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National importance: capacity building

MAG staff in Cambodia

A Mine Action Team in Cambodia heads to the safe area, where they will pack their equipment after a long day in the field.

Building national capacity is a key objective in all MAG programmes. More than 90 per cent of MAG’s employees are national staff, meaning that the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations depend heavily on their ability and knowledge.

Alongside our clearance goals, MAG wants to maximise the longer term development impact of our work. Improving the skills and broadening the experience of a country’s workforce is an investment in the development of the country.

Deminers trained by MAG in DRC

D.R. CONGO: Graduation day for two new MAG-FARDC demining teams
Sixteen members of the Democratic Republic of Congo's Armed Forces will carry out important clearance work to make the DRC a safer country after being trained by MAG.

MAG has also developed recruitment policies that ensure the poorest and most vulnerable people in communities are not only beneficiaries of clearance, but also have the opportunity to be gainfully employed in the process.

Training of staff is an integral part of MAG’s operations and a major aim is to produce national demining professionals, capable of performing to recognised international standards. Care is taken to ensure that courses are tailored to the capacities of learners and the specific requirements of each particular country context.

MAG Sudan’s Junior Team Leader Training Course is just one example. When the course was introduced in September 2008, 10 of the most promising deminers from the programme were selected to attend. All successfully graduated and became Team Leaders.

The intention is that this position acts as a stepping stone to a Technical Field Manager role, which is exactly what has happened with Akech Athieu. Akech began as a deminer and has recently become the first national Technical Field Manager for MAG/OSIL (Operation Save Innocent Lives) in southern Sudan.

In programmes such as Sudan, MAG hopes that ultimately it will be possible to hand over its work to national organisations, either government bodies or local non-governmental organisations. That will only be possible if national staff are sufficiently skilled and experienced to work independently.

MAG Sri Lanka's all-female demining team

MAG Sri Lanka’s female deminers tell their stories
MAG gives women the opportunity to be involved in the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance. In the Sri Lanka team, all the women are their family’s main money-earner.

Salih Aziz has worked for close to 15 years with MAG Iraq. He is currently the Sector Manager (national staff and finance manager) in Sulaymaniyah. During his career with MAG he has worked in eight different roles and has been promoted several times.

To develop as a manager, he was sent to Jordan for a month in 2006 to participate in a mid-management training course. The most able and most promising national staff are sometimes sent by MAG to work in other programmes. Salih’s colleague Raheem Khdir Rassol is an example.

Due to his long service – he has worked with MAG since 1992 – in September 2006 he was chosen to work as a member of the team in Lebanon. He supervised Battle Area Clearance teams working in southern Lebanon, and achieved full International Mine Action Standards operational accreditation.

It is approaching 20 years since MAG started work in Cambodia and national staff capacity has improved to the point where the programme is able to operate with limited expatriate support. Of MAG Cambodia’s almost 400 employees, only five are international staff.

The reason is simple – investment in staff training, and a commitment to nationalising positions wherever this is possible. Soth Diep joined MAG Cambodia in 2000 and has held four positions within the organisation.

He is currently Mine Action Quality Assurance Manager and a member of the programme’s Senior Management Team. MAG supported him to undertake a Masters in Business Administration, paying for the bulk of the course fees. He recently graduated, receiving the top mark on his course and coming in the top ten students nationwide.

MAG’s programme in Lao PDR provides another good example of a growing trend towards nationalising senior staff positions. In recent years, members of the senior management team have seen their levels of responsibility increase significantly as the number of international staff has halved.

Additionally, since early 2008, no expatriate personnel have been based in the field – day to day clearance operations are conducted entirely by national staff. Soth Phommalinh is one of two provincial programme managers in Lao PDR. He now makes some decisions that used to be taken by the Technical Field Manager, for instance deployment of teams and logistics issues.

Similar changes are also underway for MAG’s Community Liaison staff across all programmes in Southeast Asia. A process of introducing national managers and phasing out international Community Liaison positions is currently underway.

It’s a sign of the times that MAG held its first nationals-only meeting during 2009. Thirteen senior managers from Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR attended a three-day regional workshop in Phnom Penh in February. The meeting resulted in a series of recommendations to MAG headquarters, which reflects the growing confidence of MAG’s national staff to take ownership of the problem and offer practical solutions that will change lives for the better.

This article originally appeared in the MAG 2008-2009 Annual Review, which can be downloaded in PDF format here: Annual Review 2008-09.

See also: 

Careers at MAG


Martin Bell

"I know of no aid agency or non-governmental organisation, relative to its size, which has saved more lives than MAG, helped more people and done more around the world to tackle the scourge of the landmine."

Martin Bell OBE, former BBC World Correspondent and UK Member of Parliament

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About MAG

MAG (Mines Advisory Group) saves and improves lives by reducing the devastating effects armed violence and remnants of conflict have on people around the world.
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Co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize  |  Registered as a charitable company in the UK  |  Company no: 4016409  Charity no: 1083008  |  ISO 9001:2008 accredited  |  International Mine Action Standards compliant  |  Signatory of the ICRC Code of Conduct  |  Member of the Fundraising Standards Board scheme  |  Registered office: Suite 3A, South Central, 11 Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5QR, United Kingdom