Sometimes policy development work feels far removed from the actual impacts its implementation has on people’s lives. But, it does make a difference in changing people’s mindsets. Helping to improve the understanding of decision makers about the links between environmental degradation and poverty can impact millions of people. Therefore, the way development policies are developed and funding is allocated, can improve future prospects for the world’s poor. This is the work I am involved in on daily basis at the United Nations.
I am an agricultural economist by training, with a background in academia. I had a vision of becoming a well respected and established lecturer in my home country of Kenya, but the United Nations took me away in a new, fulfilling direction. I joined the United Nations system as a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Europe and Africa nine years ago. At first, my goal was to use my policy skills in the field, however, my immersion in such a multicultural, diverse and driven work environment equipped me with so much more than I ever could have expected.
One of the most gratifying aspects of working with the United Nations is working with national governments and civil societies in project countries. It is a privilege to be viewed as a trusted friend and impartial advisor on important areas of development. I believe in collective action at community, national and international levels to achieve common goals. When you work for the United Nations, you do not just work for yourself; everything you do impacts the entire world around you.
The Poverty and Environment Africa Team, where I work, is small. We are seven people, and we each have responsibilities related to supporting country-level poverty and environment related initiatives. This means that our small team must work with much larger teams in programme countries. In order to work well, our group carries out its tasks with mutual respect and close collaboration. Strong communication is certainly key.
Respect for diversity is paramount in my work both within my team and the organization as a whole, as well as in the countries where I work. In any situation, a solid understanding of my colleague or partner’s world view and perspective helps in ensuring good communication - being able to understand and be understood. Promoting understanding is vital to working with so many diverse stakeholders.
My main objective is to help my partners - government officials, civil society and academics - have a broad understanding of the multiple dimensions of poverty. This is not just the lack of income but also the lack of opportunities to improve human well-being. These include health, education, a degraded environment, and the ability to participate in the decision-making process. I do this by showing that it is impossible to have sustainable economic growth without investing in a healthy environment and human capital.
I use various studies, assessment tools and presentations to show the high dependence of the poor on what they are provided by the environment and natural resources. I also give advice on strengthening existing processes for planning, investing and development monitoring; this is to highlight the benefits of investing in poverty reduction and a healthy environment.
My work with the United Nations has taken me around the globe. I have lived in four countries—Italy, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya—since starting in 1999. I have also worked on projects in Uganda and Botswana.
This is hard work with demanding travel and office time. I try to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle in order to stay focused and emotionally stable. I love to cook, read, listen to music and go on nature walks. When I am not in the office, I try to forget all about work and unwind with my family. I have a daughter who is almost four years old, and who enjoyed the first few years of her life in two different countries. I think that the experience of living in different cultural environments is great for children. While it may sometimes be difficult to fit in a hectic travel schedule with raising children, having a supportive work and home environment makes it all possible. I have had great supervisors, good flexible working arrangements, and extensive family support, which has allowed me to continue with what I am good at and what I enjoy doing.