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Organisation Overview

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is comprised of 24 associations, coordinated by MSF International, whose secretariat is based in Switzerland. It is a neutral non-governmental body, largely funded by private donations. Established in 1971 with the purpose of delivering emergency medical care to individuals caught in crisis due to natural disasters, armed conflict and epidemics, MSF does not take sides in armed conflicts, but does speak out publicly where it finds that aid systems are not being utilised adequately or are being diverted for political reasons. It employs a large number of health professionals and logistical and administrative staff to achieve its mission. MSF employs both expatriates and predominantly locally hired staff.

Definition of Talent and TM

TM has just been introduced at MSF and is in an early phase of implementation without, as yet, formal rules, practices, and policies. According to one of our interviewees:

...people have integrated what they believe the organisation is something very implicit and sometimes very informal.

This informal approach of identifying talents leads to a lack of diversity, evidenced by the fact that most expatriates at MSF are Europeans. A more decentralised system, more based on explicit criteria and with greater staff ownership, would help to overcome that.

MSF’s HRM policies have traditionally been focused on ensuring that it has the people and the skills necessary to carry out its work in the field and that it does not fall foul of local employment laws. Most MSF staff (90% or more) are contracted locally, so recruitment is decentralised. Staff are usually employed for one project and they leave at the end of the project. Therefore, turnover is high, with MSF continuously starting new projects. Recruitment is, therefore, an ongoing activity. Since it is hard to predict the length of many projects, employees usually get one-year renewable contracts.

Recently, MSF has realised that it needs to invest in talent and TM to reduce problems such as high turnover:

.development of our people is important because everyone else is doing it.So let’s just say that it started out as . as just comparisons with other organisations . and right now, it is starting to matter but they are also starting to understand what it is and how it can be developed in MSF.

Many employees are unaware of how the organisation manages talent, since TM is not formalised, so that even people identifying talent might not be aware that what they are doing is a part of TM. And talents are often subjectively evaluated. Supervisors might recommend someone for a mission, but the criteria for such recommendations are implicit:

.. .the trouble is that.. .nobody confronts anyone else on what the criteria are.. .they say ‘oh look, I think this person will be highly suitable to go and take up this job’ [but] based on what criteria? What is it that we are looking for?

According to another interviewee, the organisation perceives talents as those who have gone on more than one or two missions. She adds that retention is a serious problem, which means investing a lot of resources into a person who only goes for one mission does not make much sense.

At MSF, TM is exclusive and informal but some in the organisation want it to be inclusive.

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