Lizz Harrison – Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergencies Advisor

Snapshot date 13, June, 2012



Author: Lizz Harrison

Job title: Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergencies Advisor

Organisation: Y Care International

Location: London (inc. travel)

Organisation Description:

Y Care International works in partnership with YMCAs and other partners across the developing world to respond to the needs of the most disadvantaged young people. Projects are implemented under the five thematic areas: livelihoods; health and wellbeing; addressing a culture of violence; youth justice; and disaster risk reduction and humanitarian response.

Job Description:

I work within the International Programmes Department at Y Care International we support our partners across the world to carry out needs assessments, design projects, seek funding, implement the projects, monitor and evaluate them, and measure their impact. My work involves supporting the partners that are working on projects which involve disaster risk reduction, and advising the department on ensuring all projects are considered for disaster risks. I also liaise with our partners when a disaster happens and we need to launch an appeal, raise money and carry out emergency relief projects. I travel often to the countries where we work which I love as it is a great way of seeing how the work we do is really impacting the young people that we are supporting.

How long have you worked in your current job?

6 months

Route to current job:

  1. Project Coordinator - Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC)
  2. Office Management Coordinator - UNICEF UK
  3. Community Support Volunteer - Terrence Higgins Trust
  4. Funraising and Communications Intern - Medecins du Monde UK

Previous jobs:

I worked for the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) for 2 years based in Bangkok as a Project Coordinator which included coordinating Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) projects across Asia. ADPC is non-profit organisation working for safer communities and sustainable development through disaster risk reduction programmes and projects in Asia and the Pacific. See

I worked for UNICEF UK for 2 years as Office Management Assistant and then Coordinator which included establishing a monitoring system for the carbon emissions of the organisation and the development of an environmental policy; a part of a wider UN recognition of the effects of climate change.

Voluntary experience:

Before moving to Thailand for my Project Coordinator role, I volunteered for an evening a week as a Community Support Volunteer for the Terrence Higgins Trust, an organisation working with vulnerable adults living with HIV in the UK.

After University I did an internship with Medecins du Monde UK (MdM UK) in London for 3 months while also working part time to cover costs. MdM UK is a medical NGO working to provide healthcare to vulnerable populations through medical volunteers.

During my gap year before University I volunteered in Costa Rica for 3 months with the expedition and volunteer organisation Raleigh International. All of these volunteering experiences increased my understanding of, my contact with, and my commitment to, working in the sector. They also gave me experiences to talk about in interviews and improved my skills, competence and confidence in the work I went on to do.

Education and Training:

I completed a Masters in Disasters, Adaptation and Development from King’s College London. This included research for my thesis in Ahmedabad, India on the long-term impact on affected urban households of the Gujarat earthquake in 2001. I was massively supported in this by the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) who I met at a Disaster Risk Reduction Conference held by ProVention Consortium, which I was invited to as a Masters student.

Before this I completed a degree in International Development Studies and Geography from Swansea University which was a great basis for understanding the issues and concepts surrounding development and helped me to put my learning on the impact of disasters into context.

As part of my development at Y Care International I also attended a fantastic training course run by RedR and Austrian Red Cross on Needs Assessment in Emergencies which was really useful and interesting.

Best bits:

The best bits of my job are travelling to the villages, communities and partners that are implementing the projects that we support and seeing first hand the work that we are supporting and the difference it makes to the young people’s lives. The grassroots level is where the impacts from disasters can be the most devastating and where, with support, the changes are happening for preparedness so it’s good to see the changes here. For example, it’s great to hear from a 5 year old in Laos that their parents store rice and other food high up in their house in case of flood since they told them what they learnt about floods at school!

Worst bits:

I think my biggest frustration is that there are so many NGOs and organisations across the world working towards the same goal but carrying out programmes and projects very independently. It would be good to see more collaboration between NGOs and organisations; this is something which is complicated and I think is slowly improving. Applying for funding can also be very frustrating as it is very competitive and time consuming.

Advice for people looking for similar job:

Volunteering is really important in this field; get as much experience as possible. If you can afford to do an internship with an NGO during your school or University holidays then do it (even if only part-time in addition to a paying job, which is what I did). If not, then get your ‘foot in the door’ by taking a job which requires the skills you do have; again like I did with my administrative skills at UNICEF.

I also think that often you hear about opportunities and meet people who have good advice at conferences, forums and open discussions related to the subject that you’re interested in. See what’s on in your area and talk to people once you’re there – ‘networking’ is a good way of getting information.

Proving that you can travel, volunteer, or even live and work in developing countries is useful for this line of work too. I certainly think my gap year and travels have increased my confidence, ability to converse with people from different backgrounds, cultures and languages, and understanding of issues such as poverty, which all help in my job today.

Will you continue to do similar work in this sector in the future?

Definitely. I have always wanted to work in the humanitarian sector and I believe I always will. Since completing my Masters, I have focused on working on disaster risk reduction and I think this is being recognised as more and more important with the uncertainty of how climate change might affect the most vulnerable people across the world.