Meeting with Xavier Lauth, director of operations for SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL

Published on Friday 19 January 2024

Can you tell  us about your career with SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL?  

I’ve been working for SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL for twelve years. I started out as an intern when I finished my studies, and then I gradually worked my way up. First of all, project manager in Haiti, Pakistan and Niger, then field coordinator in Chad, South Sudan and Myanmar. I was then Country Director in several contexts, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, the Central African Republic and Nigeria. I was then appointed head of the Emergency Department at head office. Since September 2023, I have been director of operations at SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL.  

What is operations management?  

It’s the visible face of a solid construction that starts in the field at the operating bases, goes up to the coordination units in the capitals, to the geographical units within the head office and ends up in the Operations Department and then in the General Management. It is therefore a managerial and strategic position above all, rather than a doer 

A significant part of my work is linked to strategy. In which countries should we take action? What programmes should we offer? What is the relevance of SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL’s presence in a given context? It is also to the Operations Department that the Regional Directors report concrete problems, which sometimes require intervention, validation and endorsement from the management. There may be security problems, for example, as part of the decision-making process for opening a mission in a new country… I recently travelled to Chad and Darfur to better understand, support and sustain the major emergency operations that our teams are carrying out, in a very sensitive context. Operations management must also convey these realities on the ground to the various departments at head office and within the association’s governance structure, so that structural and strategic decisions are always rooted in our experience on the ground.  

Does SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL have a distinctive identity compared with other humanitarian  NGOS?  

Firstly, we are one of those NGOs with a strong commitment to working in hard-to-reach areas. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL has developed a tradition of emergency action and a strong commitment on the part of all its employees to carry out meaningful actions in the field, reaching the most vulnerable populations who have suffered shocks and have been neglected.  

How can we strike a balance between the need to be present in the most difficult areas and the need to prevent risks to teams and beneficiaries?  

Each humanitarian situation resulting from armed conflict generates a significant number of risks for our teams, which must be understood. To do this, we systematically carry out a contextual analysis as close as possible to the place where we want to implement our operations. The aim is to find ways of reducing both the impact and the likelihood of these risks occurring.  

To do this, we carry out a risk analysis and look for ways to provide the safest humanitarian aid, both for us and for the people affected. For example, a food distribution may go very well from a logistical point of view, but without an in-depth analysis of the situation, it could endanger the men and women receiving the aid, who could find themselves under pressure or under threat.   

Then comes the work of gaining access to the area. This involves dialogue with the various parties involved in a conflict: as far as possible, this is the pure and simple application of our mandate and our charter, which is based on the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.  The organisation works to ensure that we have access to civilian populations without our aid being influenced by any particular party to the conflict. In Sudan, for example, this work has enabled and continues to enable SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL to operate in a territory in conflict and to independently deliver aid to all civilian populations, regardless of who controls a given area.   

How  do you see the humanitarian world evolving in the comming years 

Firstly, there has been an increase in the number of crises and their duration: the absence of solutions to conflicts that are becoming longer and longer, the multiplication of natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, etc. There are many reasons for this, but the result is clear: humanitarian aid is increasingly essential. 

Moreover, International Humanitarian Law, the cornerstone of our action and which sets out a number of obligations for States, is regularly flouted, making our actions and our access more complex and less safe. The humanitarian flag is not spared by global geopolitical issues. It is more essential than ever to return to the fundamentals of our principles and to International Humanitarian Law in order to preserve this humanitarian space and continue to have the needs of people affected by crises as our only compass.  

The humanitarian sector is also increasingly complex, technical and demanding of itself. All these changes are elements that make us better but that SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL must constantly absorb: increased demands from donors, consideration of immediate and future needs when designing our responses, analysis of our environmental impact, etc.  

Why are the donations from the general public essential?

The gap between funding requirements for humanitarian action and actual donations from public donors continues to grow and has reached a record high for the year 2023.  It’s up to all of us to take action to ensure that people who are suffering are not the victims of this reality. Donations from individuals offer a clear advantage in terms of responsiveness: they enable us to mobilise financial resources on the basis of rapid internal validation schemes based on analyses of the situation on the ground. This is a key element for SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, which sometimes needs to act within a few days. We can only work within this timeframe thanks to money from private donors. The more money we receive from donations, the more we are able to react quickly and adjust our response to needs. We need the generosity of the public more than ever.   



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