Alumnus of the Year organises humanitarian aid in megadisasters

7 October 2020

Jamie LeSueur

Alumnus of the Year 2020 Jamie LeSueur, 33, is one of three global Heads of Emergency Operations at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Worldwide, within 48 hours, he should be able to arrive on site to organise relief wherever there is a humanitarian catastrophe. Jamie LeSueur, global Head of Emergency Operations at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is Uppsala University’s Alumnus of the Year 2020.

“With his profound commitment to people in disaster-stricken areas and his dedication to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, Jamie LeSueur is an important source of inspiration and an extraordinary example for students at the University.”

This citation for the University’s decision highlights the alumnus chosen to receive this year’s special honour.

Jamie LeSueur studied at Uppsala from 2013 to 2015, as a Peace Fellow at the Uppsala Rotary Peace Center, part of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research. By the time he left he had a Master’s degree in his backpack.

Out of necessity, he has kept that rucksack light over the years. For the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), he has dealt with food-security crises in South Sudan and Zimbabwe; organised relief assistance for those impacted by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique; and headed the IFRC’s relief response to the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Most recently, he led the organisation’s efforts to combat COVID-19 across the African continent.

Operational and strategic leadership

Originally from Calgary, Canada, Jamie LeSueur and his lightweight luggage have found a temporary resting place in Ankara, Turkey. There, he and his wife – who also works for the Red Cross – have splashed out big time, acquiring a sofa and a couple of cats. He is one of three global heads of the IFRC’s emergency ops and his main task is to provide the operational and strategic leadership to deploy large-scale relief assistance anywhere in the world.

Jamie LeSueur
Jamie LeSueur in Buzi, Mozambique trying to overcome damaged telecommunication networks by calling in a helicopter with three different telephones. Photo: Corrie Butler/IFRC

Work to implement these efforts takes place on the spot, alongside volunteers and the whole local community. What is more, the local volunteers are the real heroes in these contexts, LeSueur says.

“The volunteers are the real power of the Red Cross. These local heroes work in harsh conditions often risking their own lives to support their communities.”

Absolutely essential knowledge

During his studies in Uppsala, it often struck him that the Master’s Programme in Peace and Conflict Studies was too closely connected with research and data. He and several coursemates agreed that the programme should have a more practical focus. Today, he has changed his mind.

“The knowledge I gained from my peace and conflict studies has been absolutely essential in the work of analysing disaster situations and designing initiatives.”

Theories about multisectoral analysis, negotiation and community involvement have proved directly applicable to the work he has needed to carry out, and are highly useful for framing problems and finding ways to solve them.

Start as a volunteer!

For students who are interested in a career in a humanitarian aid organisation, his advice is clear: start working as a volunteer. Volunteer work will give you first-hand knowledge of disaster response, but also put you to the test. Are you ready to live a life on the move, in areas that could hardly be described as safe, far away from friends and family? Volunteering will help give you some insight into your answer to these questions.