Interview with Julian Jaccard, Operations Coordinator for South-East Mexico

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I was born in Colombia to Swiss parents and moved to Switzerland after getting a law degree in Bogotá. I joined the ICRC nearly eight years ago.

How did it all start?

I have a background as a lawyer in Colombia, and a master’s in public international law and human rights law. My career at the ICRC began as an associate at headquarters for the Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law. Liaising with colleagues in the field to help promote respect for IHL made me realize that I would prefer working as a delegate to staying in quiet Geneva. I applied for delegate position and got it. I started out as a detention delegate in Mali, before going to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a team leader. I later worked in Nigeria as head of office and Myanmar as deputy head of subdelegation. Now I’m in Mexico, where I’ve been since September 2020.

Tell us more about your role at the ICRC.

I coordinate operations for south-eastern Mexico, managing a team of eight very experienced and talented colleagues. We mainly focus on migrants, missing people and their families, people deprived of their liberty and communities affected by violence. Besides coordination and human resources management, my role also includes humanitarian dialogue, mostly with the authorities, civil society and other humanitarian organizations.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

It varies slightly, but I would say that I spend almost 40 per cent of my time in the field. Mexico is a huge country, and my team covers many states. Travelling is an integral part of my job. Since we handle a wide variety of activities and ICRC mission in Mexico is quite complex, I also set aside time for reflection, reading, strategic discussions and policy research. It’s also very important to work on managing the team to improve performance.

You’ve worked in many different regions and roles. How do they differ?

Each delegation has its own identity and procedures, so you come across varying workloads and specific safety and security risks. It always takes time to adapt to the new job and the new environment, culture, food and people. ICRC works under different legal frameworks. Activities and strategies in a non-international armed conflict will differ a lot from what we do in situations not reaching the armed conflict threshold.

What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of work in the field?

My favourite part of the job is seeing that our work has had a positive impact on people’s lives – this is what I feel most proud of. The most challenging is striking the right balance between being flexible and following internal procedures.

How do you cope with being away from friends and family?

Before coming to Mexico, I spent almost four and a half years away from my partner who later became my wife. We are both based here now. Mexico has also brought me closer to my family in Colombia.

During assignments, you must find a healthy way to deal with stress, whether related to work or being far from loved ones. Mine is sport; before the pandemic I always found a football team to play with. Recently, I’ve taken up painting. Socializing with locals has also made me feel part of a community.

Do you have any advice for people who are considering joining the ICRC?

I would highly recommend gaining experience in the field before you apply. A field experience with a non-governmental organization for six months to a year would be a perfect way to see if you are suited to this kind of work. As a delegate, you will face complex and challenging situations, spending long periods away from home. Make sure that you are physically and emotionally prepared for that.