Stepping aboard the plane after a three-day Harvard Humanitarian Initiative humanitarian response field simulation, I had high expectations for the next leg of my journey: the week-long Program on Humanitarian Leadership (PHL) Intensive In-Person Training in Nairobi, Kenya. Despite my exhaustion, I knew this training would be a pivotal step in my career as a humanitarian.
Like all my PHL colleagues, I was drawn to this work not for the prestige, but out of a sense of responsibility to the destitute, displaced, and vulnerable.
Little did I know just how transformative that experience would be, from the deep relationships fostered to the unparalleled professional training — including moments when one of our instructors said nothing for what seemed like hours at a time, leaving our cohort at a loss for what to do (I still wonder… was that adaptive leadership? Not speaking? Just listening? Prodding?). I left Kenya just six days later feeling energized, with a renewed sense of commitment to humanitarian work and a vision (and plan) for tackling issues regardless of my position within an organization.
If it’s not already obvious, I am quite nostalgic about that six-day training. It was much more than the late-night conversations, impromptu dance parties(!), generous supply of food, and local sightseeing that led our group to trust and care for one another. It was the deep, sometimes controversial, discussions we had over meals or during training sessions, the curiosity and engagement of every participant, and the humility embodied by each attendee.
As an educated woman, I believe it is my responsibility to stand up for those without a voice, who remain in turmoil, and lack access to the most basic necessities for a dignified life.
Like all my PHL colleagues, I was drawn to this work not for the prestige — for there are several other careers or trainings that require far less work with more rapid returns — but out of a sense of responsibility to the destitute, displaced, and vulnerable. Needless to say, my commitment to humanitarianism runs deep.
Growing up in a military environment, I know what it means to dedicate one’s life to something greater than one’s self. I’ve witnessed family members prepare for and defend in conflict, and partaken in similar trainings. The core humanitarian principles of humanity, independence, neutrality, and impartiality are a part of my DNA. Like many of my peers, I have been victimized, I have suffered abuse, and I have seen the effects of conflict, terror, and institutionalized dependency. As an educated woman, I believe it is my responsibility to stand up for those without a voice, who remain in turmoil, and lack access to the most basic necessities for a dignified life.
Today, months after that intensive training that added fuel to my desire to transform the humanitarian sector and connected me with a community of people seeking to do the same, I am more determined than ever to apply all that I’ve learned and act as a positive force for those around me.
Most exciting of all, I am still in close contact with my cohort of PHL members! I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in PHL and I’m excited about the next step in my training — my field placement in Ethiopia.
PHL has opened doors I never thought I could access until now, and I hope to do the same for other aspiring humanitarians.
So, over the next several months, I invite you to follow me as I share my learnings throughout this journey. PHL has opened doors I never thought I could access until now, and I hope to do the same for other aspiring humanitarians.
Tayeisha Jackson is a third-year Doctor of Public Health candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she is concentrating on humanitarian studies, ethics, and human rights. She is one of 32 participants from 23 countries that were selected for the 2017 Program on Humanitarian Leadership. Nearly 1,600 people applied, from 118 countries.
National NGO Program on Humanitarian Leadership
NNPHL is a six-month blended learning leadership training program led by Concern Worldwide in consortium with International Medical Corps and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
The PHL program was piloted in 2016 and funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (now known as the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance), with the aim of enhancing the leadership capacity and management training of humanitarian professionals. PHL combines a rigorous academic curriculum with practical experiential learning, incorporating mentorship, assignments, and competitive field placements — including two with Concern this year. Tayeisha will begin her field placement this month, with Concern Worldwide in Ethiopia.
To learn more about the program and future leadership training opportunities