2009 - Yuichiro Sakai, Programme Officer in Governance with UNDP in Sierra Leone since September 2007, shares with us his experience and insights.
Patience & Persistency
Where are you from?
I was born in Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan. After living in few different places in Japan, I moved with my family to the U.S. when I was 14.
What is your background?
After studying Political Science and Spanish at university in the U.S., I worked for a Toyota group international trading company for a few years (import, export, and sales of steel!). Working in the private sector was a great experience as I had a fantastic supervisor and colleagues, and learned the basics of international business and how to be a professional. Then I went to Washington, DC for graduate studies in Development Management before I took up the JPO assignment in Sierra Leone in September 2007.
What has been your assignment as a JPO?
As a Programme Officer in Governance Unit at UNDP Sierra Leone, I have designed and implemented projects within Governance portfolio. The first year was focused on implementing projects funded by UN Peacebuilding Fund which supports the most pressing needs of conflict-affected countries to kick-start development efforts in order to prevent the countries from relapsing into conflict, and Sierra Leone was selected as one of two pilot countries. These included projects that supported the National Human Rights Commission, National Electoral Commission, and the security sector.In addition, from the second year, I have been supporting the Open Government Initiative which is creating a platform where the Government and the ordinary people can directly dialogue through town hall meetings in districts and interactive radio/TV programs.
Which random words come to your mind when thinking about your JPO years?
Management of uncertainty, teamwork, innovation, persistency, patience
In what way do you think your JPO assignment has shaped your career?
I have been very fortunate to get the exact job that I wanted to have as JPO. I wanted to work for the UNDP in a post-conflict country in the area of governance. While very challenging and complex, this has been a great learning opportunity and very rewarding. I would like to continue to work at the field level in similar areas as the UN will continue to have comparative advantages in these areas.
What are your major lessons learned during your JPO assignment in terms of professional growth, career planning and opportunities?
I think I should continue to pursue a job that I can be passionate, excited and curious about. I should also continue to try things that look interesting as that will open doors for professional opportunities and personal growth. I have also learned to be patient and persistent. In Yuichiro Sakaiany job, and especially in development, it takes a while for results to show. So we cannot be easily discouraged but have to keep on believing and trying.
What is your motivation to work in the field of development?
The belief that poverty and inequality in a world of abundance and technological advancement is unacceptable. Processes of development and international relations also fascinate me. I also like travelling to places I have not been and meeting new cultures and people. Finally, when the work I support is contributing to a positive change or appreciated by community members, that is very rewarding.
Most enriching professional achievement so far?
With one of the projects I am supporting, Open Government Initiative, one of the main activities is to take the government, representatives from the Presidency, Parliament and Judiciary, to the districts to have face-to-face meetings with the ordinary community people on their daily developmental concerns in a town hall meeting setting. This initiative has been appreciate both by the people and the government. For example, this was the first time that the Sierra Leoneans in some districts were able to meet and talk to their Parliamentarians since the elections in 2007. Surveys have shown that these question, answer discussion sessions are improving the people`s perception of government transparency and accountability. It is great to know that the work you are supporting is contributing to a positive change no matter how small.
What kind of advice would you give to JPOs?
I think who you work with, your supervisor and colleagues, is almost as important as what you do. Everything you do at work, you will be doing with your colleagues, so you can see how important this is. This is something to think about when seeking a new position. It is also good to meet with and talk to many people with experience as they can provide guidance. Finally, I recommend going to a JPO workshop. You will meet many interesting people.
By the way...
Your crowning glory:
Friends. Many good memories and more to come I am sure. Too bad I cannot see them as much as I like, but I try to visit as much as I can.
The last favourite book you read:
A Whole New Mind. A very interesting book by Daniel H. Pink about how technology, automation and globalization are changing the way we live and work. It is no longer enough to rely on our left brains, but we have to also develop the right brain that can empathize, think holistically and create. The book also offers a useful and fun guide to develop 6 senses of story, design, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.
Behind the suit:
I like watching and playing different kinds of sports. Here, I play soccer and golf, and go for a jog on the beach sometimes. There is a golf course in Freetown, so I am taking this opportunity to improve my game. I also enjoy travelling and exploring new countries.
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Difficult times and bad things will happen to everybody. What you do at those moments makes you the person you are.
UN is where the best ideas of the mankind should be advanced. Of course, there is a gap between where we should be and the realities that we face. It is up to each one of us to bring positive changes and narrow this gap. I have met many people in the UN, many of them fellow JPO colleagues, that are working hard to improve the realities.