The Humanitarian Coaching Network is an initiative that we started in 2012. I was given the opportunity to design an initiative for the staff wellbeing units of UNICEF — which is responsible for the psychological wellbeing of the organisation — to find a way of proactively support the well-being of humanitarian staff.
The purpose of creating the program was two fold. On one hand being able to support staff members that typically would not have the resources to work with a coach. Staff members who were working in very isolated duty stations that typically would not have access or even knowledge of the development support that their organisation was offering.
Supporting that population, as well as providing an opportunity for my coaching network to really put their skills to the service of a global organisation that was really trying to have a powerful impact in the world.
What was unexpected was people's willingness to follow me.
I told my focal point in UNICEF to send me as many people as you can, as many people that will register and I will find a coach for them. I certainly bit off more than I could chew. We got more than five hundred people registered in the first year.
It was great because it forced the roster of coaches to grow faster and more than I had ever imagined. We went from a couple of Google forms floating around the webosphere and a handful of coaches, to our own website, a whole backend which I was forced to learn how to put together, and more importantly, a roster of almost three hundred coaches worldwide.
We are now working with five different agencies providing coaching services to hundreds of humanitarian and development workers, so it's been a very interesting past few years.
Boom Boom Go:
What have been the most unexpected lessons as a leader?
What was unexpected was people's willingness to follow me. The act of claiming a leadership role, the act of sharing a vision that happened to be compelling for me and for others, enlisted a lot more people than I expected.
We have the tendency I think, to not do something until we're ready for it and sometimes taking on projects that are larger than our readiness push us further than anything else.
Boom Boom Go:
How has running HCN affected your life, your community, or the world?
Running the HCN has connected me with an incredible global community of coaches that cover the range of experience and expertise — so coaches that are just starting out as well as master coaches. And they are all volunteering their time. They are all humbly, generously serving this population.
I feel very privileged to be working with an extraordinary group of people who are leaders in their own right, in their own businesses — in their own work, in their own lives. They are also willing and able to lead from behind, to get behind me, to support me. So I think it has a lot to do with the quality people that this initiative is attracted.
You will be inadequate to certain tasks. To think that you would be otherwise, would be silly.
Many of the clients of the HCN, their work has profound implications and so it is tremendously taxing on them, on their families, depending on where they are working. They may be separated from their families for months at a time and they are living in a compound that limits their movement. It is a tremendous responsibility and often what gets sacrificed in the course of work is self care, relationship and the ability to think more broadly, more extensively, more creatively about the work that people are doing.
So the Humanitarian Coaching Network is certainly not providing a solution to that problem, but, what I hope it is doing is making a case for agencies to really begin seeing the value that this process can offer, the support that it can provide and then really making an investment in their people.
Boom Boom Go:
What is your advice for others who want to start their own purposeful project?
A powerful sense of purpose is a really important starting point, and I think there are two aspects to that. There is something that resonates with us because of who we are. Things that we enjoy doing. Things that we think are important. Things that we think would be cool. It's important to have that.
But then I think there is something that is equally important, maybe even slightly more so, that this sense of powerful purpose is also informed by the needs of the time in which we live. It is really important to read our reality and let ourselves be guided as much by our own urges and stirrings as by the needs that are out there.
That will stretch us. That will be uncomfortable. Those two things are never fully aligned because the needs are so much more complex than we are. None of the real pressing needs out there fall neatly into our area of expertise or our understanding. These are adaptive challenges and we have to be calm, we have to adapt and become more complex to match their complexity.
So my advice is firstly to have a powerful purpose, and secondly to be okay with feeling inadequate. I think that is maybe a harsh word, but you will be inadequate to certain tasks. To think that you would be otherwise, would be silly.
This interview has minor edits for clarity.
Jason Ighani is the Founder of the Humanitarian Coaches Network (HCN) — a platform that connects humanitarian staff with a global cohort of volunteer professional coaches. thehcn.org