Dan Richards

BSc International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response. Graduated 2019.

What inspired you to study this course?

My journey to HCRI began with a passion for travel and a desire to see the world through a different lens. My professional background was diverse and I travelled frequently. However, I started to become less interested in travelling as a tourist and more interested in being able to see places and meet people, whilst at the same time have the chance to work for a meaningful cause. I wanted to use my skills to do more than just make money for someone else.

Before HCRI, I had limited exposure to the humanitarian sector. When I was 25, I attended a selection weekend for an international NGO, during which I was competing with candidates with considerable experience across many different professions. I realised I needed to gain more experience, skills, and sector-specific qualifications in order to stand a chance of being considered. I searched through various different professional, technical and academic routes into the sector, before coming across HCRI.

What did you enjoy most about the BSc?

The BSc covers all levels of international humanitarian assistance, from calculating the amount of sewerage produced in a refugee camp, to the legal structures and political agendas behind international aid. As someone who was interested in progressing into the sector but was unsure of where to start, this degree provided a good jumping-off point to study various topics, professions, and viewpoints from across different disciplines. I have always had a keen interest in politics and the degree helped me to explore some of the factors that influence the availability, delivery and access to aid and development. My undergraduate dissertation focussed on humanitarian negotiation and drew my attention to some of the legal challenges that those working in the sector face when trying to secure access to at-risk populations.

What opportunities are there to get involved in at HCRI?

Students at HCRI are given the opportunity to access a variety of events, speakers, and activities. For myself, this included:

  • a three-day tabletop disaster management exercise with the head of Lincolnshire’s emergency preparedness and planning team;
  • a visit to Manchester Police’s Emergency Response Headquarters;
  • a digital-mapping exercise to help create and develop open-source maps of rural Uganda;
  • a University-funded trip to the yearly MEDCIN conference in Glasgow and the International Disaster Management Expo’ in London.

There are also regular talks led by industry professionals and academics from all over the world, and a yearly ‘Careers in Humanitarianism’ open day. In 2017, I successfully applied to work with the Northern Uganda Village Health Outreach Project (NUV-HOP), an international student-run medical project. I spent two years helping to run this healthcare project, with a team of medical and dental students from Manchester, Belgium and Uganda. This was one of the most exciting and rewarding projects that I have been involved with during my time at the University.

HCRI helped support and advise me in this role and special thanks should be given to Dr Darren Walter, Clinical Senior Lecturer at the department, who has helped me to critically analyse and develop the project.

What have you done since graduating?

In 2019, I decided to stay in Manchester to complete an MA in Security and International Law. The course explores international organisations, international humanitarian law, and international human rights law. It allowed me to focus on a different field of study and has helped develop my knowledge of some of the driving factors which both cause, and attempt to remedy, some of the most severe cases of humanitarian need.

Towards the end of 2020, I started working for the HALO Trust, the world’s foremost humanitarian demining NGO and currently work as a Programme Officer in Huambo, Angola. My day-to-day work includes the management of donor contracts, reporting, research functions and communications. Furthermore, I help oversee monitoring and evaluation, data collection, and staff training and capacity development. The HALO Trust has been in Angola since 1994 and not only helps to remove landmines and explosive remnants of war left over from the country’s 27 year long civil war, but also assists with weapons destruction and stockpile management.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

During my studies, I worked for HCRI, delivering talks about disaster management and the BSc to sixth form students. One thing that I always ask them to consider is whether a degree is the right choice for them and what they are most interested in doing once they finish university; going straight into a degree is not always the best choice for everyone.

Starting the BSc as a mature student, I feel that I got a great deal out of the academic and networking side of my degree. I started the course knowing it was a subject I was interested in, I had done my research, and I was sure I wanted to work in the humanitarian sector. I had travelled, volunteered and gained a good deal of personal and professional experience, which I brought with me to Manchester. I know that for many students, an undergraduate degree today is more of a rite-of-passage than a carefully considered investment in a specific future career. For some people, taking a few years out to gain some professional, voluntary and life experience before considering higher education may be a far more enriching experience than jumping straight into a degree.

Through HCRI, I have met people from diverse professional backgrounds, who have used their skills to enter the humanitarian sector. The BSc is perfect for people like me who are looking for an engaging and well-delivered overview of the industry, and how to find their place within it. It is also a good option for those interested in academia, or considering a career in policy development or management, and are curious about getting into humanitarian work but are unsure where to start.