7 Critical Humanitarian Soft Skills
We believe our world has the people to solve any problem, even humanity’s most urgent challenges. But are we preparing them?In a world of accelerating change, delivering sustainable solutions to those in need is increasingly complex. 21st century Humanitarians and Development Professionals work at the nexus of political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal variables - designing and achieving results is no easy task.
Combined with the effects of technological automation, this leaves us with a crucial question - what are the soft skills future humanitarians need?
We feel these are skills and mindsets emerging professional Humanitarians absolutely must have to meet their full potential.
1. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
Asking questions is the foundation of critical thinking. Before you can solve a problem, you must be able to critically analyse and question what is causing it.
Humanitarian challenges are some of the most complex problems we can address - without the ability to analyse we will never be able to develop solutions with a higher likelihood of scalable and sustainable success.
Additionally, in the Humanitarian industry you will be exposed to diverse teams working on specific problems - your boss doesn’t have all the answers and solutions. You have to find them.
These skills also build the foundation for innovation. If we have the ability to question the current state and criticise it, we can innovate and design alternatives. In the Humanitarian industry these soft skills align directly to developing evidence based Theories of Change, logic and results frameworks - some of the core hard skills Humanitarians must possess.
2. Collaboration & Influence
Collaboration across digital networks and with individuals from different backgrounds is something emerging Humanitarians need to be prepared for.
Transparent and accountable participation fundamentally underpins the way humanitarian aid and development cooperation is delivered - face-to-face and online. Your ability to collaborate with diverse stakeholders will determine the success of your work… sustainable results don’t occur in a vacuum.
Within collaborative contexts, your leadership amongst a team is not about commanding with top-down authority, but rather leading by influence. The old teaching adage is good to remember: Demonstrate don’t explain!
3. Agility & Adaptability
We live in an uncertain and complex world. Hence, It’s important to be able to adapt and re-define one’s approach to facilitating change.
Sounds simple. But traditionally our education and work mindset is one of routine and fixed procedures. Indeed being truly agile and adaptable means unlearning behaviours ingrained from an early age.
Without the ability to adapt your success as an International Humanitarian will be limited. Contexts are fluid. Priorities different. And visions of the future, and how to get there, fluctuate. This is ok as there is never one true solution to generate change. Your job as a 21st century change-maker is to provide the capacity and enabling environment for stakeholders to collaborate and determine their own paths forward.
This means agility and adaptability.
4. Initiative and Entrepreneurship
For many, developing a sense of initiative and entrepreneurial skills has come with the passage of time or informal learning. Think back. Was your formal learning experience really designed to inspire doers and innovators?
So how and why do we need initiative and entrepreneurship skills in the Humanitarian industry?
Your job is to create solutions to highly complex local, national and global challenges. This process is not linear. If it was easy we would have determined the answers long ago.
Given this complexity and the structured nature of most sectors, including the Humanitarian space, your initiative will be critical for on-going motivation and exploring alternatives to tried and tested, yet ultimately unsuccessful approaches.
Similar with entrepreneurship.
The Humanitarian industry is changing. You either change with it. Lead it. Or become irrelevant.
Funding mechanisms and behaviours have changed. Handouts don’t result in sustainable change. It is your job as a modern Humanitarian to change the status quo and use entrepreneurial skills to develop scalable solutions. Modern Humanitarianism is a transformative journey from inspiration to impact.
5. Effective Communication: Oral and Written
89% of employers report graduate entrants as “deficient” in communication. Eek. How can this be so in the digital age?
Clear communication isn’t just a matter of proper language and grammar use, although it helps;). Communicating clearly is an extension of thinking clearly:
Can you persuasively present your argument? Can you inspire others with conviction?Can you concisely articulate what you are trying to say? Can you promote yourself or an approach to change?
In the social change realm communication is one of the most important skills any professional can possess. Importantly it is a skill that can be learned.
6. Assessing and Analysing Information
We live in the information age. Every day we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data… I can’t even.
While our access to information has drastically improved, so has our access to misinformation. Very few of us have been taught how to assess the source and evaluate content. In an evidence based industry such as Humanitarianism this creates dilemmas. How do you know if the data you are relying on for program design and collaboration is ‘real’?
Moreover, this information is rapidly evolving as we update our knowledge base at unfathomable speeds. In the post-truth age, an active and informed Humanitarian Professional will have to be able to assess information from many different sources through a critical lens.
7. Curiosity and Imagination
Curiosity is a powerful driver of knowledge and innovation. Do you still possess that child-like sense of awe and wonder? Can you truly imagine solutions to our challenges?
It takes powerful imagination to envision breakthroughs and then go about executing them. After all Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Your job is to empower - yourself, your staff, your partners and stakeholders. We want individuals, groups, communities etc. that ask questions and seek answers. Inquisitiveness and thinking outside the box is important.
So don't suppress it in yourself or others.
How do you stack up?
These are but 7. To generate the change we wish to see in the world takes more than good intentions… it requires very skills, soft and hard, to get the job done. The clock is ticking. The problems are urgent.
Are you prepared?
When building a successful humanitarian career… opportunities don’t happen, you create them.
Why are our world’s biggest challenges getting worse?