Gloria: Welcome, Dagim. You joined the Population Council in November 2023. Could you share your initial impressions and experiences? 

Dagim: Thank you, Gloria. Joining the Council in November 2023 was a pivotal moment for me, marking a significant transition in my career. Having completed my medical degree in 2017, and recently concluded my Master of Science in Global Health in September 2023, the move back home to Ethiopia presented an exciting yet challenging new chapter. However, contrary to my expectations, it proved to be exceptionally rewarding, thanks to you all [my colleagues]. On the first day, I was fortunate to meet esteemed researchers from the Baobab RPC. Their extensive publications and academic achievements, which I had previously reviewed, came to life during our meetings. The team provided a warm welcome and detailed orientation, outlining our upcoming survey’s objectives and methodologies. We concluded the day with a cultural lunch, offering both professional engagement and a sense of community. It was an inspiring start, blending rigorous research with cultural immersion. 

Gloria: That sounds like an exciting beginning. Can you delve into the training aspect, especially your introduction to the HVACS (Humanitarian Violence Against Children Survey)? 

Dagim: It really was! The training introduced me to the HVACS for the first time, highlighting its significance and the sensitive nature of the subject matter. As you know, gender-based violence is always an emotive subject. So, the responsibility of conducting this study felt both humbling and motivating. Our training emphasized the importance of understanding the communities we would be working with, mainly through insights from team leaders, many of whom were from these refugee and host communities, and quite familiar with refugee camp conditions. We explored various methodological approaches, such as the split sampling technique, to ensure the reliability and sensitivity of our data collection. This technique involved segregating community zones by gender for interviews, enhancing the safety and authenticity of our discussions. Additionally, I learned about different survey question types and their design nuances, which are crucial for eliciting accurate and meaningful responses. 

Gloria: Moving forward, how do you see the research protocol, ethical considerations, and the other technological aspects of the work panning out? 

Dagim: As the survey explores sensitive questions, the protocol was central to ensuring the ethical integrity and procedural reliability of our study. We delved into the ethical considerations vital for conducting research with vulnerable populations, emphasizing the importance of informed consent and privacy. The use of ODK [Open Data Kit] for electronic data collection was another major thing. It will make our work more efficient, effecting by helping us manage the vast amount of data we expected to gather. This technological aspect and the related ethical groundwork prepared us well for the fieldwork ahead. 

Gloria: It seems like extended training played a crucial role in the initial phase. Can you expound on the training of team leaders, coordinators, and research assistants from refugee camps, and the involvement of stakeholders like the RRS [Refugees and Returnees Service—the main government agency overseeing refugee affairs]? 

Dagim: Indeed, this inclusive and extended training was key. The team was well prepared to impart knowledge about the survey methodology and develop leadership and interpersonal skills among our team leaders, coordinators, and the RRS regional representatives. The presence of Mrs. Medhanit Mulugeta, the Monitoring and Evaluation Team Leader at RRS, giving the opening speech was significant, as it underscored the importance of our study to RRS and the refugee community.  

The closing ceremony was officiated by Ms. Misrak Mohammed, Head of Women and Children Service at the RRS, who directly contributed to the training. She spoke highly of the need for cultural sensitivity and other operational aspects of the fieldwork, while affirming the RRS’s commitment to this collaboration. This engagement, and support from Ethiopian government officials, further enriched our training and allowed us to tailor our approach to the unique needs and contexts of our respondents. 

Gloria: Your experience sounds both challenging and rewarding. How did these initial weeks shape your perspective on leadership and teamwork in the context of humanitarian research? 

Dagim: These weeks reinforced my belief in the importance of strategic thinking, character, and cultural sensitivity in leadership. Dr. Francis Obare’s insights on leadership qualities were particularly enlightening, emphasizing that effective leadership is not just about strategic decisions but also about embodying strong character traits. The daily challenges and our team’s collaborative response to them further underscored the value of teamwork, adaptability, and respect for diverse cultural perspectives. This foundation of leadership and teamwork is what I believe will drive Baobab to success. 

Gloria: As the training progressed, how did you manage the evolution of team roles and the integration of new members, like the caseworkers from UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]? 

Dagim: Throughout the training, we adopted a dynamic approach to team management, continuously assessing the RAs for potential leadership roles and adjusting the roles of team leaders based on their performance. This flexibility ensured that our team was both intellectually and practically prepared for the fieldwork. The integration of caseworkers, who received a day of specialized training, was a significant addition to delivery of the HVACS. This setup ensured that respondents requiring any form of assistance received support directly on the spot, without any delay, covering a range of needs from psychological, medical, and protection services to other types of aid. 

Gloria: Great! Tell me more about your visit to the RRS office, during the training period. What did you make of it?  

Dagim: The visit to the RRS office was a crucial moment, offering insight into the collaborative nature of our project. Dr. Chi-Chi Undie’s negotiations with RRS officials were exemplary, highlighting our research goals and fostering a supportive dialogue. The discussions with Mr. Mulalem Desta (Deputy Director General of the RRS) and other RRS heads were constructive, leading to an agreement on a MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] for data sharing. This MoU, and the enthusiasm for capacity building within the RRS, marked a significant step forward in our collaboration, emphasizing the mutual benefits of our research efforts, and paving way for the uptake of our research. 

Gloria: Wonderful! Reflecting on your experiences so far, how have these initial weeks impacted you personally and professionally? 

Dagim: These initial weeks have been profoundly impactful, offering a rapid immersion into the complexities of research in humanitarian settings. The opportunity to engage with diverse stakeholders, adapt to dynamic team structures, and contribute to meaningful negotiations has been incredibly enriching. Esther Lwanga’s prediction that I would “hit the ground running” has certainly materialized, with each day bringing new learning and challenges. The realization of the HVACS’s global significance and the potential impact of our work has deepened my commitment to this field, motivating me to continue pursuing excellence in research. 

Gloria: Dagim, what are your expectations for the continuation of your work with the Baobab RPC?

Dagim: As we approach the pilot and the final week of this phase, my anticipation for further growth and learning is high. I am prepared for all the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, eager to refine my skills and contribute more significantly to our research efforts. The experiences I have gained so far have been truly invaluable, it strengthened my excitement for the vital work Baobab is doing in humanitarian research. I am optimistic about the continued impact of our work and the contributions we can make to understanding and addressing the challenges faced by these vulnerable populations.

Gloria: Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights, shedding light on the dedication and collaboration required to conduct research in humanitarian settings. 

Dagim: Thank you, Gloria, for the opportunity to discuss these experiences. It has been a pleasure to reflect on the journey so far and to share the excitement and challenges of this important work. I’m grateful for the support and collaboration of my colleagues and our partners, and I look forward to continuing to contribute to this meaningful endeavor.