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IDHA Alumna Spotlight: Martine van der Does, Senior Humanitarian Advisor within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Department for Stabilisation and Humanitarian Aid

March 23, New York — Martine van der Does is a Senior Humanitarian Advisor within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Department for Stabilisation, and Humanitarian Aid. She is also an International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistanceand Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Actionalumna from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She has also contributed as a tutorand course directorduring subsequent IDHA’s and is the Secretary of the IDHA Alumni Council for the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs.

Martine grew up in the country that she now serves as Humanitarian Advisor. Her early childhood and education was marked by a desire for and immersion in a creative world and career. Her High School education was completed at the Rudolf Steiner School, which emphasizes innovative education as much as practical learning. Martine cites her early love for the outdoors and for her father, who had a penchant and skill in furniture making and house renovations, often making her and her sister little trinkets out of wood in his carpentry workshop. He was trained as an architecture engineer, while Martine’s uncle was a professional carpenter and her father’s cousin, a Professor of drawing in the Architectural Faculty of Delft University of Technology. Her initial desires, no doubt influenced amidst this creative, artisanal environment, led her to study architecture at University. As she recalls, Martine loved the practical side of architectural training though felt as though the excessive focus on aesthetics and design could not satisfy her other desire for social relevance.

As we have seen with others within this humanitarian community, a truly impactful career begins with the slightest of steps. For Martine, this initial impulse was as a volunteer for a small NGO that aimed to preserve cultural heritage in Malawi. Here, the curiosity and love for the outdoors, mentioned above, culminated in the initial step abroad to do something meaningful, something lasting. Martine’s work in Malawi focused on construction and renovation. Interestingly, this first humanitarian experience mirrored an earlier moment in Martine’s life, when, as a high school student, she and her classmates participated in a charity project to collect funding for the renovation of houses in Croatia for children who lost their parents in the previous civil wars of the former Yugoslavia. Wanting to do more, Martine arranged for classmates and parents to go and physically help reconstruct some of these habitations. This first, simple childhood project foreshadowed the entirety of her humanitarian career.

Her later work brought her to the organizations of Médecins Sans Frontières, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands Government, and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). She has lived in multiple countries, including Switzerland, Malawi, Niger, Afghanistan, and Myanmar. Between 2013 and 2018, her work has focused on disaster response. During these five years, she also trained for the IFRC shelter roster and United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) roster for deployment after sudden-onset disasters.

Martine’s research and fieldwork has included more than disaster response. In 2018, she took a year off from her work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work in the field for the ICRC in Myanmar. Her role was to analyze the humanitarian, political, and security situation, to define priorities and actions to take regarding these areas and to promote the basic rules of International Humanitarian Law. During this mission, Martine was also able to utilize her architectural skills in supporting the Water and Habitat Department’s on shelter projects and the maintenance and renovation of offices and housing.

Martine’s current work focuses on a topic very relevant to the IIHA’s mission and trainings: the dissemination of humanitarian skills and knowledge throughout the government to inform all members of foreign service. As she explains, “the far majority do not deal with humanitarian issues on a daily basis; the whole scope of Foreign Policy from military interventions, economic strategies, consular affairs, and building relationships with other countries is part of our work… unintentionally, humanitarian principles can be at stake and forgotten to be taken into account while making policy decisions…this is why it is important to do advocacy and train people to create a better understanding of humanitarian work and respect for humanitarian principles”.

Given this extensive career and experiences in several contexts, we were sure to ask Martine about her perceptions of the humanitarian field and, in particular, about the changes she has observed throughout her tenure. She recognized the Grand Bargain as one of the major reforms of our times, as well as the shift towards localization. Martine did also, however, provide wise words of caution to her fellow humanitarians amid constant change and innovation:

What should not be forgotten is why we do all these reforms and prevent that discussions, meetings, seminars, and conferences become a goal in themselves, we should not forget the reason we are going through these processes is ultimately to better assist the people in need.

Such level of insight can be sourced only from someone who has not only had the experience but who has been observant, thoughtful, and conscious throughout a career assisting others — Martine is clearly a “student” in all that she does. It is no wonder, then, that her humanitarian career has, too, been supplemented by extensive training and degree work within the IIHA. As we mentioned above, one year after completing the IDHA in 2008, Larry Hollingworth asked Martine if she would serve as a tutor for subsequent sessions. This continued contact with the IIHA led Martine to enroll in the Masters in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA) program, which she completed in 2017. As alumni and followers of the IIHA will recall, Robert De Niro spoke at the 2017 graduation and presented degrees to MIHA graduates — Martine recalls this fondly. Her thesis, apropos to her early education, interests, and experiences, involved design requirements for emergency shelters. The degree led Martine to further involvement with the IDHA, serving for two years as a Course Director at the IDHA in Geneva.

Similar to the testament of another IDHA alum and course director featured in our alumni spotlight, Martine cites the personal relationships and camaraderie as the program’s defining feature. As she notes, “the discussions we have in class and the different perspectives the students bring to class is an inspiration to me and keeps my feet on the ground.” Even as her role progresses, she is still content to learn from and connect with others. Such is part of what makes the IDHA a truly unique program.

I do not regret anything up to this point in my career, but I do think that if I were to give my younger self advice I would tell her to think further ahead, do the things that are close to your heart and take into account the people that are important to you in life. It is too easy to get distracted from that.

We conclude this spotlight post with Martine’s advice to her younger self, given its relevance to the situation most reading this will find themselves in. As she described the IDHA in our interview, “learning, friendship, and fun,” so, too, must be the life of the humanitarian.

Written By: Michael Innocenti, IIHA Marketing and Communications Graduate Assistant

About the IIHA
The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) prepares current and future aid workers with the knowledge and skills needed to respond effectively in times of humanitarian crisis and disaster. Our courses are borne of an interdisciplinary curriculum that combines academic theory with the practical experience of seasoned humanitarian professionals. The IIHA also publishes on a wide range of humanitarian topics and regularly hosts a number of events in the New York area, including the annual Humanitarian Blockchain Summit and Design for Humanity Summit.

For more information or media inquiries, please contact: Camille Giacovas, Communications & Research Officer, cgiacovas@fordham.edu

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