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A passion that stays with you

Bernadette Crawford is a desk officer for Zambia and Mozambique. Michael Hanly is a desk officer on Malawi, Zimbabwe and Angola. This feature was originally published in an Irish Times supplement on 13 February.

“Desk officers are like well-oiled cogs in a machine, and without them, it would certainly slow down.

“We work closely with the regional director and are responsible for monitoring the day-to-day activities of the country programmes. So we know what new ideas are being developed, what new staff is being taken on and the country’s funding needs.

“If there are any major emergencies on the horizon, we keep the flow of information running through the organisation and ensure that adequate funding exists for the country programmes to continue.

“The most important aspect of our job is that we give support to the Concern country directors running the programmes. We’re the direct contact point for the country team and for any person inside or outside the organisation. Our work is varied and divided between areas that include human resources, finance, and policy and programme development.

“One day we could be interviewing for international staff, another we could be working on developing policy in the head office, while all the time monitoring budget expenditure.

“It can be quite a demanding position, with deadlines and getting things done on time. Requests can come in from other departments of the organisation, generally looking for information or clarification on the programmes, and they have to be dealt with.

“Critical documents will come in from the country teams that range from proposals to updates or review reports.

“They can be quite lengthy documents, which require time to be set aside before having a discussion with the regional director to get feedback and send it back to the country team. If you are dealing with an emergency, then the pace of the desk increases as demands for information, updates, requests for supplies or staff and media interviews all start coming in at the same time.

“It’s important during emergencies that the Concern home offices are aware of what’s happening, as well as providing all the support we can to the field at such a difficult time.

“It’s key that we are totally up to date with changes as they occur and monitor other websites for information to keep senior management updated on new information.

“It is crucial that the desk officers and the country director and team have a good working relationship, especially considering the distance involved. We also have a lot of contact with the assistant country directors and the accountants.

“The majority of desk officers are coming from a programme background with overseas experience – and once you have worked in the field, it is usually a passion that stays with you.

“The challenge of the job can be in the physical distance between sitting in Dublin and dealing with programmes thousands of miles away. This is where country visits play a significant role for us, in understanding exactly what the situation is like on the ground and the reality of what our colleagues are facing.

“Going on field visits to the countries is a real privilege, as we get the opportunity to meet amazing people in our staff, our partners and in particular amongst the communities we work with.

“It’s inspiring to see the smiles and excitement on the faces of children as you visit their village, to talk with women about how they manage to feed their families on such limited resources and to see positive outcomes of projects which improve people’s lives.

“Sometimes it can break your heart if you experience the death of a child when you’re there, but in those difficult times you realise how critical the work we do is – and that is, ultimately, the best part of the job.”