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ASI Game Changers: Meet Rami in Australia

Our “ASI Game Changers Series” introduces the people who make our work possible and allows us to learn about what drives them in their quest to create lasting impact in some of the world’s most challenging, complex environments. In this edition we are speaking to our colleague Rami Alkhatib in Australia.

  • Name: Rami Alkhatib
  • Role: Project Manager
  • Location: Melbourne (and Sydney), Australia 

What’s your big “why”? What’s the positive change/impact you and others in your field are trying to achieve and what are some of the challenges you face whilst doing so?

My first exposure to the humanitarian/development sector was in 2006, as a volunteer delivering non-food items at a remote border crossing point between Syria and Iraq. Iraqi refugees were fleeing the civil war while there was a separate mass influx of Lebanese refugees from the July War. We, as the Syrian community, pulled together to help our neighbours without the support of donors. I saw the direct impact our volunteer work had on people suffering the worst chapter of their lives. At the time, I was a law student and this experience sharpened my focus on international human rights law. Fast-forward to 2011 when the Syrian crisis started, unfortunately I had to witness the effects of conflict first-hand. I chose to stay and work with UNHCR, where I had the opportunity to participate in one of the most challenging humanitarian responses. A few years later, I moved to Turkey and joined ASI’s cross-border programmes until I moved to Australia in 2017.

I believe that our roles in this industry should not be only defined by donor strategy or stop at the objectives of our programmes. We have a golden opportunity to influence, empower and exchange knowledge with everyone we come across in our professional and personal paths. And this is what I am looking to achieve.

If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do here, what would it be?

I would call it “Social Influencer” – and I don’t mean “Social Media Influencer”! (laughs). I think what we are trying to achieve at ASI in broader terms is about positive influence. We think profoundly about our theories of change, and design with best practices to deliver sustainable and lasting impact. We influence people on the social and economic levels, and hopefully eventually on the political level.

ASI’s Tamkeen project in Syria worked in about 45 extremely vulnerable communities, each consisting of between 20,000 to 150,000 civilians. Most of these areas were besieged or on overlapping frontlines which made access extremely difficult. More importantly, core concepts of good governance – transparency, accountability, and participation – had been undermined by 40 years’ of ruling by an authoritarian regime. However, with optimism and persistence, we were able to build trust and work with these communities to apply the best possible governance practices and provide transparent and accountable services to over 1.7 million Syrians.

What do you like about working in a global development company?

For me, it’s about being able to have deep and challenging conversations with decision-makers at government level, and then seeing these conversations come to life through our projects.  This aspect of the job is incredibly satisfying. It’s seeing the entire societal system work across different levels, from foreign affairs to farmers, that is so inspiring. Our in-country presence also makes this job extremely meaningful. I love the fact that the majority of our programmes are based locally, which very much promotes ASI’s and my own vision of localisation of the aid and development industry.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your project/at work right now?

Our portfolio has so many interesting and exciting aspects, but the one I enjoy the most is a concept we introduced in 2019 in Solomon Islands in our Strongim Bisnis programme: every month we nominate a different team member as “Environmental Ranger”. Their job is to ensure that the programme is making progress against our environmental plan. This means that they make sure that office resources are used responsibly, ensure fun and exciting environmental information is provided, and remind the team regularly about their environmental responsibilities. It can also translate into a lot of light switch and A/C checks but I believe that’s part of the lesson.

Like many other areas of the world, the Pacific Islands are exposed to severe climate change impacts and are at risk of inundation of low-lying coastal parts of these islands. Strongim Bisnis has a big environment component as part of its programme design, but we often forget that protecting the environment starts at an individual and office level. That’s why I like this initiative: it reminds each person of their individual responsibilities and that every act, however small, counts towards positive change.

What movements or discussions inspire you generally right now?

I am following the Black Lives Matter and the social justice movements across the world. I think this is a critical time that we are living in, and we have an opportunity to be on the right side of history. I believe that both myself, and the entire industry, are deeply connected with these social justice values.  We embed them in our mission and programmes, but we need to do better in reflecting about them at all levels of our implementation. It’s our duty as development workers to be interested in these topics and truly help progress them, not just look at them as tick-box exercises.  These values go beyond that and having open conversations around them should become the social norm. It is a long process and requires substantial commitment, learning and self-reflection.

One reason I am deeply connected with this movement, is that I was part of the Syrian uprising. I lived through and experienced how systemic oppression with extensive disinformation campaigns twisted legitimate social justice demands into one of the most brutal wars in recent history.

One inspiring discussion at ASI Australia is the ongoing development of ASI’s indigenous engagement strategy. This strategy provides a great opportunity to promote indigenous businesses and to align our company values with indigenous partnerships through collaborative, two-way conversations. By seeking out and prioritising indigenous partnerships, ASI can contribute to a more equitable world.

What volunteering or passion projects do you do outside of work?

As the whole world is in lockdown and I am not allowed to play football, I am using this opportunity to master my football managerial skills (FIFA20 & Fantasy Premier League) (laughs). I am also working with a few Syrian friends around the world on collecting the lost archive of Syrian Bedouin Music. This music was often played at weddings and recorded on classic tapes. They require a lot of editing and “cleaning” to be able to listen to them and to make them accessible to people on SoundCloud.

One of my passion projects pre-COVID was working with start-ups and small initiatives in Turkey and helping them develop their systems and apply for grants. Together with a colleague, I also supported the establishment of a small initiative for exiled Syrian museum and artefacts workers from my hometown of Palmyra. Palmyra is an ancient oasis in the Syrian desert with a rich history. It was like growing up in a museum! The destruction of the old city during the Syrian war left a deep pain for all people from Palmyra. Of course, the loss of lives during war comes first, but the loss of history, the erasure of thousands of years, has also had a big impact on people’s souls. That’s why we brought these museum workers together to start a collective archive of knowledge, pictures, and stories. We have a duty to our own communities and share their knowledge and experience. Since then, these workers have established their own platform and it’s very satisfying to see initiatives like these grow and take on a life of their own.

What’s a quality a game changer should have and what’s your ambition to be one?

To start with, a game changer should be open-minded, and be willing to continuously learn and understand other people’s values before jumping ahead and taking the initiative to change the game! (laughs). They need to respect and understand the local context first before starting to change things around – this is why localisation is so important to me, a game can only be changed sustainably by its players, the people themselves. Ownership of communities is key and so a game changer is really more of an ally than a lone ranger! Having faith in what in what they are doing is important too, as this will give them confidence to present their ideas and challenge existing ways of thinking. But yes, most importantly, every day is a school day!


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