Health experts top list of preferred new recruits at Crown Agents

Health staff put on protective gloves at the Ebola Treatment Center in Nzérékoré, Guinea. Photo by: Martine Perret / UN Photo / CC BY-NC-ND

The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa has been a wake-up call to the need for strengthened health systems in the developing world. It’s not surprising, then, that one of the United Kingdom’s largest development consultancies is on the lookout for talent in the global health sector.

Crown Agents, which is currently growing its health systems strengthening capacity, is hiring talent with medical or pharmaceutical backgrounds as well as people with project management experience in health-related subjects such as maternal health or HIV and AIDS.

“We’ve got a number of large health-strengthening projects around the world, and that’s a team we’re actively growing and we’re recruiting for at all levels,” Crown Agents’ Director of Human Resources Ann Saunders revealed in an interview with Devex. “We’ve got a very strong record in setting up for ministries of health in countries like Botswana or Zambia.”

About a quarter of Crown Agents’ funding comes from the U.K. government. The rest is a mixture of other local government ministries, donor investment from funders including the U.S. Agency for International Development and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as private funding agencies including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The implementer, which was founded in 1833, currently has about 1,100 employees working in more than 100 countries. Of these, approximately 300 are located at the Crown Agents headquarters in London.

About 100 are also embedded in the U.K. Department for International Development, where they provide emergency humanitarian response services. Recently it has been Crown Agents’ staff delivering aid to Ebola-hit Sierra Leone.

“The army was setting up the infrastructure in terms of buildings, such as sites for hospitals, Save the Children was staffing them and we were providing everything from mops to generators for all of those hospitals,” Saunders said, adding that they continue to replenish stocks as required and make sure everything is in place for the medical staff to use on a daily basis.

As well as filling health-related vacancies, Saunders said the company is also recruiting for other roles, mainly for projects in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in Southeast Asia and parts of the Middle East. Pakistan will be a key upcoming focus country, where Crown Agents is already funded by USAID to help the Pakistani government’s Privatization Commission manage its privatization agenda.

Crown Agents is increasingly offering shorter-term contracts to people who can deliver particular expertise in short bursts during a project cycle, Saunders shared.

“They are people who might be working with us one week and one of our partners the next,” Saunders explained.

The company maintains a database of contractors it calls upon at short notice, including doctors who leave their day jobs to deal with an emergency, firefighters, or other similar specialists.

The consultancy is increasingly looking for applicants with experience of overseas project work and with relevant master’s-level qualifications in development, economics or health so that “we can get them out [into the field] quicker,” she said. “There’s less of a training-up period,” Saunders explained.

But to stand out among the many applications Crown Agents receives, she recommended applicants improve their language skills.

“Our business language is English, but we work in Francophone Africa, so French is very useful,” she said. “We’re also working in a number of Portuguese-speaking countries, such as Angola. If we see a CV that has languages in addition to what we’re looking for, it gives it a head start.”

A thorough understanding of U.K. legislation that affects the integrity of how they operate in foreign countries, such as the U.K. Bribery Act of 2010, is also crucial, she said.

No matter where staff operate, they are expected to uphold British legal standards.

“There are regularly clashes between our standards and those in other countries — it’s part of our everyday decision-making,” she said. “All our staff are fully trained and refreshed on that regularly so that they understand where the boundaries are when they’re in decision-making mode. The idea is that it gets to the stage where we’re influencing all the places we work, and those standards become more normal.”

Saunders, who is responsible for Crown Agents’ human resources across its offices in the U.S. and Singapore, said the company aims to maintain the same corporate standards for all employees, which means tailoring certain processes to local employment legislation. The company offers flexible working arrangements, and Saunders is currently reviewing policies for single parents or primary carers, particularly for male staff.

Crown Agents also maintains strict welfare policies, she explained, providing security personnel in dangerous areas and offering pre-and post-trip counseling and trauma management to staff deployed to unstable territories.

“We have constant surveillance of what happens in the world and we track all our staff,” Saunders said. “I could tell you exactly where our members of staff are at any time.”

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About the author

  • Gabriella jozwiak profile

    Gabriella Jóźwiak

    Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning journalist based in London. Her work on issues and policies affecting children and young people in developing countries and the U.K. has been published in national newspapers and magazines. Having worked in-house for domestic and international development charities, Jóźwiak has a keen interest in organizational development, and has worked as a journalist in several countries across West Africa and South America.