Learning to lead

A perspective on leadership training.

Charting the future of humanitarian action

Maliha Mohiuddin recently joined 30 other humanitarian professionals from around the globe at a training course in Manila, Philippines as part of the National NGO Program on Humanitarian Leadership (NNPHL) which is jointly run by Concern Worldwide, International Medical Corps, and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. NNPHL’s five-month leadership training programs combine in-person training, distance learning, mentorship, and field-based assignments, aimed at those who are likely to take on decision-making and management responsibilities in the humanitarian sector.

From Bangladesh, Maliha is a fellow at the international non-profit, YouthMappers, which aims to “cultivate a generation of young leaders to create resilient communities and  to define their world by mapping it.”

Members of the YouthMappers chapter in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Maliha with members of the YouthMappers chapter in Dhaka, Bangladesh

My story

As a female humanitarian professional, I have felt the challenge to convince people that you can make a positive contribution and play an important role in providing life-saving aid to communities in need. Still, in the 21st century, some people have the preconceived notion that a woman shouldn’t go far away from home for work—especially in the Asian context. But I, and other women leaders, have accepted the challenge with a smile, because there is pride to work in the humanitarian field as a woman. First as a student studying Disaster Management and Vulnerability at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, then as a YouthMappers leadership fellow and now as participant of the NNPHL, I envision the untraveled world through my mapping and it makes me feel like the global citizen that I am.

Participants in the NNPHL Manila workshop 2018.

Participants in the NNPHL Manila workshop 2018.

Getting in

The NNPHL program focuses primarily on mid-career humanitarian professionals and only accepts a limited number of junior staff for each program. I was surprised and delighted that they selected someone like me, and I want to share my story as a reminder that youth have an important role to play in humanitarian action.
If you don’t know about YouthMappers, it is an organization which inspires the young generation that they have an important role to play as a change maker in the world map. It is focused on engaging youth as powerful human resources in humanitarian response. When I first saw the call for applications for leadership training, I didn’t know if I should apply. But my supervisor, Dr. Patricia Soils, encouraged me and YouthMappers leadership training taught me that, “you can achieve good things in life with true dedication to work.” There is no harm in trying!

“I shouted so loud with happiness…”

One of the best memories of life, on 21 February 2018 at 2:00 am I received the email of  final selection with “A big Congratulation from the NNPHL team.” I shouted so loud with happiness that everyone in my family needed to sacrifice their sleep that night.

The course

The NNPHL training was a great way to learn about diverse topics such as adaptive leadership, gender and humanitarian context, stress and resilience in humanitarian leadership, critical analysis of complex environments, and much more. The group work exercises, especially the Disaster Simulation and the Women in the Humanitarian Leadership session, were very informative and have influenced my skills as a disaster manager.

Participants in the 2018 NNPHL workshop in Manila.

Participants in the 2018 NNPHL workshop in Manila.

NNPHL has taught me to be adaptive as a humanitarian leader and I hope to pass my learnings to the next generation. As a YouthMappers leader, my hope is to share my learning with other fellows and support them as they become dynamic humanitarian leaders.


I have shared the lessons I learned with students at the University of Dhaka, through an interactive training, which was combined with a technical session and fieldwork. The participants were introduced to the YouthMappers organization and software, edited maps, participated in various group activities on resilience and stress, and applied their training through a day-long fieldwork exercise.

University of Dhaka students collecting the data from the internal displaced female respondents about the mental stress situation in the Moghbazer Slum area.

University of Dhaka students collecting data from internally displaced women in an urban slum in Dhaka.

This involved interviewing internally displaced women in the Moghbazer Slum area about their mental stress and stress triggers. The participants used Kobo Toolbox and Mapiliary to collect data. As you can see from the photos, the participants were quite engaged in the training and fieldwork.

“The light of true leadership will be reflected in our work.”

Sharing the learnings with others made me feel that I have been able to apply my leadership training and help others develop their skills and confidence as well. NNPHL taught me that the light of true leadership will be reflected in our work when we have an understanding of the complex humanitarian environments we work in and when we try to bring about positive change.

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