Jason Yip is Regional Head of Market (Greater China, Malaysia & Singapore) at International Committee of the Red Cross – ICRC. During his professional development at ICRC, Jason worked at the headquarters in Geneva to engage with the member states in order to drive dialogue and mobilize resource. In addition, he was also stationed in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Myanmar in his capacity as an ICRC Delegate. He was responsible for developing and implementing ICRC’s humanitarian initiatives in the field. He has also worked in emergency relief, e.g. Sichuan’s earthquake in 2008 and migrant crisis in Andaman Sea in 2015. Jason has extensive experience in security analysis and building dialogues with non-state military groups.
Humanitarianism is not just a slogan
It is always easier to “speak words” than to “take action” for humanitarianism. In fact, humanitarianism is relevant to all of us, not just humanitarian workers and organizations only. “Everyone should practise humanitarianism in their daily lives,” said Jason. “Many people think that the most important element for humanitarian work is compassion, but there are other important elements that they omitted, such as skills for business administration, strategic and risk management. In Hong Kong, we need to have more experience sharing from humanitarian field workers, and not just simply focusing on fundraising work only,” he continued, “Saying that we have done this indicator and that indicator is not enough, the working process leading to those endpoints is also very important, for example how do we connect with the local parties and balance their interests.”
We are a professional sector
“Hong Kong-ers generally don’t value humanitarian work as much as business, not only among the “outsiders” but also those who are working in this industry. We need to show the public that humanitarian work is also a professional industry, what is so special about us and what are our niches, not just adding a Halo effect on us,” said Jason affirmatively. “In other countries, humanitarian work is a very professional and developed field, with a clear career path. While in Hong Kong, many people think that this kind of work is usually on a voluntary basis and just showing sympathy is enough. They always have a feeling that working in organizations like NGOs is a kind of compromise if they “gave up” their job to do it; meanwhile in overseas it is a different story, people usually worked for certain years before they get into NGOs. We need to develop better career options and relevant training in Hong Kong in order to attract more talented people dedicated to this field.” With more resources and development in this field, Jason hopes that one day Hong Kong could also launch some innovative programs like Humanitarian Impact Bond by ourselves.
It is important to emphasize that humanitarianism work should not be just limited to healthcare professionals like doctors, nurses and pharmacists. “For ICRC, we even have a department that is designated to study animals, plants, and biology for re-planting and animal vaccination right after the war. I have colleagues who are specialized in agriculture, liberal arts, and history. We need experts to help us enforce international humanitarian laws, for example how to control artificial intelligence weapon in the future, these work cannot be done just by healthcare professionals,” Jason pointed out.
Evolving challenges in face of wars and conflict
Jason believed that the next generation of war is going to look more like fragmented conflicts amongst multiple stakeholders, rather than the conventional form of country versus country. “We never know when the war will end and groups that are fighting today may become friends tomorrow. At the same time, International Law that bounds the actions of countries may become more and more difficult to apply in the future due to the fragmentation. When war is no longer temporary but continuous, the line between humanitarian and developmental work becomes more vague. Stakeholders want to maximize their benefits and war is their way to make money; which leads to the protracted mode of war and we need to think whether humanitarianism need a new mode to encounter this new mode of war.”
Collaboration with local staff
As foreigners, often from the developed countries, entering developing countries for humanitarian work, how should our relationship be with the local staff? “Once I was on a field trip with some male local colleagues and we are all changing clothes in a room, I was shocked that every one of them had at least one bullet scar on their body. This made me rethink that when compared to them, although we may be more well-educated, but they have gone through some life and death situations which we have not been through, can we still always think that we are better than them?” reflected Jason. In addition, Jason mentioned that non-local staff will always have off-time or an end of mission date, but for local staff they are both victims and aid-workers at the same time, this is a lifelong mission for them. Moreover, local staff are very experienced in handling emergency situations. “Once we were in a tear bomb attack, the local staff brought me to hide in different places during the attack. These skills are almost impossible for a foreign staff”, Jason recalled with admiration, “Local and non-local staff should protect each other and we can never do all the work by ourselves.”
Pass the torch to a new generation
Jason hopes that 10 years later the status of Asians could be raised and would have a larger role in humanitarian work. “I hope that there will be more Hong Kong youngsters to take over my place in ICRC, that’s why I have initiated recruitment of paid interns in local universities to work at ICRC headquarters to encourage more young people to understanding this field.” As a local humanitarian organization, we look forward to more opportunities and possibilities in Hong Kong for both medical and non-medical professionals to participate in international humanitarianism affairs.
Written by Cheng Wai Chung