A Logistician's Story

By David Parker, Logistician

I was attracted to MSF by the combination of dynamism and professionalism - it’s an organisation that puts its money where its mouth is (as well as the other way around!). It’s very reassuring to have both the resources and expertise of MSF available to support you when you’re in the field.

My first mission with MSF was to Uganda to help with a cholera epidemic – I had particular responsibility for organising the water and sanitation components of the treatment centres. Since then I have worked in Sudan and am about to leave for a third mission, this time in Afghanistan.

As a logistician you have to respond to the needs of your team. You are there to complement and support the work of your medical colleagues and therefore you have to work very closely with them. It is your job to ensure there is a constant supply of all the drugs and materials they need.

One thing that really appeals to me about working with MSF is the opportunity to work with so many different nationalities and cultures. My colleagues in Uganda consisted of an Australian nurse, a German doctor, a Dutch project co-ordinator, a Kenyan lab technician, myself (British) and another logistician from Sweden, as well as a small army of local staff.

WHAT IS INVOLVED?

There is no such thing as a typical job profile for an MSF logistician as every project is so different. However responsibilities tend to range from supply management to employment of local staff and even information technology.

There is a heavy emphasis on technical work – installing radios, solar panels, generators and the like, and if you’re working in the capital, much of your time can also be taken up with import/export procedures and negotiating with customs.

There is no such thing as a typical job profile for an MSF logistician as every project is so different. However responsibilities tend to range from supply management to employment of local staff and even information technology.

There is a heavy emphasis on technical work – installing radios, solar panels, generators and the like, and if you’re working in the capital, much of your time can also be taken up with import/export procedures and negotiating with customs.

Wherever you are, vehicle and fleet management takes up much of your time. This includes hiring and managing the drivers, keeping all the vehicles maintained and the procurement of fuel. A working knowledge of vehicle mechanics is vital.

You are also responsible for maintaining radio and other communication equipment. Many MSF projects are extremely isolated, and the communications systems are quite literally a lifeline.

You need to be able to set up communications systems from scratch – including power supply, antenna type, inclination and select the most appropriate frequency.

As the team logistician you are responsible for everything from a dripping tap to a broken radio. And as the entire team is relying on your ability to mend these things, your practical technical skills need to be very good. It always seems to be when you get home at the end of a long day, that you discover there are more jobs to be done there! It can feel like you are on call 24-hours a day.

In general, as a logistician you spend a lot of your time finding and managing local staff, for example builders and labourers – often for short contracts. An ability to coach and motivate people, even in stressful situations, is essential. An understanding of and sensitivity to different cultures is also important.

WHAT DO YOU NEED?

As well as the general MSF recruitment criteria, you need to have a broad range of technical skills plus a practical and flexible approach to life. An ability to juggle several tasks at once is vital.

Experience of basic construction is essential and a knowledge of water and sanitation systems is useful as you may be asked to construct latrines and showers.

Patience is not just a virtue, but an absolute necessity, as is a sense of humour. Every day something new comes up. It’s totally unpredictable. Each day brings new challenges and ‘problem solving’ takes on a whole new dimension!"