The Importance of Communication & Leadership in the Pakistan Humanitarian Mission| A Q&A with Andrew MacLeod

14 November 2019

It takes a gifted leader to coordinated massive relief campaigns and negotiate with military dictators and terrorists, and this is exaclty what Andrew MacLeod dealt with on a daily basis. He encountered numerous war zones and natural disasters during his time with the Red Cross and the United Nations, and led the international response to the 2005 Kashmir earthquake in Pakistan.

He came into the Speakers Corner towers to meet the team and share some of his story, naturally we were left wanting more, and he agreed to answer some of our burning questions below!

You have such a fascinating background, how did a young Melbournian end up in a helicopter with the Head of the Pakistan Army?

Now that is a good story. I have in life a whole lot of what I call how the heck did I get here moments, and that is one. Although I often use a word other than ‘heck’!

On the 8th of October 2005, a massive earthquake hit Pakistan killing 76,000 people, injuring nearly 200,000 and making 3.5 million people homeless in 56,000 square kilometres of rugged and remote terrain, six weeks before the Himalayan winter was due to set in. I was sent by the UN to help set up the massive international relief effort in coordination with the Pakistan military. We need to remember this was during the time of General Musharaf’s so called ‘dictatorship’ although it really wasn’t that.

The Pakistan Army were magnificent to work with. They were open, genuinely concerned for their people and made great efforts to support their population over the entire winter period. Hats off to them. They were really great.

Amongst the top players was then Major General (now Lt General retired) Nadeem Ahmed who is a rolled gold human being. He was caring about his people and was in charge of the military wing of the relief. He was also Vice Chief of General Staff and a helicopter pilot. In the early days the relief we would find ourselves flying through the Himalayas in his helicopter overseeing the distribution of aid. It was beautiful terrain and a difficult period, but we managed to forge amazingly good partnerships between aid workers and military contingents from many countries. It really was good.

You did some incredible work with the UN, in particular you brought up the example of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake humanitarian mission. How did communication and leadership result in this being one of the most successful humanitarian efforts in history?

Building on the above answer I think you have hit the nail on the head. Here we all were, foreign aid workers, foreign military, Pakistan military, local civil society groups and many others. Somehow we had to come up with a common operational plan to ensure that those 3.5 million would survive winter in damaged and destroyed towns and villages.

The key to that is leadership and communication.

General Nadeem and I came up with the concept of ’non-interfering coordination’, a concept we have since been published on, as a way of focusing the disparate players on the one goal of saving lives. We needed to understand all the different players, their working methodologies, their capacities and their cultures and through a mechanism of field coordination hubs and constant communications we succeeded in keeping this diverse team together and did deliver unbelievably successful results.

We had an interesting discussion surrounding why multi-national organisations are reaping the benefits of a well-designed corporate social responsibly programme. What message do you give audiences who struggle to understand the benefit?

I think the term ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ is a misnomer. Any company that wants to succeed over the long term needs to understand its employees, its customers and the communities in which it operates. Good corporate behaviour is not just about CSR, it is about risk management and asset protection.

Companies that have genuinely good relationships with their local communities, not just marketing tripe, have measurably lower risk of operations and therefore risk adjusted returns are better. So good behaviour leads to higher valuations and better long term survivability for companies.

So Community relations is not just about ‘giving back’, it is about the very survival of the company itself and the protection of shareholder value. If you doubt that then I have two letters for you: V and W. The VW diesel scandal has shown how much shareholder value can be lost by poor ethical decision making in companies.

You spoke about the rise of China being the return of China. How do you see this in the current geo political context, and especially with regards to a post-Brexit Britain?

Absolutely. This isn’t just about the so called rise of China. It is much bigger than that. The period in history we are living through now is ’the sixth great human tradition’. This is a once in a few centuries fundamental shift in power from one culture to another. We are the first generation of humans in history that can be fully aware of the transition and can prepare for the opportunities and risks that result - so long as we are aware of what is really going on. For Britain, chasing to leave the EU at this time provides further risks and opportunities. If Britain focuses on trying to return to ‘how it used to be’ then Brexit will be a catastrophic failure. However, if Britain analyses ‘how the world will be’ and carves an identity to match the future world, not a utopian past, then maybe they can make a success of Brexit.

Britain will not engage with a future China with gun boats and opium wars. It will not take back Hong Kong. So what will it do? What and how will the government do to position Britain and what is the corporate sector’s role in shaping that future?

If there was one message that you’d want an audience to take away from your speech, what would it be?

'I never thought about things that way'. I love to give different and new perspectives that make people think, but also give them a way of thinking that can refine their future plans for greater benefit.

And finally Andrew, what’s next for you?

I have a great portfolio career at the moment and always looking to add a directorship or two. I also have to fulfil my life’s objective of visiting every country in the world. I am at 152 so far, so I have a few to go. But visiting is not just looking at the immigration desk. It is about spending time in a country and learning something about the people and culture with an objective of linking the country into a future global narrative. Despite all the change, remember that we ‘can not plan for the status quo’. There is no such thing as a ’steady state’. We must keep learning and keep looking out for evolving risks and opportunities.

Thank you for answering these questions Andrew, we look for to following you on all the wonderful places to plan to visit and seeing how you will next challenge the status quo!

For further information or to book Andrew MacLeod, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070  or email .

Newsletter Sign Up

If you liked this article then why not sign up to our newsletters? We promise to send interesting and useful interviews, tips and blogs, plus free event invites too.

Speakers Corner Newsletter

* indicates required

Have an enquiry?

Send us a message online and we'll respond within the hour during business hours. Alternatively, please call us our friendly team of experts on +44 (0) 20 7607 7070.

Speakers Corner (London) Ltd,
Ground and Lower Ground Floor,
5-6 Mallow Street,