Ira Johnson

Ira is studying on the LEAP programme in Humanitarian Practice, whilst working as a Liaison Officer with MSF Belgium in Sierra Leone.

Ira has over 15 years of experience working with NGOs and joined MSF in 2017 as a Human Resources Coordinator Assistant.

Below he blogs about the knowledge and skills he’s gained from studying on the programme and provides an overview of his favourite modules to date.

How I started with MSF

I started working with MSF in 2017 as a Human Resource Coordinator Assistant. It was a whole new experience after I’d worked in the same role for 12 years for another NGO. In my previous role, it was the kind of culture where you went to work to get paid, and it lacked staff empowerment and motivation. MSF brought a new outlook to me in relation to the beliefs of humanitarian work and has enlightened me on how to manage people and situations in a humanitarian setting.

What have I gained from studying on the programme?

Apart from future career opportunities it will create, the course has given me a new mindset in the area of humanitarian work. It has shown me that in the world of humanitarianism, one is not limited to just one approach. You can help out from different angles and with multiple approaches. The critical approaches to evidence module offered in my first semester has been very beneficial to me. It has given me a second set of eyes to critically look at everything for better analysis and conclusions. This module has taught me how to approach situations with an open mind. In effect, it has taught me that not every piece of writing, or evidence, or situation, for example, should be accepted hook, line and sinker. There has to be a number of valid reasons to agree to a situation or a conclusion, and to achieve this you must have the courage to listen to other opinions and suggestions. I must however also state that my wife now sees me as somebody of a critical mindset and that I am not easy to convince. Nonetheless, this has also brought her to the realization that she must be prepared whenever we are about to discuss issues or situations.

The optional module of ethics human rights and health has enlightened me in the area of human rights for all, prisoners included. It has helped me understand that certain cultural practices are in fact a gross violation of fundamental human rights and are of no medical value to the victims.  This module also states clearly the role of non-governmental organizations and governments in ensuring that the basic rights of all persons are guaranteed. Today we see that there is a big divide between what has been agreed by governments through the United Nations and what is actually happens in practice.

What happened during my first semester?

When I was selected, I was very nervous during the first three weeks partly because I was new to online learning. It also took some time to balance between the demands of my job and my studies. When this was done, my eyes were opened to the reality of what it means to study for a master’s degree under the LEAP programme and with two prominent universities in the United Kingdom. The most interesting part is the interaction amongst students and the course tutors in the discussion board. Detailed feedback is always given by the course tutor and your peers have the leverage to comment on all the presentations you submit. There was a lot of anxiety when I was told that I will be going to the UK for two weeks for a face-to-face learning process, but I was looking forward to meeting colleagues in other areas. However, unfortunately, this didn’t happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What does the future hold for me?

The ultimate aim of my studying is to support my future career in MSF but as an Expat staff volunteer. The modules I have selected are all geared in preparing me to be better placed for any future assignment with MSF.