Valérie Docher (PGM 2006), Manager of the NGO Medical Refresher Courses for Afghans (MRCA):
“Management and management control take on a deeply human meaning, in a sector that is becoming professionalised.”
- For three years, Valérie Docher (PGM 2006) has worked in the health sector in Afghanistan, present for a month every two months as part of MRCA, a non-governmental organisation that has been in the country for 27 years, long before the arrival of international armies. This NGO is different in that it has only three expatriates on site (a financial manager, logistics manager, and mission leader); everyone else is Afghan. “Even when working in the humanitarian sector,” explains Valérie Docher, “I still practice my profession. I manage.”
Why humanitarian work? And why in Afghanistan?
- My work experience started in the usual way, in particular with a job as Production Manager at a company doing personalised digital printing (150 people), located on three sites in Saint-Etienne. In parallel, I studied in the General Management Programme (PGM) at EMLYON. Very quickly, I felt the need to work in a professional environment that took fully into account human and social aspects. At the time, I also had the opportunity to complete a Master's degree concerning humanitarian work at the Tropical Medicine Faculty in Liverpool. My thesis covered mentally disabled children's needs in health and care in Mozambique. I then had a consulting opportunity in Jakarta (Indonesia) as part of the UN, followed by a six-month job in Afghanistan for Handicap International. It was during this first visit to the country that I developed close ties with the members of the NGO for which I now work.
MRCA is active only in Afghanistan, and only in the health sector?
- Yes. The NGO has been in the country for almost 30 years and employs mostly Afghan people. We are politically neutral and we provide only health services and care to the general public. Even if the NGO is not very well known internationally, Afghans are very familiar with it. On a personal level, and based on my experience in the private sector in France, I still practice my profession: I manage an NGO that includes 500 people, 36 hospitals and a midwifery school (created by MRCA). The latter has just celebrated the graduation of its fourth class of midwives in the Logar province. It has trained approximately 100 midwives during a 26-month programme following a high school diploma. In Kapisa, we have also created a nursing school with 30 students.
- As for health workers in the countryside, we train couples (a man and a woman), even if they are illiterate, in basic hygienic and care tasks, family planning, how to recognise dangerous symptoms, etc. Access to schools is limited but we use local resources as much as possible. In cities, women and men have sufficient education to be able to receive training. Universities train qualified personnel that we recruit in hospitals. We adapt as much as possible to the local mind-set: women care for women and children. There are no male gynaecologists, but a cesarian section can be performed by a male surgeon. There are also male and female physiotherapists, and men can treat women who are fully dressed and accompanied. Health workers' salaries correspond to a pay scale defined by the Afghan Health Ministry.
Are you afraid of a change in political regime once international armies have left?
- Whatever the political regime, our job is to provide medical care. Our political neutrality is of the utmost importance for everyone's safety. The NGO was established almost 30 years ago and people know us. However, Afghanistan suffers greatly from corruption.
Where does your funding come from?
- Essentially from institutional donors: the European Union, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, embassies (in particular the Czech Republic)... Overall, I do the same job as before when in the private sector: I manage people and budgets, keeping an eye on profitability and efficiency, of course, but with a quite different aim: to help the Afghan people and try to save lives.