Meet Course Director Helene Juillard

Meet Course Director Helene Juillard
Indonesia, Disctrict Aceh Utara, sub district Nisam Antara. The villagers exchange their voucher distributed by ICRC for agriculture inputs in the local shop. Photo credit: Alan Meier/ICRC

13/04/21
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Helene Juillard is the Course Director of our new Executive Short Course “Cash and Voucher Assistance in Humanitarian Crises: What works?”. We spoke with her about the increasing role of cash and voucher assistance, her views on the status of the humanitarian sector and its key challenges, and the must-have skills for humanitarians.

You are the Director of the Centre’s new course “Cash and voucher Assistance in Humanitarian Crises: What works?”, could you tell us more about the course?

In recent years, Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) has emerged as a key game-changer in the way humanitarian assistance is implemented, especially as CVA is becoming a common modality to deliver relief. Despite this global favourable environment, however, the State of the World’s Cash Report, highlights that seven out of ten humanitarian organisations have difficulties finding staff with this skill set. 

The course is designed to develop participants’ practical skills to design, implement and monitor projects using CVA. Even more importantly, the increased uptake of CVA triggered passionate and fascinating debates that go beyond the simple operationalisation of the modality. These span from data protection and machine learning for targeting to the effectiveness of the sectoral and siloed nature of the humanitarian system.

So, this class is also meant to build participants’ critical and reflexive skills on key themes related to CVA, themes that, I believe, are likely to have implications on the future of humanitarian assistance.

How is the course structured?

The programme is organised around themes and each day we tackle a different topic, including CVA feasibility, delivery mechanisms, risk management, data protection and compliance vis a vis anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regulations.

The course will host several external speakers from various academic centres, private sector organisations as well as aid organisations. They will bring a diversity of experiences so we can get a non-conventional perspective on these themes.

You have been working in the humanitarian sector for more than ten years, in your opinion what are the key challenges today for humanitarians?

A pragmatic challenge lying ahead is the risk for funding to drop in the context of increasing needs. It is encouraging to see that the EU has just increased its aid budget by 60 per cent, but the economic crisis that may result from the coronavirus pandemic as well as nationalist stands toward international aid present a risk of global decreased funding of humanitarian actions.

Another challenge is the polarisation of debates in an increasingly complex humanitarian world. Humanitarians are accountable to act rapidly because of needs urgency while at the same time they are bound to do no harm. The realities covered under the do no harm principle are however getting more complex and difficult to grasp. For example: giving cash to women is a way to empower them or does it expose them to increased risks? Or, is the use of digital technologies a way to reach more people more rapidly or the genesis of “surveillance humanitarianism”

Bridging the academic world and the humanitarian world could help tackle this challenge by giving humanitarians access to grey matter and specialists on these topics.

Why did you choose to work in the humanitarian sector? Could you tell us about your background studies and how you started your career?

The humanitarian sector offers quite an unmatchable diversity through the possibility to regularly change contexts or organisations to work with as well as incredible encounters. I also felt the sector has less of a tendency than others to put people in boxes: your responsibilities evolve based on the context, the programme and the services delivered to crisis-affected households. Being agile is a necessary quality and not a trait that makes you seem unstable in the eyes of an employer.

I studied law and art history to become an auctioneer. A very long story allowed me to do a gap year during which I travelled to India, the Philippines and Mauritania. I was 19 and my parents trusted me to travel alone, I’ll always be grateful for that. Upon my return, I decided to finish law school but ended up doing a master in international humanitarian law. My first job was with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a job I got by sending emails to all UN offices around the globe for which I could find email addresses for. Working with the disarmament, demobilisation and reinsertion programme was a very interesting experience. It also made me realise that I was not ready yet to work for such large organisations. So, following one year in Kinshasa with UNDP, I joined Solidarités International in Eastern Congo.

The humanitarian sector offers quite an unmatchable diversity through the possibility to regularly change contexts or organisations to work with as well as incredible encounters.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to enter the humanitarian sector? Which are the key skills one must have?

Being humble is, I believe, one of the key skills a humanitarian practitioner should have. The real added value of a given programme is often less than what we claim it is. We always talk about need assessment and covering needs but often forget that no crisis-affected household is helpless as everyone brings its own strengths and weaknesses. The term “the most vulnerable” is something that just does not make sense. Nobody is vulnerable per se, we are all more or less vulnerable to specific events depending on who we are or what our capital and our background are. Listen to and learn from crisis-affected households: you will design better quality and more accountable programmes!

Besides teaching at our Centre, at the Manchester University and Science Po Paris, you are also heading a consultancy firm. Could you tell us more about Key Aid Consulting?

The job I am the proudest of is being a mum! It sounds very cliché but my kids forced me to pause and learn things, including about myself, that I had always avoided before. Family aside, I indeed created Key Aid, four years ago with Clement, a former colleague and friend who I met in Bangladesh.

Key Aid stems from our acknowledgement that there was a gap (and still is) when it comes to affordable quality at scale humanitarian evaluations. In the evaluation sector, you mostly come across individual consultants or large generalist consultancy firms. The latter can provide large-scale quality evaluations but at a cost that is often unaffordable by NGOs, let alone community-based organisations and with recommendations that are often not rooted in the reality of a humanitarian programme.

On the other hand, individual evaluators can deliver great services but may lack opportunities and capacities to team up to deliver large-scale evaluations. So, Key Aid was created to fill this niche: an agile consultancy firm specialised in humanitarian settings delivering evaluation, action research as well as adult learning services. Our team is now 15 members strong with an amazing network of 100 consultants based across the globe. 

Among our values is a commitment to learn, share and improve accountability towards crisis-affected households. This materialises, among other things, via this new course delivered at the Center.

The first edition of the course “Cash and Voucher Assistance in Humanitarian Crises: What works?” will take place, online or in Geneva, from 31 May to 4 June 2021, more information is available here.