Since childhood, Charlotte Lindsey-Curtet dreamed of working for the Red Cross but she never imagined that her interest in tracing and reuniting families separated by war would lead to her current position as Director of Communication and Information Management for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Lindsey-Curtet, a member of MScom3, says MScom prepared her to take on greater responsibility within the organization.
“When I was a child, I read a book, ‘The Silver Sword,’ which is based on the story of a group of children separated from their parents during World War II, and then, later, I saw the film, ‘The Killing Fields,” about the suffering and death of the Cambodian people under the reign of Pol Pot,” Lindsey explained. “I knew from an early age that I wanted to work for the ICRC, and so I did the best I could to prepare myself for this eventuality.”
Those preparations included earning a Bachelor of Arts in business studies, majoring in law and marketing, from the University of Westminster (UK), and then spending a year as an internal auditor before joining the British Red Cross as a refugee officer in 1992. In 1993, she started working in the field for the ICRC, first reuniting families separated by conflict and visiting prisoners detained in Bosnia Herzegovina. She then moved on to Kenya, Rwanda, Tajikistan and Croatia.
‘This is what’s inspiring for me’
“During my work in the field, if there wasn’t a Red Cross press officer in the country, I would do a lot of that work, talking with the press,” she explained.
When she returned to the ICRC headquarters in 1999 as Head of the ICRC's “Women and War” Project, she carried out a study and subsequently produced guidelines on women affected by armed conflict, as well as directing the organizations commitment to improving the situation of women in wartime.
“Being involved in the ‘Women and War’ project really brought me back to what I originally had trained to do, especially the communication aspects. I made some films on women and war, produced a book, leaflets and posters, and I realized this is what’s inspiring for me, and I could see that there was a gap in the ICRC for communication managers and knew that communications was the way I wanted to go.”
Having already made the decision to pursue an executive education in communications, Lindsey heard about MScom from a colleague who’d graduated MScom1.
“I heard really good feedback about the program, and I liked that it was in Switzerland, had an international faculty and would allow me to re-skill myself in communications,” she said. “My expectations were definitely met.”
‘I don’t know how I managed it’
While many MScom participants struggle to balance their professional, private and academic lives during the program, Lindsey had an even greater challenge.
“During MScom3, I was working full-time, and the program coincided with the major year for the ‘Women and War’ project, writing the ‘Women Facing War’ book, and at the same time working on our MScom capstone project. So, in that period of time, in addition to attending MScom and traveling back and forth between Geneva and Lugano, I wrote a book, produced a series of films, traveled to more than 30 countries as part of the Project and launching the book , and planned my wedding and got married in the UK,” she said. “Looking back on the experience, I don’t know how I managed it, but I did have wonderful support from my husband, Bernard, and a supportive boss.”
Despite all those challenges, Lindsey looks back on her MScom experience as “oxygen” in her life.
“It was one of the best times: incredibly interesting but very high pressure. Intellectually, it was great for me to re-skill and stimulate my brain. MScom provided a lot of oxygen for me in terms of getting outside the work environment, thinking and exploring, and being in a creative setting,” she said. “A work environment is much more framed in the scope of what you can do, and MScom was a more free setting. So, doing so many things at one time was difficult, but it wasn’t a chore for me. Whatever I do, I do it 100 percent, and I’m always looking at what I need to achieve.”
In the midst of the ICRC’s “Women and War” project and her MScom studies, Lindsey-Curtet was offered a promotion to Deputy Head of Policy, and a year later, advanced to Deputy Director of Communication. In July 2010, she was named Director of Communication and Information Management, leading a restructuring that doubled the size of the original Department by bringing information management onboard.
“My MScom experience remains relevant to my work because it gave me a good grounding. In particular, I apply on a weekly basis the knowledge I gained from the public affairs and the MScom team consulting project on issues management,” she explained. “That MScom project led to an issues communications forum that I run at the ICRC on a weekly basis.”
A good example, Lindsey-Curtet said, was a recent Lac Leman Communications Forum, “Navigating the Social Media Jungle: Strategies for Corporate Communications, organized by MScom and the HarbourClub, in cooperation with the Société Romande des Relations Publiques.
“Since I completed my MScom studies, the communications environment has changed a lot, notably with the rise of new media and the legal dimensions around it,” she said. “MScom underscores its relevance by staying abreast of developments in the world of communications and offering learning opportunities not only for MScom participants, but also for the broader communications community.”
‘A courageous decision to do MScom’
“I don’t think I would have been offered my current job if I hadn’t had that communication background,” she said. “I’ve been with ICRC for 18 years, but never in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined that I would be at this senior level in the organization.”
Lindsey-Curtet says in terms of career leverage, MScom provides not only a broad and indepth understanding of communication at the executive level, but also evidence of participants’ work ethic.
“It’s a courageous decision to do MScom, because 18 months is a big chunk of one’s life. I really feel that my expectations were met: high-quality professors who had one foot in the academic world and one foot in the work place, classmates who were mid-career professionals, and a challenging academic experience,” she said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend MScom to any communication professional.”
Text based on interview carried out in July 2005 and updated on February 2011.