Kaye Bentley, from Wellington, New Zealand, has completed four field assignments with Médecins Sans Frontières as Finance and Human Resources Coordinator, in Philippines, Liberia, Ethiopia and China.
What made you decide to work with Médecins Sans Frontières?
I was working in the accounting and legal sectors in New Zealand before making the change to try working overseas. I have a background in accounting, human resources and management, but had a hankering for travel and adventure. It was while in New Zealand doing a Masters degree in Development Studies that I discovered the work of Médecins Sans Frontières, and realised they not only needed medical personnel, but people like me in support roles. I thought I could offer my experience to them but in actual fact I got so much out of it as well. I have learnt the importance of being open minded, so that I can learn as much about the country I am in. I’ve also learnt so much working with people from many countries and from our national staff.
"It was while in New Zealand doing a Masters degree in Development Studies that I discovered the work of Médecins Sans Frontières, and realised they not only needed medical personnel but people like me in support roles"
What does the role of Finance and Human Resources Coordinator typically involve?
Some roles are just finance and others are just HR. Some projects call for a joint position, depending on the size, complexity and level and number of local staff. I have always taken joint roles as my background has been in both fields. The coordinator role is typically based in the capital and supports projects in various parts of the country. In Ethiopia, I was in Addis Ababa and travelled by plane, vehicle and boat to the project in the southwest of the country, close to the South Sundanese border, where I would stay a week at a time to iron out any concerns with HR or finance.
Why are finance professionals so important to Médecins Sans Frontières’ work?
The projects could not operate without money coming in each month to pay the wages, run the medical programs, move the logistics, etc. It is not just about the frontline medical staff but the full team, including the support staff, that make the humanitarian work possible. The finance team has to be mindful of the Médecins Sans Frontières policies and protocols as well as the tax laws in the country. The Finance Coordinator has to form a relationship with the bank to be able to receive funds and distribute according to the needs of the project. Not all the banking and finance systems are as good as those we expect in New Zealand. Likewise, we have to establish a relationship with a lawyer and be mindful of labour laws for the HR side of things.
"It is not just about the frontline medical staff but the full team, including the support staff, that make the humanitarian work possible"
Could you describe any particular moments that stand out for you during your work?
Médecins Sans Frontières’ reputation is something I have come to appreciate. My most recent assignment was in the Philippines where we were known to the population through our response to Typhoon Haiyan, or Super Typhoon Yolanda, which struck the area in 2013. We responded to the immediate medical and psychological needs after the typhoon, and now run reproductive and sexual health programs, and work with displaced people in the south of the country. That we have remained in the country working in other areas of need is recognised by the population and other organisations in the medical sector. I was also in Liberia post-Ebola and realised there that people remember us and the work we do to help with the ongoing medical needs of the vulnerable parts of the population long after the emergency is over. I have been personally thanked for being in the country, even though I am a small cog in the wheel.
What advice would you give other finance or HR professionals considering work with Médecins Sans Frontières?
Go for it. If you are at a crossroads in your career, this is a wonderful way to see the world, to move into the humanitarian sector and reignite the passion for finance and human resources work.