Program on Humanitarian Leadership

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Program on Humanitarian Leadership

Concern Worldwide, in consortium with International Medical Corps (IMC) and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) and with technical support from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health has created the Program on Humanitarian Leadership (PHL). This program utilizes innovative pedagogies to combine a rigorous academic curriculum with a practical field-based placement.


PHL will begin with a course in humanitarian leadership, coordination, program monitoring and evaluation, and other skills that are necessary for all staff who hope to succeed in today’s difficult humanitarian environment. Following this course, participants will take leadership roles within HHI’s large-scale and fully immersive humanitarian simulation. This simulation will give program participants the opportunity to use and practice skills learned in the classroom immediately following instruction.

After that, participants will either return to their own organization or will be placed in a participating organization’s field location to use their newly gained knowledge via the experiential learning component of the program. All participants will be required to carry out continuing education assignments during their deployment and will be part of a continued learning community after their PHL participation has concluded.

By the end of this intensive process, participants will have the skills, knowledge, relationships, and confidence to take on leadership responsibilities within a variety of humanitarian organizations, ultimately improving the delivery of services to the increasing numbers of those in need of humanitarian assistance.


Humanitarian Leadership Course at Harvard University

This first component of PHL is the Humanitarian Leadership course – a new course that has been developed to address the qualities and capacities needed for humanitarian leaders. A select group of participants identified through a rigorous application process will take this course in person at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA in March and April of 2016.

Twelve participants will be selected for the course, with an appropriate balance of participants from national and international NGOs as well as academia. The course will last one week.

HHI’s Humanitarian Response Intensive Course Simulation

Following completion of the Humanitarian Leadership course, participants will take part in the highly popular and successful HHI Humanitarian Response Intensive Course Simulation. This full-immersion simulation provides participants with the opportunity to apply knowledge, frameworks, and skills gained through the Humanitarian Leadership course in the context of a three-day and two-night field simulation of a complex humanitarian emergency in the forests north of Boston. PHL participants will serve in leadership roles as part of the simulation exercise.

Field Placement

Following the completion of the course and simulation, PHL participants will be placed within NGOs for practical field-based learning and experience. Placements will either be in the field offices of Concern Worldwide or International Medical Corps or within the participant’s current organization. All placements will put the participants in a high-demand humanitarian context or in an area with a high probability of future humanitarian needs.

For all participants, an ongoing learning component will include a checklist of required assignments that have to be completed by the end of the placement. Potential assignments could include in-country learning experiences, such as attendance at cluster meetings to gain an understanding of coordination mechanisms, or exploration of feedback mechanisms in place for affected populations to inform program design.

Who Should Apply to the Program on Humanitarian Leadership?

PHL is for professionals working for non-governmental or community-based organizations in humanitarian or development settings. Applicants should aspire to take on decision-making and management responsibilities in humanitarian contexts.

PHL is also for graduate students who wish to pursue a career in humanitarian leadership. In 2016, PHL is only open to graduate students from MIT, Tufts, and Harvard. In following years, PHL will be open to a wider pool of graduates.

Prerequisites for PHL Participants

All participants of PHL will meet a standard set of minimum requirements: 

  • Must have a demonstrated interest in pursuing leadership roles in the humanitarian sector
  • Must be able to speak, read, and write English with proficiency
  • Must have a Bachelors degree or a comparable academic or professional qualification
  • Must be available to participate in the course, the simulation, and the field placement and have the permission of either your employer (for professionals) or academic supervisor (for graduate students) to participate in all aspects of the program

For Professionals:

  • Must have reached a mid-level position in a non-governmental or community-based organization
  • Experience in at least one or more humanitarian emergency situations
  • Must aspire to take on leadership roles in and have a commitment to the humanitarian sector

For Students:

  • Previous work experience (including internships) with an NGO or civil society organization
  • Experience working or living abroad
  • Must have enrolled in GHP 515/518 (International Humanitarian Response I and II)

PHL Application Process

Before applying, we recommend you read the FAQ.

Please submit the following items to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. no later than January 15, 2016:

  • A completed application form: click here (Word document download) if you are a student or click here (Word document download) if you are a professional
  • Résumé
  • One letter of reference from your academic supervisor (for graduate student candidates) or from your most recent or current manager (for professional candidates) explaining your suitability for participating in PHL and confirming your ability to attend training for a minimum of two weeks in March and April of 2016

All materials should be submitted in English.

Successful applicants will be notified no later than February 15, 2016.

For more information, email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Emergency flood response in Mozambique

A Concern team travels to a remote community in Maganja da Costa to register families who were badly affected severe flooding in Mozambique. Photo by Crystal Wells/Concern Worldwide

Frequently Asked Questions


  1. Which organizations are behind PHL?
    PHL is managed by a consortium led by Concern Worldwide. Concern’s partners in the consortium are International Medical Corps and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, with technical support from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. These organizations bring together a unique combination of operational, pedagogical, and technical expertise with a deep understanding of the international humanitarian architecture and the NGO community. Together, the consortium has operations in over 43 countries covering practically every major humanitarian context.
  1. If I participate in PHL, what will I learn and gain practical experience in?
    The PHL curriculum will focus on three key areas that have been identified as critical to successful humanitarian programming: Leadership, Coordination, and Program Evaluation. The Leadership component will focus on individual competencies, such as strengthening decision-making abilities in emergency settings or negotiating during conflict. The Coordination component will cover why coordination matters to humanitarian response as well as how to participate in and strengthen existing networks, and will emphasize the importance of operational leadership in the field. The Evaluation component will provide instruction aimed to improve the operational effectiveness of programs, by teaching skills such as strategic design.All participants will engage in post-leadership course activities during their field placements. This ongoing learning component will include a checklist of required assignments that have to be completed by the end of the placement, as well as ongoing learning that takes place on-line. Potential assignments could include in-country learning experiences, such as attendance at cluster meetings to gain an understanding of coordination mechanisms, or exploration of feedback mechanisms in place for affected populations used to inform program design. Webinars will provide additional content on subjects and online forums will replicate the open conversation that would occur in a classroom and provide an environment for questions and comments on the materials and challenges faced in the field.
  1. Once I complete the Program on Humanitarian Leadership, what official qualification will I have gained?
    By the completion of the program, participants will have gained key competencies around self-awareness, motivating and influencing others, critical judgment, and technical skills that will help them to become efficient leaders in humanitarian response. All participants will receive a certificate of participation from the HHI’s Humanitarian Academy at Harvard for completion of the Humanitarian Leadership course portion of PHL.
  1. How many PHL courses will be offered?
    PHL is a two-year project that began in October 2015. The initial course will be offered in 2016, with a subsequent round being planned for 2017.


  1. Who can participate in PHL?
    PHL is open to professionals and to graduate students. Professionals who wish to apply to PHL should be mid-level employees in a non-governmental or community-based organization and who have had experience in one or more humanitarian emergency situations. For any graduate students interested in PHL and planning to participate in the simulation portion (all applicants for 2016), eligibility is limited to individuals who are able to register or cross-register for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health course, GHP515: International Humanitarian Response I. Applicants should be degree-seeking students currently enrolled at Harvard University, Tufts University, or the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT). GHP 515 is a pre-requisite for participation in the simulation portion of PHL and participants must be concurrently enrolled in GHP 515 in the year they will be completing PHL. When the Humanitarian Leadership course is more broadly available online, only those students interested in completing the full program (with participation in the simulation) will be required to be concurrently enrolled in GHP 515 or to complete the professional workshop version of the course, the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard’s Humanitarian Response Intensive Course (HRIC).
  1. How are the participants for PHL chosen?
    PHL will assess applications based on the information provided on the application form, the letter of reference and the resume of each applicant. All applicants will receive an email notifying them when their application has been received. Because of the volume of the applications anticipated, only those candidates who have been short listed, will be notified that they have moved on in the application process. If, for any reason, a short-listed candidate has to withdraw his/her application, then another applicant will be short-listed and notified accordingly.


  1. What is the time commitment for PHL?
    Successful applicants will be required to travel to the US for eight to ten days for the in-person course at Harvard and the field simulation outside Boston. Participants may also have the opportunity to be placed in an international NGO for additional field learning. This would require an additional commitment of up to six months. The exact length of time will be agreed upon by the host organization and the participant’s employer or academic institution.
  1. What will it cost me to participate in PHL?
    All costs (i.e., flights, visas, insurance, accommodation, and reasonable living expenses) required to participate in the Harvard-based course, the simulation, and the field placement, will be covered by PHL. Please see Question 11 for information on salaries.
  1. Will I be responsible for securing my own visa(s) for travel to the United States and to another country for the field placement?
    Yes, but PHL will be responsible for covering the cost of the visa(s) and will assist with other logistical aspects (invitation letters, etc.) Please note that it will be necessary for all participants to be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least six months after the date of the course. Costs of obtaining or renewing a passport will not be covered by PHL.
  1. What languages do I have to be able to speak in order to be considered for PHL? You must be able to speak, read, and write English to be considered, as English is the language of instruction for the course and simulation. Other languages may be taken into consideration when field placements are decided. A working knowledge of French or Arabic is particularly useful.
  1. While I am on the field assignment, will my salary continued to be paid?
    If you are posted back to your own organization for the field assignment, your own organization will continue to pay your salary as normal. If you are posted to Concern or IMC, your salary will be paid by PHL up to a maximum monthly rate. Students will be paid a subsistence allowance during their placements. For professionals, costs of attending the course and simulation in Massachusetts will be covered by PHL, but salaries for that period are paid at the discretion of current employers.

Field Assignments

  1. If I am placed outside of my own organization for the field component, what country will I be deployed to?
    Placement locations will vary depending on the skills and experience of the participant and the needs of the organization you are going to be placed with. In particular, language skills will be taken into account. All participants will be placed in humanitarian contexts and as such should be prepared to work in difficult environments.
  1. What sorts of tasks will I be performing as part of my field placement? Depending on the skill set of the participant and the needs of the organization, assignments and ongoing learning opportunities for the field placements may include (but are not limited to), evaluations, safety and security audits, gender analysis of humanitarian programs, coordination and cluster activities, risk assessments, humanitarian program design, financial management of humanitarian programs, creation of humanitarian protocols, operational research activities, and analysis of humanitarian leadership best practices.
  1. Will my participation and performance in PHL be evaluated?
    Yes. We will be asking you how in your everyday work you are using the training you received in the PHL course. We will also be asking your supervisor how he or she sees your work and how your work has been changed by some of the specific skill areas that were part of your PHL training. We will keep this information totally confidential, but it is important to help us improve the course and to meet the needs for leadership skills among people like you who will complete the course in the future.
  1. If I am placed with Concern or IMC for my field assignment, can I stay with that organization after my assignment is finished?
    No, PHL participants who are currently employed by other organizations must return to those organizations once the field assignment with IMC or Concern is over. Graduating students may be offered the opportunity to pursue longer-term engagements post-assignment, depending upon performance and organizational need. This will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
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