been a labour of love would be an understatement. This book was something I considered writing, albeit in a very different form, many years ago. And the work for it officially got under way in 2014, when I started my PhD investigating stress and burnout among aid workers in Kenya. So I’ve certainly been in it for the long haul….but by taking so much time to write it (including all the upheavals of the pandemic and lockdown) I feel I have now produced something that is more personal, more up to date with our current world crisis, and more hopeful for a radical shake-up of the organisational culture of our sector.
As well as drawing on the many stories I collected from aid workers in Kenya about their experiences of stress and burnout, the book includes guideposts and practices aimed at supporting individuals and organisations to assess, explore and discuss staff wellbeing; including issues I believe are essential to this such as recruitment processes, compensation and reward packages, and leadership approaches.
My book, and my work, has a feminist, anti-racist and decolonial agenda; so expect some uncomfortable truths as well as many suggestions on how you can both expose and explore these with greater depth, commitment and, indeed, compassion. Because if we can’t treat our own and each others’ flaws and blind spots with some compassion then we’re unlikely to be very good with the work of being a compassionate humanitarian!
As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s time to move beyond blaming and shaming and instead see how we can all be more accountable, and work together to create more caring and inclusive cultures within the workplace that allow everyone to thrive.
That is what this book is about – so I hope you are able to join me at one of the conferences to find out more (and of course, read the book when it’s out!) I will be joined at each of the conferences by some really wonderful experts and practitioners in the sector who are at the cutting edge of decolonising and rebuilding the sector, and ensuring organisations truly live by their values.
So please join the discussions and I hope to see you there! Details of the conferences here again: