Meet the Course Coordinators: Helena Merelo and Dr. Jean-Marc Biquet

Meet the Course Coordinators: Helena Merelo and Dr. Jean-Marc Biquet
Photo: Jinja, Uganda. Helena Merelo (first person standing from the left) and Dr Biquet (fourth person standing from the left) with some of the students of the 2019-20 edition of the Blended Learning Certificate . Photo credit: Brian Amanya


We sat down with two of our course coordinators, Helena Merelo and Dr Jean-Marc Biquet, to learn more about their blended-learning Certificate in Advanced Studies “Designing Strategies and Projects in Humanitarian Action“, how and why they started working in the humanitarian sector, and which are the key skills humanitarians need to have to face today’s challenges.

Can you tell us why you chose to work in the humanitarian sector, and your experience as humanitarian professionals?

HM: More than 20 years ago, I did humanitarian studies and gathered rich field and headquarters experience mainly with the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. The positions I held were related to programme management, coordination and training. A few years ago, I became passionate about teaching and today I love to share my experience and knowledge with the students.

JMQ: I worked for many years, mainly with Médecins Sans Frontières, covering a broad spectrum of roles (administrator, head of mission, programme manager and researcher). I now do humanitarian action through other means, notably by keeping myself abreast of developments in the sector, by doing research and teaching.

In your opinion, what are the key challenges facing humanitarians today and what kind of skills they need to overcome them?

HM: Because humanitarian contexts are constantly changing, it’s key for humanitarians to keep up with the trends and the latest evidence, and continually develop their knowledge and skills. Having the capacity to work with a critical eye on the complex humanitarian challenges requires analytical, well-argued, suitably contextualized and innovative solutions.

JMB: Nowadays humanitarian actors have access to more and more tools, guidelines, and handbooks. Nevertheless, the criticisms towards the humanitarian sector seem to increase. It may be that humanitarians should to take a step back and not blindly apply what the guidelines say. Instead, they should reflect on who they are and what they can really do in a specific context with specific communities. That is why learning critical analysis is so important in this field of work.

At the Geneva Centre for Education & Research in Humanitarian Action, the two of you work together on our Certificate in Advanced Studies in “Designing Strategies and Projects in Humanitarian Action”. This is a unique blended/distance learning course.  Can you tell us more about this course? 

HM: The course programme responds to clear needs and demands from humanitarian professionals and their employers. Our students have the opportunity to put the newly acquired knowledge into practice immediately within their own work settings by developing a Plan of Action to address and solve a real challenge they face in their day-to-day work.

JMB: During the course, students learn how to analyse a humanitarian context, frame an adequate strategy of intervention, improve their problem-solving skills, assess and consider ethical issues and enhance their management and leadership skills.

Could you explain how a blended-learning course works?

HM: Our participants need maximum flexibility and tailored learning solutions, and the course, which requires approximately eight hours of work per week, is designed to allow them to combine work with study. The eight-month certificate is divided in three parts: a first, more theoretical and interactive online part (four months), followed by an amazing residential experience (two weeks) and ended by a final online phase to solve a real, concrete challenges in their professional environment (three months). We use a great variety of teaching methods including e-learning modules, videos, educational games, forum discussions, and individual and collective work.

JMB: There are many online interactions between students, which create a strong group dynamic. Our role as coordinators is to accompany the students throughout the process while providing learning content and fostering the exchange of experiences. The group always represents an enormous amount of experience in the humanitarian field that enriches the discussions and provides illustrations of what really works in practice.

The next edition of the blended-learning Certificate in Advanced Studies “Designing Strategies and Projects in Humanitarian Action”  starts on 12 October, 2020. Registrations are open until 31 August, 2020.