Pakistan: Remote management, team structure and training

Flavien is a log admin from France, currently working with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Pakistan. After five months of “remote management” from a base in Islamabad, he is about to travel to his project in the town of Chaman, on the border with Afghanistan. In this blog post, he compares some aspects of his second assignment with his first one.

In Chaman, MSF works with the Ministry of Health at the district headquarters hospital, providing reproductive, newborn and paediatric healthcare. 

Life-saving work

Our team in Chaman also manages the emergency room and offers inpatient and outpatient nutritional support for malnourished children under the age of five. These services are available to local residents, Afghan refugees and people who cross the border seeking medical assistance. 

The hospital is busy: in November around 450 women came to give birth at the hospital, and the team also performed almost 800 Emergency Response consultations, mainly for people with some kind of physical trauma, like an injury.

However, as I am still waiting for my "non-objection certificate", a government travel permit, to be allowed to go to Chaman, I am currently based in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Unexpected freedom

As Islamabad is very safe, even safer than Paris if one considers the last time terrorist attacks happened, our security rules allow us, the international staff, to walk freely in six blocks of the city during daylight. That is 24 square kilometers, including many parks of all sizes, the biggest one being a full block: four square kilometers. 

This freedom allows each of us, international staff based at the coordination office in the capital, to balance work and life almost as wished.  This is unusual in MSF. If you’re a member of international staff based in a project, the context often leads to security rules that restrain your movements to the strictly necessary, sometimes even less. International staff in these settings have a much harder time when it comes to work-life balance.

The almost "normal" life fits me well and gives me time to learn more in detail MSF ways of working: it would have been a good first assignment but at the same time, I am happy that I got to be in the field from the start of my first posting. That was last year, in Bambari, Central African Republic. A great place... suffering from its context since far too long.


Fatima Jinnah Park in Islamabad
Enjoying sunset in Fatima Jinnah Park is one of the many distractions available in Islamabad

Getting Technical

As I have a French-German mechanical and industrial engineering background, including a wide range of management knowledge thanks to the way such curriculum are structured in France, I can potentially cover positions as technical logistician or logistics administration.

For my first posting I was a technical logistician, usually known as a “tech-log”. I was responsible at project level for all technical topics, from cars to internet, including applied security. 

The diversity of the job is quite challenging when you’re a tech-log. Everyone needs you, from "the Internet is not working again!" to "When will the building for the new health center be ready?", all the way down to "Don't forget to change the light bulb please!"

A new role

For my second role with MSF I am what’s known as the “log-admin”: responsible at project level for supply, finance and human resources. 

Again, this role is quite challenging as everyone needs the things you are responsible for: drugs, obviously, but also every kind of item right down to toilet paper. 

Then there are all kind of payments, from exceptional expensive construction projects to daily cheap food supply, which means hundreds of signatures... and not only on the invoices but also for each step leading up to an invoice.

Plus I follow all staff-related topics, for example organising bookings for transport and accommodation from and to the field.


Flavien Mercier
Wearing my MSF t-shirt

The difference

Comparing the two MSF jobs I’ve had so far, technical and administrative, it is interesting for me to notice the difference in perception from “everyone needs you” (as they actually all seek your support, at any time of the day or sometime even at night) to “everyone needs what you are responsible for”. Thinking about it, I feel that my team structure makes a big part of the difference.

In my first posting, I was managing one technical logistic supervisor who was managing 10 drivers, three handymen and 18 guards… without a head driver, a head guard nor head handyman. This lack of “head” roles brought the tasks normally associated with them back on both our shoulders: we were overwhelmed but our teams were not.

In my second posting, here in Pakistan, I am managing one supply supervisor and one HR/Finance supervisor. They are respectively managing a purchaser, a storekeeper and a storekeeper assistant as well as an accountant, five cleaners and seven cooks. 


On the supply side, all roles are on their respective shoulders and the whole is working pretty well. On HR/Finance side, writing these lines, I realise head cleaner and head cook positions might make sense. However, as far as I can see the whole is working well too. Still it will be interesting to think further about whether it would help to delegate the management of cleaners and cooks to a head of these two teams. 

From an “empowering people” perspective, I think it makes one’s job more interesting after a while, when one’s competencies are recognized as having reached the quality of being able to benefit to one’s colleagues to lead them towards a smoother workflow. 

This also has the advantage of taking partly responsibilities off a supervisor’s shoulders allowing him to focus on some other more relevant tasks: you know, the ones that are important but not urgent.

Unifield Supply Training | 11-19 December 2018 

Due to my position, being responsible for all of what goes from our Chaman project through Unifield, our planning software (also known as an "ERP", or Enterprise Resource Planning) a training about how to use this software is in our budget for me. Obviously, I was very happy to be getting this training, yet feeling unwell about it, as I know how expensive trainings are! 

Now, after having done it, I can say how good it is, for my work, for my project, for me and also for MSF as a whole, not only because it ensures well-trained staff, but also because it strongly contributes to network them all, us all!

Our days together in Abidjan were from being only a training about an ERP software, in what could be seen as a fancy destination. It was also a true team-building opportunity. 

Bringing together both locally-hired and international staff working at various MSF projects from across the whole movement is a great way to generate both formal and informal dialogs. All these diverse backgrounds are deeply interesting. 


Panorama of Abidjan
View of Abidjan - look at how many new buildings are popping up

We enjoyed a lot of discussing and getting to know each other. Where are you from? What are you doing? Then going progressively to deeper topics and more serious discussions, freely, as it came, as we liked it, yet almost always work-related or humanitarian-related. 

There was no extra program apart the day-long training sessions. No expectation apart from the training goals. Just trust. Thank you. Without noticing it, we made the best of it. 

A good side of globalization: it is also about interpersonal relationships.

The top image shows an archive photograph of the hospital in Chaman, taken in 2014.