"Today, I’m a completely different person than when I had joined... The ICRC really helps you grow as an individual"


Amila Suriyarathne, EcoSec Coordinator

Amila Suriyarathne, who is currently on a posting in Ethiopia, had her first stint with the ICRC on secondment from the British Red Cross way back in 2012. She started working full-time with the ICRC as an Economic Security (EcoSec) programme manager in 2015, a position that was offered owing to her strong background in cash transfer programmes. From 2012 until now, Amila has noticed some big changes in the organization. In a chat with us, Amila reminisce about her journey so far and tells us how the ICRC of 2021 is different from the ICRC of 2012.


What are the biggest changes that you have observed at the icrc over the years?

Well, accountability is something that has become more and more important as we have grown and progressed. This topic was almost non-existent back then. Now, I often come across discussions about accountability – whether it’s to the affected populations, to our donors or to each other. It takes a lot of work to maintain transparency and be accountable to our donors. I feel the institution is progressing in a positive manner in this regard.

Also, our logistics systems have greatly improved. If I look at the changes from the lens of diversity and inclusion, there’s definitely a positive trend. Consistent efforts are being made and there are an increasing number of women in managerial roles. I think the trajectory looks fantastic!

How easy or difficult have your field postings been?

I didn’t join the ICRC as a blank slate. I had worked with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and knew the nature of work involved. I knew I will be posted to conflict areas – I came prepared for what field postings entail and was excited to carry out my work.

My first posting was to Azerbaijan, where I started as an EcoSec delegate. Then I moved to Belarus. After that, Cairo, then Somalia, Myanmar, and now Ethiopia! It’s been a great ride.

Were you able to easily adapt to the local cultures and customs?

To be honest, moving to Azerbaijan was a bit of a “culture shock”, so to say. With their lives so entwined with socialism and capitalism, it was as strange for them as it was for me. They had never seen anyone like me and language was a barrier. I was based in Barda subdelegation, so English was spoken only within the ICRC. So, I did struggle for the first few months.

In Egypt, Somalia and Ethiopia, things were much easier, and my family and I fit in well. Even in Myanmar, I was fairly well-integrated.

What’s the one memory from the icrc that will always stay with you?

It was my first mission to Azerbaijan when I unfortunately lost my mother. It was very sudden. My two young children were staying with her at the time and I really didn’t know how I would manage and was thinking of quitting. But the ICRC management stood up for me – they told me I could take as much time and leave as I needed and come back to work on a family mission because they really wanted to keep me – they needed my knowledge and experience. It really made me feel like I was among the “real humanitarians”. They thought about and deeply felt for their employees.

On my last day in Azerbaijan as I was leaving, the entire Barda subdelegation came out to say goodbye to me! I was really touched. It’s something that will always stay with me.

How has the icrc helped you grow?

Today, I’m a completely different person than when I had joined. I think most of it is to do with my experience. I have developed soft skills, which I believe are as important as technical skills. My management skills have also greatly improved. The ICRC really helps you grow as an individual.

What are the three qualities that an ideal ICRC employee must have?

First, you ought to be flexible. You should be ready to work in an instant, especially in emergency contexts, because you never know how things might change in conflict and violence-affected areas.

Second, commitment is very important. In a humanitarian organization like the ICRC, we work to help affected populations, and not for the money. To help people, you have to be humane. I am where I am because I am fully committed to my work and to the communities I work with.

Lastly, teamwork! You cannot work alone in this organization. The ICRC is a rare organization that really reaches the affected populations directly and is not lost in the system. It goes to the people. It is already on the ground and ready to serve. You are able to see the difference that you are making and that’s what keeps me going.


Would you like to follow in Amila's footsteps? Take a look at our Economic Security related positions here.