Norwegian Refugee Council Career Story: Innocent Nyarukemba
Innocent Nyarukemba is a Food Security Coordinator in Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: NRC

Innocent helps people to become independent of food aid

"In order to evolve, I seized all opportunities to learn: created my own learning journal, listened to my supervisors and the experts in my team, and actively participated to NRC training," says Innocent.

Innocent Nyarukemba

Food Security Coordinator - Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Innocent, 35, is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A married father of two, he is an economist and self-trained agronomist.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) hired Innocent in 2009 as Project Assistant for income generation activities in the Emergency Food Security Programme. Innocent applied for the position of Officer and was appointed in 2011. He was named Food Security Coordinator in 2016.

Joining NRC
I joined NRC in 2009, as a project assistant for income generation activities. Being an economist, my role was to make the grants we awarded flourish, and help displaced people to become independent of food aid.

I have a university degree in economy, with a business management option, from the Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs de Goma (ULPGL) in DR Congo.

When I started, in 2009, NRC was shifting from distributing food in the camps around Goma, to helping communities become independent of food aid.

My role as an economist was to work with people we help to discover how they could make the contributions they would be granted flourish. For example: how can someone sustainably feed a family with USD 100 and some seeds? If we consider agricultural projects, in DR Congo, the first harvest is ready after three months, allowing a family to take some crops for food, sell the rest and keep seeds for the next season. And there are two or three possible seasons in DR Congo.

Managing a team in insecure environments
As an NRC Food Security Coordinator, I am responsible for a one-year project with a team of between five and 15 people.

This year, I am running a project funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA). My team of five staff supports 3,298 vulnerable displaced families - a total of 19,788 people - living in the areas of Rutshuru and Masisi, two regions affected by local armed conflicts.

I operate from the Goma office, and usually spend around 25 per cent of my time in the field.

This area is both difficult to reach (= we have to leave the car and walk!) and insecure (= armed groups can be active!). Therefore, we follow precise security routines to get there, linking by phone every 30 minutes with NRC security to assess the situation.

Achieving sustainable results
To achieve sustainable results, we focus on one specific area at a time, partnering with displaced communities and cooperating with other NRC programmes.

To run a project, we first define a set of criteria for distributing the available funds.

The team members are selected from our pool of experts – agronomists, veterinaries, phyto-technicians, zoo technicians, economists or rural development technicians, depending on the project.

Then, we work with people individually, to define their project and needs (for example, agriculture, breeding, shops, cash for other income generation). Once the project is defined, we distribute the means that both parties have agreed on (seeds and tools, livestock, cash under conditions). And finally, we train the participants to get the best out of their new resources.

Monitoring activities agriculture activities in Masisi (Mpati), DR Congo.
Innocent inspecting the crops at an agricultural activities project in Masisi (Mpati), DR Congo.

We cooperate with other NRC programmes to enhance our effectiveness. Sometimes, our legal teams can advocate for the rights of people to cultivate the soil. Sometimes, we can decide to build roads and help create a market for for local production, or to offer education opportunities and attempt to prevent young people being recruited into armed factions.

Once a project is finished, we move to another area.

Also, everything we do is sustainable. If we go back to any area where we have worked before, we will still see the impact of our work. For example, where we had delivered a hydraulic mill in 2011, the residents have now added an alternator, and are producing electricity.

Learn on the job
In order to evolve, I seized all opportunities to learn: I created my own learning journal, listened to my supervisors and the experts in my team, and actively participated to NRC training. This way, I acquired humanitarian best practices and somehow studied agronomy on my own.

In fact, most of the people doing my job around the world are agronomists! So, I rapidly realised that I would need to acquire knowledge and competencies in that field if I wanted to evolve professionally at NRC.

I have a trick I recommend to everybody: hold a learning journal where you take and review notes.

To study agriculture, fish farming and breeding, I did three things. I capitalised on the expertise and experience of international supervisors (and I got many opportunities, as they change every two years). I went to all training sessions for the people we assist, given by the experts among my staff. And immersed myself in books.

For the rest, NRC supported me all the way. Beside the NRC fundamental training programme (which includes topics like project management, performance management and English language), I received 13 specific training programmes to help me acquire humanitarian best practices in areas such as dealing with changing contexts, vulnerable people and leading a team.

Mutual respect
I am loyal to NRC because of the way they treat me and their staff in general.

I could talk about the mutual respect between all staff members, including between internationals and locals. About the ability I am given to look for my own solutions, to propose alternative options, and to work without a policeman supervising every move. About performance management being conducted through regular feedback. About staff security always coming first. And more.

PS: Any advise for candidates?
Be patient: Don't let yourself be discouraged by the length of the recruitment process. We are looking for the right candidates and take the time to do it well.

Be true: Your references will be checked. Lying or dishonesty will be discovered.

Women, apply! We want to recruit a higher proportion of women in line with NRC's ambition of gender equality.