How Aid Workers Adapt to Complexity and Uncertainty in the Frontline of War Against Hunger
George Fedha, Ph.D., Alumnus, School of Human & Organizational Development (2009)
While the complexity of humanitarian aid intervention has been the focus of global response to disaster, little is known from the perspectives of the people who actually carry out the work itself. In conjunction with 21 colleagues who serve as aid workers, this research was an ethnographic journey in Darfur, Sudan which explored how aid workers respond to unpredictable and often insecure aid work environment. Central to this research was the aid workers' own perception and experience of humanitarian aid work. These experiences were weaved and then viewed through the lens of Complex Adaptive Systems. Findings showed aid workers as a highly adaptive and self-organized group of people who frequently confronted new situations by introducing new behavior. Informal interaction with rebel groups while maintaining intricate relationship with Government authorities are key characteristics of aid workers in the frontline. This behavior underpins the effectiveness of aid workers to deliver humanitarian assistance in an often insecure and unpredictable environment. The ability of aid workers to deviate from established procedures in order to engage in life-saving activities was identified as a critical competency which apparently propels aid workers to confront the numerous challenges they face in the course of their work.