“It tests your flexibility”: Training MSF logistics teams around the world

Zeeshan is a deputy logistics coordinator from Malakand in Pakistan. He works to supply resources to vital humanitarian projects run by Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) across the country. In this blog, he shares his love of going on “detachment” with MSF, training teams in other projects around the world.

Zeeshan and the team in Indonesia

I've been working with MSF since 2010 as a logistician, and I currently hold the position of deputy logistics coordinator in Pakistan.

It has been more than eight years now. Although it's hard to disagree with the notion that when you spend a long time in a particular role, your job becomes boring, on the other hand, this is definitely not the case with MSF, where you do new things every now and then. And whenever I'm involved in an acute emergency response, it's totally a different situation altogether.


Another exciting part of working with MSF is “detachment” – a physical detachment from your country, not from MSF. It is actually a short transfer to another MSF project in a different country. The duration can be from a few weeks to a few months.

A number of Pakistanis working with MSF in Pakistan go for short assignments to various parts of the foreign countries. This is not only full of learning but a lot of excitement as well.

I did my first “detachment” with MSF in 2013, as a logistician mentor in KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Then, in 2017, I went on assignment to Egypt as supply and logistics coordinator for three months. Most recently, this year, I went to Indonesia as a logistics coach for a period of two months.

Let me tell you how it all happened.

South Africa, Egypt and Indonesia

In 2013, the South Africa team in KwaZulu-Natal “nationalised” the position of logistics manager – meaning a position previously held by an international staff member was to be filled by a local staff instead.


Zeeshan and the team in South Africa 2013
Zeeshan and the team in South Africa 2013

The team asked for an experienced national team member, on detachment from another country, to support and train their new national logistics manager. I was on the list of staff available for detachment, so the logistics pool manager at that time contacted the Pakistan office and requested for my availability, which was approved.I truly enjoyed my time there a lot.


The Egypt team with Zeeshan in 2017
The Egypt team with Zeeshan in 2017

In 2017, there was gap for a supply and logistics coordinator in the Egypt team, and again the logistics pool manager asked for my availability which was granted. This way I went for my second detachment.Considering that the experience was useful and full of learning – and it feels great to help the other projects through my experience – I availed the opportunity to go on my third detachment early in 2018.


Zeeshan with his Indonesian teammates in 2018.
Zeeshan with his Indonesian teammates in 2018.

The Indonesian team was looking for someone to train and coach their national logistics staff, as well as to implement MSF standard procedures, guidelines and protocols, as they kicked off new activities with a team who had little MSF experience.

The benefits and challenges

I think it’s a great opportunity to work in a different country where you can learn and experience new things; you can see different cultures, different people and get involved in different types of activities, which increase your knowledge.

The best thing about the experience is that it tests your flexibility and adaptive behaviour in a short period of time. A short assignment can be tough as well. The challenging part of is quickly getting along with the team, immediately taking on the tasks, and meeting tight deadlines.

Detachment also helped me develop and refine my management skills. Since I see a big added value and benefits of detachment both for MSF staff and for MSF, I look forward to more and more detachments and mobilisation of staff across our projects.