Master’s Degree in Business Administration, International University of Japan, Minami Uonuma

Bachelor’s Degree in Science, Sherubtse College, Delhi University, Kanglung, Bhutan


Dari, Dzongkha, English, Hindi, Japanese, Nepali and Urdu

My duty station is in the high mountains of the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region in central Afghanistan. Our office is at an altitude of around 2,600 meters, nothing like the desk jobs in New York, Bangkok and Geneva that most people associate with the United Nations. My fellow officers and I live together in a guesthouse, where we manage all our own living arrangements. Since coming here I’ve developed a love for cooking, maybe because it is so remote and cold - minus 40ºC in the winter - and sitting around the dinner table with my colleagues is a great way to get to know each other, and understand the different skills we bring to the mission.

But working in an isolated place like this is not so unfamiliar to me. I grew up in a small village in the Himalayas. My parents are farmers who grow ginger, paddy and raise cows. I spent a decade as a government officer in remote regions far from the capital just like the one I grew up in, and got to know all the trials and challenges that provincial governments face, like making a budget stretch and settling disputes.

But I have an entrepreneurial spirit, and something was missing from my work with the Government. So in 2000 I enrolled in an MBA at the International University of Japan, then returned to Bhutan to set up a management consulting company. I moved around the country helping local communities set up development projects, but I wanted to travel overseas. So I applied to the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) regional branch in Malaysia. Since then, consulting roles with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) have taken me from Laos, to Indonesia, to the Maldives, and all over the Asia-Pacific. One of my favorite experiences was developing a project in the Cook Islands, when the small tropical nation needed help strengthening its island economy through jobs and other support services. I can’t imagine a greater contrast to Afghanistan, but the trust and rapport I had to develop with the community there were just the same.

I’ve been with the United Nations for over three years now, and I’ve learned that being a civil affairs officer is about building trust, particularly in fractured communities where that trust has been eroded by conflict. At the Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), our mandate is to support the Afghan Government in its efforts to improve security, governance and economic development. We have some 1500 staff, around 80 per cent of whom are Afghan nationals, stationed throughout the country.

My task has been to work with governors, mayors and provincial councilors, to help them lead their communities more effectively. The best way for me to do that is by developing strong personal relationships. Every community is different, and you have to listen carefully in order to truly understand what each one needs.

In the past, people have been reluctant to vote in elections, or seek help from institutions, because they didn’t believe that they could trust them. But with our help people have come to understand that they have a right to participate in government, and that these institutions exists to serve them.

A big part of fostering that belief has been passing on the United Nations’ ideals of integrity and service to the government officials around me. Seeing local civil servants I work with take charge of their country’s future, motivates me to continue as a global civil servant with the United Nations.

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