Norwegian Refugee Council Career Story: Rana Salem

Rana believes that building trust and relationships are essential to succeed

Published 06. Dec 2019
"Personally, I believe that building trust and relationships is essential to succeed both as a humanitarian and as a leader. And as one of the few women leaders here in Jordan, I feel a responsibility to be a good leader."

Rana Salem

ICLA* Project Coordinator - Mafraq, Jordan


Rana is a 31-year-old Jordanian, born to Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

She is an experienced project leader who switched from the private to the humanitarian sector in 2012 and joined NRC in 2016.

With a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and a master’s in administration, Rana believes in implementing the best professional practices as well as building connections and trust.

With her team, she engages community-based organisations to help Syrian refugees manage their citizenship and legal rights issues.

Going from private to humanitarian sector
With a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering, I started my career in the private sector where I worked for one year as a quality control engineer and two years in management consulting.

I learned the best professional practices from the private sector. And I liked it. But in a way, I also felt empty. I realised that getting more money for myself and for my company was not enough for me. I expected more from my life. That's why, in 2012, I decided to resign with the intention of entering the humanitarian sector.

When I resigned, I had no job in sight. As I had never even volunteered before, I really had no idea what a humanitarian job was, nor how I would react to working in the sector. Of course, none of my colleagues were supportive. I remember being afraid that I might regret this decision later.

Two weeks after I resigned, a Jordanian organisation offered me a challenging opportunity: to become the project manager of a community-based rehabilitation project serving people with disabilities.

In two and a half years, starting from scratch, I led a team of 12 people to build a life-changing service that since has helped more than 1,500 individuals in the Zarqa governorate.

We renovated buildings and homes. We integrated people with disabilities into schools. And we created a rehabilitation centre offering services to people with disabilities.

I specially remember a little girl with a physical disability. When she first came to the centre, she was one month old. And when she reached two years, she could walk! This would never have been possible without this centre. Such experiences were life-changing for me.

So, at the end of this project, I took a master’s degree in administration – as I believe in implementing proven methods into the humanitarian world.

Joining NRC
At the end of my master's, in November 2016, I joined NRC as an ICLA project coordinator in Mafraq. I wanted to support the Syrian refugees confronted by the same difficulties and sufferings that my family faced when we settled in Jordan as Palestinian refugees.

Today, there are 140,000 refugees in the Mafraq area. Half of them are living in the camp at Zaatari and half within host communities. The original city population was just 60,000 and Mafraq was among the poorest areas of Jordan, so you can imagine the struggle. The governorate, the utilities, the services, nothing was prepared for the challenge.

My first responsibilities were to initiate an ICLA programme in the governorate, to establish an NRC office and to assess the humanitarian needs.

NRC ICLA staff with children living in the informal tented settlement in Mafraq, Jordan.
Read caption Rana and some of her colleagues with children living in the informal tented settlement in Mafraq, Jordan. Photo: NRC


When reaching out to the Syrian refugees, we noticed that many were living in informal tented settlements doing agricultural work. Their children were working too. And there were almost no schools or facilities there.

So, we began to provide ICLA services, opening a door for the most vulnerable people in Jordan.

Today, my job consists in leading all the ICLA projects in Mafraq, and my team has grown to 18 staff. We cover issues such as administrative registration, civil documentation, tenancy rights and work rights. We provide refugees with legal information sessions, individual counselling, and legal representation if they need to go to court.

Our top priority is the documentation of marriages and children. Many Syrian children born in Jordan lack a birth certificate and risk being stateless – often because their parents are unable to present marriage documentation to the authorities.

Our other priority is to reach out to refugees where they are and build trust. To do this, we partner with 12 community-based organisations. The main one is called Sama Albadia, and we hold legal clinics in their offices. This solution is ideal because the service will remain active after NRC is gone.

We also organise monthly theatre events to deliver legal information to the 100-150 Syrian refugees that come to watch. Talented volunteers write the play – with our help for the legal part – and act in it. This indirect approach is effective as it fits well in our less formal culture.

The Mafraq ICLA team organise monthly theatre events to deliver legal information. Here the team is together with the volunteers that help write the play.
Read caption The Mafraq ICLA team organise monthly theatre events to deliver legal information. Here the team is together with the volunteers that help write the play. Photo: NRC


Greater humans make greater leaders

In our culture, being a manager often still implies that people have to be afraid of you. Luckily, during my early years of work, I was mentored by a great woman leader.

Personally, I believe that building trust and relationships is essential to succeed both as a humanitarian and as a leader. And as one of the few women leaders here in Jordan, I feel a responsibility to be a good leader.

I believe that greater humans make greater leaders, and that building trust and relationships is important, both with employees and with the people we assist. At NRC, we deal with the human being first. In our field, showing that you care helps people to open up, so you have a chance to hear about their problems and to serve them.

PS: any advice to candidates?
It is worth trying hard to join NRC. It is not easy to join NRC in Jordan, as the competition is high. If you succeed, you will be expected to go the extra mile and you will probably feel stress, but you will develop your skills and everyone in the organisation will help you.


*Information, counselling and legal assistance