Sudhir Kumar | ETC Operations Consultant

“Close to the heart… it is the field”

Welcome to the UNDP Career Journey Podcast brought to you by the Talent Development Unit part of the Office of Human Resources. Our conversations, explore fascinating careers and give an overview on how you can enhance your career experience through continuous learning. I am Jane and today our conversation is with Sudhir.

Welcome to the UNDP career journey podcast. It is a pleasure to have you as our guest speaker.

“Thanks, Jane for having me”.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

“Sure. I am Sudhir, as you mentioned, my full name is Sudhir Kumar, I am from India, I have been working in this field for the last 18–20 years. A little bit of personal background is 44-year-old, married, I have a 11-year old daughter, in terms of professional background, I am Master’s in rural management. And then I have started working on disaster management, disaster risk reduction issues. This was since 2002. And by first work… I did… with in a government agency after a big earthquake. And that’s how I started working in this field and continued with various agencies in the UN agencies and a lot of time with UNDP”.

That’s very impressive, this journey that you’re just sharing with us for what I understand and what I know of your background as well. I know that you are in this so-called Express Roster. What are your responsibilities?

“Express Roster? I have been since 2013–14. So, it’s been almost seven, eight years, I have worked in three countries through that… in Philippines and 2014 with after a cyclone in 2019, with Indonesia after a big earthquake and tsunami. And this year I was in Sudan after the floods and conflict. So that’s to give the context. But in terms of a typical day, it’s ranges you know, a day can be like full day in the field, or another day can be full day in office. But just to give a flavor of a typical day. If I can recall a particular day from Sudan page, let’s say during the conflict and flood emergency response in Sudan in this year.

We start mostly the day around 8:30, if there are a couple of other guys also from the Express Roster team people deployed, we generally we try to have a formal or sometimes informal meeting, you know, just catching up what we have done yesterday, you know, what are the things you do for the day ahead. So, a quick meeting of the Express deploys or even other short time with consultants who are there, and then we go for, we try to have a meeting with, you know, our counterparts in the Country Office, you know, whoever our colleagues are, and once these things are over, then we get down to our specific work. And that work, it’s…, it’s a lot, developing, sometimes proposal, sometimes, you know, to trying to drive draft certain technical documents, or even can be preparing a training module, or sometimes even delivering the training. And partially also in the afternoon or sometime later part of the afternoon, we try to meet either at the team leader or sometime the management level somebody to brief them, you know, certain critical issues or certain critical, that’s how broadly, a typical day in Express Roster looks like”.

That’s very interesting scenario, especially under these crises scenarios that you work within. That makes me wonder, what led you to join these missions in the first place?

“Hmm, interesting. It’s, if I look back on perhaps what motivates is that in the Express Roster, you are deployed in the crisis at search in primary…, primary, so it gives you a hands-on opportunity to work in a real time situation. So, it checks your endurance, your professional skills, and also where your services are most needed. So that was one particular, you know, broader motivation, but a specific for me words, I wanted to work on different crises and in a different country context. Because in a roster, you will be deployed for three months, six months, and after some time a couple of years. So, even if after a couple of months you will be put into another crisis. So, in a very short period of time, you are on the ground number one, which means hands on, and exposure to do things. Secondly, you are exposed to different cultures, which you are different to different countries, even in terms of crisis also. That’s it. So, these are factors, which led me to be interested in Express Roster”.

All this mobility that you’re sharing with us certainly requires a lot of skills capability, well along flexibility, but I’m wondering which skills according to you are needed to succeed in this role?

“I think there are a couple of things very, very important from my own experience is that each one is deployed for very short time, and it has you had to start delivering from day one sort of thing we can say.

So, the one of the key factors, is that one has to be very, very strong in his technical expertise, whatever expertise she’s offering technical knowledge she had. So that is non-negotiable, you had to be very solid on that. But apart from this technical knowledge, you need to have a high level of flexibility. Because once you arrive on the ground, you know, your Terms of Reference might be something but when you reach there, the priority may change, because that’s how any crisis work, you had to be flexible. Just to give an example, like…, this year in January, I arrived in Sudan for the flood response. And just a month before that, there was conflict, you know, Sudan and the neighboring countries, and there were refugees’ issues. And when we were there, there was some internal conflict. So, the point I’m trying to make is each one has to be highly flexible, which ultimately you are there to respond to the needs.

Apart from flexibility, and of course, technical knowledge, you need to have a very high level of respect for culture, each country is context is quite different. So, you know, Asia differs a lot from Africa, even within Asia, East Asia will be much… much different culturally from West Asia, Central Asia. So, appreciation of culture and respecting the diversity is very important. And even in the team, when you will be working there will be several other colleagues from different parts of the world will be working with you, they also come from different country, different culture. So that’s a much very much needed soft skill.

And lastly, I feel… physically you had to be fit or some couple of days, many days you had to work from very early morning to very late in the evening. And that can go for some for some weeks even definitely much easier mental endurance. So, I think these are soft skills, I feel important, of course, technical knowledge on your subject domain, it’s on top of that”.

Wow. whilst they’re certainly very, very interesting and relevant skills in such a challenging scenario in terms of the crisis scenarios that you do face in your daily job. I’m wondering, in order to develop, what is the best tip you have ever received or that you could give to the audience today to create such a satisfying career?

“In terms of tips I have received and also I can give from my own journey of… speaking 20 years combined together… I think one should ask oneself what one wants to do, cause’ is, you know, in each field there is tremendous opportunity, whatever you do, because there is really that… of having very good skilled people there are many people. So one has to ask really what one wants to do because that puts you into you know, into a really… in a fun mode that you enjoy what you do… so that’s for me the first tip I would like… I’ve received or what like to give and secondly I would like to recommend eh, is that you know one need to look at it where he wants to contribute because each organisation whether UNDP or even other agencies, you know, you have that each agency has certain core function and certain support functions”.

Okay, okay. Very interesting Sudhir. So, then a lot of what you want to do and also where you want to contribute, are key elements to… to create a satisfying career. I am wondering also in terms of the future, what do you aspire to be in five years, let’s say from now?

“One looks philosophically, and I say I want to be at, you know, trying to be at much more places where, you know, you make much bigger difference which…, when you grow professionally, when you have acquired much knowledge, it’s much…, much important that you contribute to a much wider sphere of the things. So that’s philosophically speaking what I want to do but in terms of specific, I want to be much more you know, at that roll up as a mentoring role where trying to, you know, make much more impact by empowering others managing a team, or…, or mentoring a team. So, I think I’m trying and looking at it five years time of a type of… much more in terms of mentoring or helping professionals to contribute to something which I’ve been doing for years back, that’s the way”.

Okay, okay, thank you so much Sudhir. And these are mentoring part that clearly for career as for career journey, it’s quite enriching for both the mentee, and for a mentor, would you intend to do it in the field or elsewhere?

“Perhaps, we say, you know, many times, once you are, you know, starting in the field, you want to be in field, so, I prefer to be in field but yeah, many times it’s also okay to be, you know, at the backend, creating, helping the teams, professionals to grow, and they go and do the things. But yeah, first, close to the heart is the field”.

Okay, Sudhir, and… to close this conversation, it really caught my eye this mentoring part. Did you ever have any specific mentor throughout your career that made an impact on you?

“Let’s see, I mean, to say, it’s a long journey, you know, for me, when I look, reflect over it, I feel the mentoring starts from very early age, you know, sometimes formal sometimes informal, in terms of professionally… in early part of the career, I got a lot of good mentors, from the government officers, sometimes some from the UNDP some senior colleagues. So, it has been that there has been let’s say three to four good mentors who guided me”.

Well, thank you so much Sudhir thank you so much for this conversation. I also want to thank our audience today. We hope these conversations will inspire you to keep learning and advancing in your career. To access and listen to this audio recording, you can visit us on our dedicated page on the Career Development Experience section on the Talent Development Hub.

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