Investing in Syrian Humanitarian Action

June 17, 2016 Tina Bolding

In May, my colleague Stacy Guidera and I spent 10 days in Amman, Jordan conducting a technology-based learning assessment as part of a new program called Investing in Syrian Humanitarian Action (ISHA). The program—developed as a collaboration between DisasterReady, Mercy Corps, and International Rescue Committee (IRC)—is aimed at strengthening capacity of aid workers located in Syria to respond to emergency needs throughout their country.

ISHA Team Members from IRC and Mercy CorpsThis was my first time travelling to Jordan, and it was a great opportunity to meet face to face with regional and field staff of INGOs and UN Agencies about the capacity development needs of their partner organizations implementing aid programs to more than 13.5 million people living within Syria.

While our interviews focused on 15 INGOs and UN Agencies based in Jordan, contractors on our assessment team conducted focus groups in Turkey representing 35 Syrian NGOs and an online assessment received 640 responses from humanitarians working inside Syria.

There is so much I could share from our time in Jordan but I thought it best to start with a few key observations:

  1. There is both a clear need and high demand for capacity building in Syria. Many of the aid workers delivering critical assistance are highly educated people who left their profession to assist in the crisis with little time and access to training needed to learn what it means to operate a humanitarian aid organization and implement programs. They are engineers that find themselves managing a shelter program, community members conducting door-to-door needs assessments, volunteers teaching in schools, surgeons working as general practioners and in extreme cases mid-wives and dentists performing life-saving surgeries. These humanitarians have requested access to materials, curriculum and resources in subjects such as humanitarian principles/essentials, financial management, protection, rapid needs assessments, and reporting to name a few.
  2. Capacity building for the Syrian crisis is challenging but achievable. Remote learning is not a “nice to have” but a “must have” when building capacity in Syria. IRC Syria Region Capacity Building TeamIn an environment constrained by border closures, security risks, limited internet access, and unstable electricity, technology can be challenging. I was encouraged, however, by the work many INGOs, agencies, and private companies are doing to overcome these challenges through use of online and offline learning, mobile learning, and blending modalities such as facilitated online training via Skype. It was a major highlight to discover the leaders of a Syrian NGO had their entire staff complete 4 online courses using’s Arabic learning portal. For NGOs working in Syria, capacity building using remote learning is necessary and, despite the myriad challenges they face with technology, possible.
  3. Collaboration and coordination is key. There is good momentum to provide capacity building for aid workers inside Syria. There is also the opportunity for INGOs, UN agencies, and private companies to strengthen coordination and collaboration in order to minimize duplication and streamline the way we deliver technology-based learning to aid workers. By working together we will go farther and faster to help humanitarians in Syria respond to emergencies in their country. To that end, we will make available a summary of the key findings from the Investing in Syrian Humanitarian Action technology-based learning assessment once it is complete so everyone in the sector can benefit from these insights to further their capacity building initiatives in Syria.

This assessment was one of many key milestones in DisasterReady’s strategy to invest in Syrian humanitarian action and strengthen capacity development of aid workers across the Middle East. As part of our consortium with Mercy Corps and IRC, our next step is to create a technology-based learning program that addresses the needs, learning preferences, and technology requests gleaned from the assessment. I wish to thank over 700 people who participated in this assessment and to say we are committed to collaborating across the sector to help humanitarians reach their potential! 

Photo Credit:  Mercy Corps

About the Author

Tina Bolding is the Director of and is responsible for the strategy, development and outreach for this effort to support the critical and demanding training needs of the global humanitarian community. Before joining the Foundation, Tina served as chief human resources officer at Food for the Hungry, an international relief and development organization, where she built a global HR department and implemented support services to assist HR operations across 22 countries. Tina holds a BA in Organizational Communication and Psychology from the University of Tulsa.


Learn. Prepare. Collaborate.