Navigating Cluster Coordination: A Field Perspective With Itsuro Takahashi, WASH Manager Pakistan

UNICEF’s role as cluster-led agency is critical to deliver our mandate.
The outcome of coordination should be fully capitalized on as part of UNICEF’s programming and emergency response activities to extend lifesaving support to all children”
Itsuro Takahashi, WASH Manager, Pakistan

As part of our series on humanitarian coordination, EMOPS’ Global Cluster Coordination Section and DHR bring the voices of colleagues in the field to reflect on how we can collectively support and leverage UNICEF’s cluster leadership role.

For this interview, we had the privilege to speak with Itsuro Takahashi. Prior to his current role as WASH Manager in Pakistan, Itsuro served as WASH Cluster Coordinator in Ethiopia and Yemen.

According to Itsuro, coordination is a fundamental part of the humanitarian response; we cannot expect effective and efficient lifesaving support without it.

What inspired you to work in cluster coordination prior to your current role as WASH manager in Pakistan?  

Interesting question. Before joining UNICEF as a cluster coordinator, I worked with different organizations as a WASH specialist. I attended water sector meetings as one of the partners and at some point, I had an opportunity to be appointed as a sector co-lead. Coordinating the work of a wider group of stakeholders, including government, development partners and donors was an amazing experience for me.

At some point, I saw a vacancy announcement for a WASH Cluster Coordinator in Ethiopia, with development-humanitarian nexus as one of the main tasks. I feel it could be a great challenge and an opportunity to bring my coordination experience in humanitarian contexts and that's how I started my career as a cluster coordinator. And as a result, I worked in Ethiopia as well as Yemen as a WASH cluster coordinator.

In your opinion, what key leadership skills and qualities are important for effective humanitarian coordination?

This is a very important question to me. Based on my experience, building trust is the most important leadership skill. Because coordination happens across and beyond the organization, without any supervisor-supervisee type of relationship. There is no hierarchy among humanitarian partners. Therefore, unless we build trust among wider stakeholders, coordination doesn’t work.

In your role as WASH manager, how do you think Country Offices can best leverage and support the coordination function?

Clusters usually aggregate data for better humanitarian response planning and work on gap analysis and monitoring, which means the dataset of the clusters can give us a much more holistic idea about a specific sector. These variable data and information are necessary to develop the response strategy and to define organizational priorities. As a Cluster Lead Agency, I believe that UNICEF can really make use of the outcome of coordination for better planning and strategy development.

By recognizing that Cluster Coordinator is a key leadership position, what do you think UNICEF could do further to attract and retain talent for the coordination function?

As everybody knows, collaborative work with others is part of the competency framework for all staff working for a UN organization, especially in an organization like UNICEF. Everybody talks about collaboration but, unfortunately, when it comes to humanitarian coordination, there is quite less attention to the collaboration skills that it helps you build.

However, based on my experience, working as a cluster coordinator can help you gain great analytical capacity. You can capture what needs to be done now, how this needs to be done and how we need to deliver advocacy messages to create an enabling environment. This is closely linked with our programming as well as strategy development as a programme section. I believe that coordination should be appreciated and better recognized by the senior management as a key core function of UNICEF staff members, so that maybe we can retain much wider human resources for coordination role and encourage cross functional movement between programme and coordination roles.

“I am fascinated with the potential of coordination for our daily work.
Working in coordination offers immense potential for career development and gaining new skills which are relevant not only for coordination but also as programme specialist”

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay informed with the latest news on humanitarian coordination. Subscribe now to the GCCS Mailing List