January 31, 2013

A former MSF Head of Mission in South Sudan in 2012, Kassia Echavarri-Queen talks about head of mission responsibilities. 

Pakistan 2012 © Sam Phelps/MSF

Supplies gathered for MSF’s flood intervention in Pakistan last year.

Kassia Echavarri-Queen was an MSF Head of Mission in South Sudan in 2012.

The main responsibilities of a Head of Mission are understanding the humanitarian context of the country, implementing and managing the projects, properly representing MSF, and overseeing security. You also need to handle day-to-day management of your coordination team— finance, HR, and logistics—and make sure you are supporting the field coordinators so that we can all give the proper support to the teams that are working in the field. The working relationship with the medical coordinator is really important as all of us together work to ensure that the mission is following the best strategy, that it is clearly communicated, and that MSF is responding in the most effective way to answer the needs.

Representing MSF in the country also means working with people at other organizations or the ministries of health, and advocating for what we feel is needed. We provide day-to-day health care, but we also explain the reason we use certain medical protocols and work with health organizations at the national or local level to implement these practices. A large part of our sexual violence project in Guatemala, for example, was to stress the point that sexual violence is a medical emergency and that there is a medical protocol for it that should be not only adopted but implemented in the country. To do so and also ensure people knew to access care, we needed to work with media, other local community-based organizations, and with the community to promote health seeking behavior.

Challenges change from day to day. In South Sudan, we’d be working on human resource management and administration one day, and then the next day, we’d be communicating with UN agencies, human rights groups, and different organizations about a press release on abuses teams saw during a disarmament campaign in Pibor. The day after that you could be calling on other groups to devote more resources to refugees. Then a day of meetings, then days of field visits. And sometimes you just have to put out fires. It just really depends on the day. The work is challenging, but it’s always interesting.