Co-founder/executive director, Field Ready & Adjunct Lecturer at DePaul University’s Program on Refugee & Forced Migration Studies
Field Ready meets humanitarian and reconstruction aid by transforming logistics through technology, design and engaging people in new ways. We make useful items where they are needed to solve problems locally. We pass on these skills to others through training and capacity-building. We are pioneering innovative approaches to the toughest challenges regardless of the sector. The impact of this is dramatically improved efficiency making aid faster, cheaper and better.
Eric is an aid worker, social entrepreneur and university lecturer. He began his career in international development with USAID in 1995 and has since worked for a number of NGOs and consulted for the UN. His professional experience spans over twenty countries including Afghanistan, Albania, Burundi, East Timor, Iraq, Liberia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. He has also taken on a number of roles in capacity building and organizational development.
His first book is based on these experiences working in disasters and conflict zones. It has been these experiences, as well as his early start as an Eagle Scout, that have made him a strong believer in human rights and in particular protecting children’s wellbeing and development.
He has earned degrees from the University of Illinois, the London School of Economics, Tuft’s Fletcher School and the University of Manchester where he earned his PhD in International Development. It was his primary research in Afghanistan, stemming out of his prior work there, that led to his second book about the country.
Eric is adept at crossing the gap between scholarship and practice. Previously, he taught at the University of Manchester’s Institute of Development Policy and Management (now the Global Development Institute), Richmond University, DePaul University’s School of Public Service and at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs (where he co-directs an annual disaster response simulation). He is also a certified trainer/facilitator in leadership and management. He is an Affiliated Expert of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), a Research Fellow at the World Engagement Institute and is a Board Member of RedR-US.
His interest in improving the lives of others and in innovation led him to serve as an Advisor/Teaching Fellow at Singularity University in 2012. He also holds two patents for devices related to clean drinking water. Along with his prior work, it was these combined experiences that led to his third book on innovation.
Currently, he is the co-founder/executive director of Field Ready and is an Adjunct Lecturer at DePaul University’s Program on Refugee & Forced Migration Studies. He also regularly consults, starts innovative ventures and shares his knowledge with others with a deep passion for positive change
I liked the idea of helping people and wanted to do something different with my life. It also helped that it involved a lot of travel.
The international aid sector has always been about dealing with the failings and gaps left by the commercial and governmental sectors. So trends in those areas heavily impact the aid sector. There has also been a process of professionalization going on for some years which stems in part from a high level of scrutiny from different corners. There are also attempts to grapple with issues like technology and innovation while balancing the needs of localization.
For every global grand challenge out there, there is an equal sized opportunity. Whether its natural resource use or human talent, I think there are no ends in ways to do things especially when they do not fit neatly into the silos we so often relied on in the past.
Two things. First, I’ve always had a passion for helping people, especially in the most difficult situations. Second, there is a lot of frustration with fundamental things not working as they should for people in the field. Take basic supply chains. When there is a disaster, people suffer because simple things aren’t available. Improvements and efficiencies to supply chains have been made in a number of areas, but what is needed was a bigger transformation and that’s what Field Ready is doing.
Field Ready is reaching out in new program areas, new solutions and new geographic regions. This year, for example, we’ll be supporting makerspaces in a number of challenging countries, finding ways to boost economic recovery and responding to disasters soon after they happen. We’re working on locally made products (i.e., actually made in places like Syria and remote Pacific Islands) that involve robotics and IoT as well as additive manufacturing which is a technology we’ve worked with a fair amount in the past. We’re also planning to work in a number of new countries including Bhutan, Kenya and Colombia.
Our vision involves transforming the sector so that this type of aid we’re pioneering becomes mainstream and we are seeing progress in many areas we work. We purposely seek out opportunities that are win-win. So our metrics are focused on helping people find their own solutions which is about resilience and empowerment. Locally designed and manufactured rescue equipment, for instance, has been used by first responder teams to save dozens of lives. In another example, we’ve helped a local inventor design a new cookstove top which reduced smoke and burned fuel more efficiently. He now has orders for hundreds of thousands of units.
I think when you approach very difficult challenges with an open mind – one that’s oriented toward dealing with ambiguity and change – difficult moments simply become bumps in the road. Earlier, we talked a lot about technology but then we realized the biggest obstacles come from differing mindsets. That is, the most difficult moments are when people are closed minded, unwilling to consider alternatives and look at the world as anything but a lose-lose. The reality is that every challenge can be solved when people come together.
We’re working toward a world where people have the essential items they need, whenever and wherever they need them.
To me, it’s all about setting the example. I work hard, listen and share ideas, extend trust and hold myself to account…just as others around me will do the same. Put another way, I think motivating others should come from persistence in the Golden Rule.
Everything flows from the fundaments and in that there are no shortcuts. Distinction can come from taking the right risks and working harder than others.