In our latest interview with a humanitarian learning expert, we speak to Hussein Ismail, Coordinator of the Middle Eastern Center for Humanitarian Advancement (MECHA) and Curriculum Development Manager at the Global Health Institute of the American University of Beirut.

Can you tell us a bit about your role? What does an average day look like for you?

My responsibilities at the Global Health Institute (GHI) are very diverse. These range from overseeing the curriculum development process of all capacity building initiatives, supporting the instructional designers to design courses following different learning modalities, and working with the subject matter experts to develop modules on humanitarian management and global health topics.

My favorite task is developing contextualized knowledge and Arabizing the content of our capacity building initiatives, to ensure that what we are delivering is relevant to our audience in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region.

Why is humanitarian learning important for the American University of Beirut?

As the first global health institute in the MENA region, the Global Health Institute at the American University of Beirut addresses global health challenges with a focus on context and sustainable impact by employing an interdisciplinary approach.

GHI focuses primarily on challenges that are affecting the MENA region and  have relevance to and impact on other regions in the Global South. GHI fosters interdisciplinary dialogue, engaged capacity building, committed service and innovative research, as well as strategic partnerships to enhance health globally and in local communities.

Several countries in the MENA region are exposed to overwhelming challenges, with multiple and complex emergency situations on an unprecedented scale. Due to the complexity of the disasters and their persistent, long-term effects, humanitarian responses necessitate more flexible, context specific solutions and require continuous learning and innovation to respond to these crises and leverage the needs of affected populations. Thus, the GHI and the Humanitarian Leadership Academy are keen to invest in the professionalization of local humanitarian learning.

What kind of learning is in the most demand? Are you seeing greater engagement with online learning?

With the global shift towards internet use, online learning has become one of the main educational modalities, and therefore delivering high quality distance learning is necessary. Smart technologies provide the opportunity to learn anywhere, at anytime, and from anyone. This flexibility plays a vital role in enhancing educational attainment rates in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), and offers widely accessible contextualized global health knowledge and skills. Evidence suggests that information and communication technologies could be used to break through the human resource barriers limiting capacity building in LMICs. The use of technology and a blended learning approach provides the means to deliver advanced, accessible, high quality training to a significant number of individuals who face financial, geographical or social barriers in terms of gaining access to traditional courses/training. In addition, this approach facilitates greater collaboration with global and regional partners, combining experiences, expertise and different pedagogical approaches in a more cost-efficient way.

You’re currently working with the Academy to develop a Humanitarian Leadership diploma. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

The envisioned diploma will include several online modules. Throughout the design phase of the diploma, we adhered to the competency-based learning approach that enabled us to identify key competencies required in the field. This will ensure that the selected competencies are evidence-informed and are based on the needs of the humanitarian practitioners in the region.

The online diploma is made up of two certificates and eight courses (30 hours per course):

1) Certificate of Foundations in Humanitarian Management

2) Certificate of Advanced Approaches in Humanitarian Management

To enhance its attractiveness to potential participants, an interim academic recognition will be granted to those who complete each course.  The diploma, which will target mid to senior level managers, will be delivered in English in an online format. This will enable access to a wider international audience such as humanitarian workers who are remotely located. This type of diploma is designed in a way that makes it accessible wherever the participant may be, especially in this case, since humanitarian managers mostly work in field settings and are most likely restricted in movement due to certain job requirements and circumstances.

What would you say are the greatest challenges surrounding humanitarian learning today in the Middle East?

Accessibility to learning remains a challenge, especially in LMICs. The humanitarian learning sector is trying to explore different solutions and innovations to provide simple capacity-building opportunities to learners, even those living in fragile or conflict affected areas.

In addition to that, contextualization of knowledge is still a challenge. Numerous available online learning offerings provide rich content, however, they are not contextualized and not relevant to learning personas from different contexts. Contextualization of learning is a useful method to effectively utilize resources and limit inefficient duplication of effort by adapting existing material rather than re-creating it. Contextualizing e-learning courses also increases the quality of distance learning and provides access to contextualized tailored knowledge to people from different regions; taking the context and culture of the target audience into consideration.


Hussein Ismail, Coordinator of the Middle Eastern Center for Humanitarian Advancement (MECHA) and Curriculum Development Manager at the Global Health Institute of the American University of Beirut.

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