Learning In Conflict Zones: Upskilling Humanitarian Aid Workers In Syria

December 6, 2017 Stacy Guidera

We have all seen the devastating images and reports from a war-torn Syria, and many companies have wondered how they could use their resources to help. While we often see or hear stories of people fleeing from the crisis, many Syrians also choose to stay and provide humanitarian assistance in their country. Now more than ever, humanitarians in Syria are in need of professional development and support. Given constraints and challenges faced by both international and Syrian NGOs, many humanitarians have limited access to classroom-based training.

Remote learning is essential for humanitarians in Syria, especially for many who are new to the sector, who need to develop knowledge and skills in topics ranging from technical areas such as how to design and deploy effective voucher programmes, to more personal topics such as leading teams effectively during a crisis response. While many Syrians plan on returning to their regular jobs after the crisis, it may not be possible for everyone. Therefore, capacity development opportunities are not only needed to support humanitarians today but also to strengthen the workforce as relief and development work could be a long-term career option for many in the future.

Transforming the way people help people

Through the contribution of our talent management technology, the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation’s capacity-building programmes help strengthen non-profit organisations around the world by helping them develop, engage, and empower their employees and the people they assist. One of our most powerful programs is DisasterReady.org—a free, open, online learning portal built to increase the preparedness and effectiveness of humanitarian relief and development workers worldwide.

In response to the growing need for demand-driven capacity development and skill building, DisasterReady.org partnered with Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee to implement a capacity-building program called Investing in Syrian Humanitarian Action (ISHA). One of the key elements of ISHA is to deliver a learning programme through DisaterReady.org that provides free online learning in Arabic and English specifically designed for the emerging workforce of humanitarians providing assistance in Syria.

Creating content that counts  

Creating a learning programme inside a conflict zone comes with its own specific challenges such as unpredictable internet and technology constraints and difficulty reaching learners. Many international organisations have relevant training to offer, but we need to customise it for humanitarians working in Syria, increase its accessibility in the field and offer it in both Arabic and English.

The Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation partnered with organisations such as SweetRush, a leading learning and development organisation, to create custom simulation-based learning, and microlearning in Arabic and English that are optimised for mobile devices, making them easily accessible to humanitarians working in the field with limited access to computers.

Going mobile

Many Syrian humanitarians are learning on the move, so it is key for content to be accessible on smartphones. The solution was to create mircolearning modules and mobile job aids.  Engaging visuals, stories, and infographics teach concepts quickly, while putting the learning in context. The content responds to each device type, which optimises the viewing and user experience for the learner. Through useful and relevant content — provided at the learner’s fingertips on mobile devices and supported by the Cornerstone OnDemand mobile app — humanitarians throughout Syria can access training anywhere, anytime.

Expanding support for humanitarians in Syria and beyond

The ISHA Online Learning Programme has been a huge success, and so far, there are more than 12,000 learners in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, over 85,000 course registrations, and more than 18,000 course completions. Building on the success of this programme, the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation will continue to expand the development of content, outreach, and impact to learners in Syria and the region and work with partners to explore new ways to design “best in class” technology-based learning to address critical learning needs and challenges on the ground.

While learning in a conflict zone has many challenges, and is vastly different than learning in a classroom or on the commute to the office. There are many parallels that can be drawn, and Cornerstone is proud to be able to offer its knowledge and experience to help humanitarians in Syria and the region.

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