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WFP Standby Partners Stories: Colin Holding (Romania – Ukraine response)

Updated: Jul 6

Since 1991 the World Food Programme (WFP) collaborates with a vast network of Standby Partners consisting of public and private organizations complementing WFP’s operational capacity by providing staffing, equipment, and services. Standby Partnerships are activated in various job positions and provide crucial support to WFP operations in emergencies or when WFP needs specific technical expertise. In 2021, 104 experts supported 37 Country Offices, 5 Regional Bureaux, and Headquarters. To request and deploy experts Standby Partners please reach out to WFP Standby Partnerships team in the Emergency Operations Division at: standbypartners@wfp.org.

 

Since February 2022 Ukraine is experiencing an intense conflict. This has led to a humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced and in dire need. So far WFP has reached 5.4 million people with in-kind and cash assistance and continues scaling up its emergency response to meet civilians’ needs. WFP also provides logistics and emergency telecommunications services to the humanitarian community, facilitating the timely provision of assistance inside and outside of Ukraine.

Colin – Transport Expert (Constanta Port, Romania). © WFP

In addition to a new Country Office in Ukraine, supporting offices or staffing were established in neighbouring countries of Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Slovakia. Over 300 WFP staff have been deployed to these offices, along with 10 Standby deployees provided by partner organisations.


We spoke with Colin Holding, a British Transport Specialist deployed by the international logistics company DHL for 6 weeks to support the emergency response from Romania.

 

When Colin Holding first arrived in Romania in April, as part of WFP’s Ukraine emergency response, he knew this was going to be different from his previous professional experiences. With no presence before the crisis, the Romania office was still new and the team was working hard to scale up an efficient supply chain operation. Colin, who has long been eager to participate in humanitarian logistics, was glad to be given the opportunity to use his skills for a new purpose.



WFP shipments destined to the Ukraine response (Constanta Port, Romania). © WFP

“Every day we witness heart-breaking scenes you usually only see on TV or in the newspaper. So many families have been split and left with nothing. Thousands of women and children are forced to leave their whole life behind, including husbands and sons left in Ukraine to fight the war. It’s very sad to see.”


Despite the high pressure of the conflict, he was confident his 22 years of logistic experience (of which the last 10 years spent in European logistics and global freight) would easily transfer to the Ukraine operation and enable him to adequately manage the congregation of fleet and drivers for onward movement of cargo into Ukraine. “Logistics (is) logistics, the fundamentals don’t really change. Everything I learned about transporting goods across Europe (including during the Brexit transition and the COVID-19) is helping me understand and optimise what the Romania office is trying to achieve in support of the Ukraine operation.” Although processes (i.e. heavier due diligence requirements) somewhat differ from the private sector, the key is to correctly assess the situation, think on the go, and develop smart solutions.


Upon arrival, he quickly noticed how inclusive and diverse the team was. “Everyone was incredibly welcoming off the bat. After a few days only I felt I was part of a family! The teamwork and camaraderie are amazing. People from diverse backgrounds work as a collective to reach a common goal, a little win at a time. When there is an issue, colleagues join hands to fix it together.”


This collaborative spirit and experience sharing also apply to partners. In fact, partnerships management is a key component of his role, as there are more stakeholders involved in WFP response than what Colin is used to. “To facilitate processes and move commodities faster I regularly communicate with high-level officials such as the Customs Director for Bucharest, which benefits the whole operation. It’s a lot more political than the private sector, which is another interesting aspect of WFP that I am discovering.”


Colin’s main concern is that commodities successfully reach beneficiaries so he loves receiving weekly statistics. “One of our first weeks we delivered + 300% compared to the previous week’s volume. It was really rewarding.” Monitoring trips to the borders are also important to him, as they enable him to document loadings and deliveries. “It’s impressive to see what WFP workers and truck drivers are willing to do to get the job done. You hear the term hero around a lot but in my opinion, these people are definitely heroes.” To him, their dedication is remarkable considering how physically and mentally tasking the work is.


WFP trucks at Isaccea (Romania border) crossing to Orlivka (Ukraine) for onward transportation to WFP hubs in Ukraine. © WFP

Reflecting on his first Standby Partnership deployment, Colin concludes, “It’s been a humbling and beautiful experience. I feel enriched. I'd like to do more of it. The advice I would offer to someone starting their first SBP mission is to be generous! Share your expertise with your new team. Once you return to your usual job, make them benefit from your newly acquired competencies. The SBP can and must be a win-win situation for all parties involved.”


Ilse Larkin, Head of the Romania Office confirms: “Colin was a committed and knowledgeable team member whose contributions are greatly appreciated. He provided clear and decisive leadership by developing efficient processes, while coordinating ever-growing volumes of cargo and proactively seeking to identify and overcome challenges. Any future opportunities to work together again would be warmly welcomed”


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