Scholar Profile - Hichem Demortier PDF Print E-mail
Hichem Demortier


Acting Executive Director at National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre

Recipient of the 2016 Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non-Profit Leadership, funded by the Origin Foundation and supported by the Australian Scholarships Foundation

What sort of work does your organisation do?

The National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC), the Australian Government’s centre for medical emergency preparedness and response, is recognised for its operational expertise demonstrated in recent emergencies: typhoon Haiyan in 2013, Ebola preparedness in 2014, cyclone Pam and Nepal earthquake in 2015, Cyclone Winston in 2016.

The NCCTRC has two operational arms: the trauma service of the Royal Darwin Hospital, and the disaster preparedness and response. These operational arms are underpinned by its education and research portfolio: trauma, major medical incidents and medical emergency deployment.

Describe a typical day's work.

There is no such thing as a typical day, as our activities vary a lot. One day we’ll be preparing the delivery of an Australian Medical Assistance Team (AusMAT) course: with 24 people joining from Australia for a week, I may be asked to play a not so friendly immigration officer or a rebel fighter. Another day we’ll be receiving the Governor of Bali, or recently the Prime Minister, and present them our Emergency Operations Centre and our warehouse. The following day I’ll be travelling interstate (knowing any trip takes four hours from Darwin…) to the National Health Emergency Management Standing Committee.

Some calmer days will involve regular meetings with the teams to follow-up on our operational plan, engage with our NT stakeholders such as Charles Darwin University or Royal Darwin Hospital.

Please describe the project / research you will be undertaking in the US as part of your Fulbright scholarship? What do you hope to achieve?

The NCCTRC is recognised by the WHO for its operational expertise and excellence. The WHO organised the first ever Emergency Medical Team Coordination course in Darwin in October 2015.

The NCCTRC now needs to strengthen its education and research arms, with a focus on resilience and regional capacity building. An ideal way to achieve this objective is to partner with the world’s leading humanitarian academic institution: the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI).

I will spend four months at Harvard University from August to November 2016 to establish a formal partnership with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. During my stay, I will create new professional networks and consolidate my humanitarian expertise. I will enrol in the not-for-profit courses of the Harvard Kennedy School to develop my leadership skills. We will prepare a funding proposal to develop the disaster resilience of our neighbouring countries, and develop a research portfolio to understand the determinants of quality of care in sudden onset disasters.

The following outcomes are expected:

  1. Strengthen the relationship between the Northern Territory / Australia and the USA, through a strong partnership between Harvard University and the NCCTRC. This partnership will foster future academic exchange programs between the US and Australia.
  2. Consolidate Northern Australia’s position as a regional hub for emergency response. First, it will anchor the NCCTRC in the Northern Territory. It will also contribute to the development of Charles Darwin University (CDU). Finally, it will create a new medical research arm at Menzies School of Health Research..

How did you come to be working in the not-for-profit sector?

I am the product of a French public servant father and Algerian Muslim mother, who worked as a teacher and social worker with children from disadvantaged migrant families. From them I inherited a strong social conscience and a clear appreciation of how fortunate I was.

In 1999, I read an article about elections in Sierra Leone, and the strategy of the rebels to cut off the arms of civilians to prevent them from voting. I remember being so moved that I decided to resign from my job in Mergers and Acquisitions, and to join the French Development Agency. This started my journey in the not-for-profit sector and I have served in management or executive positions in not-for-profit organisations for 15 years, with a focus on humanitarian and emergency response.

After seven field missions with MSF in Asia, Africa and the Middle-East, I served on the board of MSF Australia and several MSF international platforms over 5 years. I am currently Acting Executive Director of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC).

What do you feel is most needed to sustain and build the impact of the not-for-profit sector?

Improve the performance and communication around the performance of existing NFP. Improve the accountability around the use of public funding and donor money. This implies strong boards, with a variety of skills, to lead the performance and accountability agenda.

Find ways to support small NFPs, who can’t afford some of the expensive courses, or can’t find the right calibre and diversity of board members.

Develop social enterprises as a model to increase impact without requiring massive additional funding. In France, many social enterprises have a positive “$ ROI” of 2 or more. That’s just cash in of $2 for each $ invested by the government (through taxes, savings on unemployment benefits, etc.), before looking at harder to quantify benefits.

Engage with private companies to bring a “NFP ethos” in the decision making and resource allocation processes. Some global companies do it, in India for example. Employing people with a disability should ideally be normal for any organisation, rather than be made compulsory by law. This implies that private companies and governments embrace their “corporate social responsibility” and see the value it brings to their organisation, but also to the whole society. If you look at history of private companies, the focus on ROI for shareholders has not always been the sole or main focus. The social role is also a competitive advantage of supporting local economy and communities through employment, as recently demonstrated by Porter in his review of US competitivity after the wave of delocalisations of the last 30 years.

What is something interesting / unique / unusual about you?

It doesn’t make me “unique”, but I tick a lot of minority boxes, as a left-handed Algerian-French-Australian with a thick French accent (despite 7 years in Australia).

In addition to being very privileged, I am also very lucky. During a MSF mission in Nigeria, I was supposed to be in a plane that crashed in Port Harcourt in 2005. All passengers died. When I feel a bit down, I try to remember that it could have all ended on a tarmac several thousand miles away from home, as it did for two colleagues. And that some of the “problems” I struggle with are not such big issues. It works quite often!

Click here to read about other ASF scholars.

Click here to read more about the Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non Profit Leadership.

"I am the product of a French public servant father and Algerian Muslim mother, who worked as a teacher and social worker with children from disadvantaged migrant families. From them I inherited a strong social conscience and a clear appreciation of how fortunate I was."


In 2016, Hichem was awarded a Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Nonprofit Leadership (funded by the Origin Foundation and supported by the Australian Scholarships Foundation).

With his Fulbright scholarship, Hichem will spend four months at Harvard University and will establish a formal partnership between the NCCTRC and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. This partnership, as well as the existing partnership with the World Health Organisation, will position the NCCTRC and Northern Australia as the regional centre for health emergency response in the Asia-Pacific region.


Annual revenue / size:

Large - $5m - $25m pa

Segment of NFP sector:


Operating in:

NT and overseas deployments