Norwegian Refugee Council Career Story: Rania Sibai
Rania started her NRC journey as an accountant in Lebanon. Today she is Regional Head of Finance for the Asia, Europe, Latin-Amerika region. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Working at NRC has raised Rania's expectations for fairness and equality

"Working at NRC has widened my geographic horizons too. I will always be welcome anywhere in the world. I have met so many lovely people, even when they had lived through harmful experiences, from so many different nationalities and cultures."

Rania Sibai

Head of Finance, AELA* region - Oslo Head Office, Norway

Rania, 40, is from Lebanon. She moved to the humanitarian sector after experiencing the 2006 July War in her homeland.

She joined NRC as an accountant in 2006, moved to Oslo Head Office as a controller in 2012 and became Regional Head of Finance for the AELA region in 2017.

As a financial leader, Rania contributes by making sure that money goes to refugees and displaced people.

Alongside her financial work, Rania played an active role during the setup period of many of NRC’s offices in the Middle East.

Joining NRC
In 2006, I was working at the Microsoft training centre when the July War broke out in Lebanon. Everything closed for 33 days and I was forced to flee my small town. I decided I had to do something for all those people who were severely affected.

At the same time, NRC was inviting applications in the south of Lebanon, where my mother comes from. I applied, was hired and joined NRC as an accountant in 2006. We opened the first local office in the Middle East! To give you an idea of what it was like, imagine that we wanted to rehabilitate houses in concrete after the war and did the best we could when we received manuals for bamboo houses in Africa!

I was promoted to finance assistant in Lebanon, then did a six-month project with the Palestinian community in the Tyre area. I was later sent to Beirut as a finance officer. Finally, I got promoted to finance and administration manager when my boss left, becoming the first national employee at that level.

In parallel, I supported the development of NRC throughout the Middle East by training newly recruited local teams. I supported new NRC offices in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, and also assisted with the start-up in Iran.

Money spent in the right way
With my team, I help all the countries in our region to solve finance-related issues. We also deliver the finance reports for our region.

We monitor finance reports of grants and cash flows to meet the requirements of our three stakeholders: NRC global finance (complying with Norwegian laws), donors (answering specific requests) and local administration (complying with national rules and systems).

We ensure that money is spent in the right way. For example, commissions are seen as totally normal in some countries, whereas we see this as bribery and corruption.

We advise country finance teams on how to handle issues. For example, high inflation rates – like Iran has experienced – are difficult to deal with. How do we budget and how do we regulate salaries when individuals are facing less and less purchasing power?

We support and educate local finance teams. One member of my team moves between countries to fill in the gaps and train according to each country’s needs.

NRC Staff at Dadaab Airport, Kenya.
Rania at the airport in Dadaab, Kenya. Photo: NRC

"No-waste person"

As a finance leader, I contribute by making sure that money goes to refugees. And by staying attentive to people first.

With money, I am a “no waste” person, chasing inefficiency costs and unnecessary expenses down to the details. And importantly, we do spot checks to prevent corruption.

I make sure to stay attentive to people first and stay close to the field, even when working in a comfortable office here in Oslo. And this is also the case for many of my colleagues.

We do this work for people. Each of us has been deeply touched at one time or another. For my part, I remember a little orphan, living with his grandmother in a hallway of a building NRC was rehabilitating with latrines, rooms and a kitchen. At the office, we were told about the boy’s story, and that his only dream was to own a bicycle. Nothing else mattered more to him. We decided to collect money and bought him a bicycle. When we presented it to him, we saw his face light up and we all silently cried.

The humanitarian spirit
My dedication to NRC originates from my first days in Lebanon. I am proud of all the great work we did, and for all the people we helped. Besides, on a personal level, I deeply resonate with the “more fairness, more equality, more trust” ethos of NRC.

We experienced so many powerful moments when I started in Lebanon. We cried a lot, and we laughed a lot too. We did great work that I am proud of. I still have all those people we helped in the back of my mind. I have a feeling of ownership. For example, I can argue for things as though NRC was my own company!

At NRC we have a flat hierarchy, where everyone is equal. It is a trust-based system, where you can say what you truly mean. Norwegian workplace culture has spread throughout the organisation.

Working at NRC has raised my expectations for fairness and equality, in line with my personal values. I expect fair treatment in every aspect of life and in every relationship. Especially for all those who are lower in the hierarchy, people I naturally feel closer to. I value treating the cleaner the same way as the manager.

Working at NRC has widened my geographic horizons too. I will always be welcome anywhere in the world. I have met so many lovely people, even when they had lived through harmful experiences, from so many different nationalities and cultures.

The humanitarian spirit is still alive, even if the humanitarian sector has evolved into an “industry” with many actors. With competition came a growing focus on money, getting more of it and justifying to donors what we have done with it. With competition also came a growing need for competent employees.

PS: any advice for candidates?
There is a profit and loss to any type of job. Consider it carefully. Working for NRC in the field will give you a strong purpose and a deep sense of meaning.

On the other hand, make sure you are resilient enough to see human tragedies you wish you did not know about, and to replace the comfort of a narrow friendship circle with a constellation of like-minded people all over the world.

*Asia, Europe and Latin America region