2011 - Martin Hart-Hansen, current SARC (and former JPO) funded by Denmark, shares with us his experience in Nepal with UNDP.
Where are you from?
What is your background?
Masters of Economics (M.Sc. Econ) from University of Copenhagen
When and where did you work as a JPO?
UNICEF in Bhutan from 2000 to 2003 as Asst. Monitoring and Evaluation Officer
In what way has your JPO assignment shaped your career?
Working as a JPO in UNICEF confirmed my desire to work for the UN and to work in developing countries. The area of Monitoring & Evaluation became my area expertise and have been a part of all of my later assignments in one way or another. After I finished my JPO assignment in Bhutan, I continued with UNICEF for another 3 years as M&E officer in India and the Maldives.
After a break from the UN, where i tried my hand at corporate finance in the Danish private sector, it was clear that I had to get back out there and the SARC position in Nepal came at the perfect time to allow me to return to the UN and to South Asia.
What has been your assignment as a SARC so far?
I started as SARC in May 2008. The Resident Coordinator (RC) in Nepal had just changed and when I arrived he was out of the country. After 2 weeks of finding my way around the UN in Nepal I finally met the RC and it became clear that his idea about my role was somewhat different from what the Job Description I was hired against spelled out. No problem for me, I was happy to listen and to learn and I must admit that I have not looked back ever since.
My role has been clearly defined from the beginning and it has been a daily joy and inspiration to work for the RC in Nepal. Instead of a job that was heavy on UN Coordination and UNDAF, my job has been "to make the RC more effective" as he himself put it. I cover him on all his responsibilities as Resident Coordinator, as Humanitarian Coordinator, as Designated Official for Security and as UNDP Resident Representative.
I am the only staff member that has the same spread as he does and that is what makes the job so exciting. No two days are alike and tasks range from managing the RC’s schedule to writing his speeches, from preparing the ground with UN Heads of Agency on a new initiative to improve Workforce Diversity to meetings with media representatives to explain the multiple roles of the RC/HC/DO/RR. I can honestly say that I have looked forward to each day with excitement and thrill at what a great job I have.
What was the most enriching and/or challenging project that you have worked on?
Nepal is undergoing a tremendous transition that started with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006 and the Constituent Assembly Elections in April 2008. The UN in Nepal has had to transition and align itself to some new realities and has done so under the very able leadership of the Resident Coordinator.
From the very beginning of both the RC’s and my tenure in Nepal, it was clear that there were a number of uncertainties related to UN’s presence in the country. There was a political/arms monitoring mission with a time limited mandate getting short extensions of 4-6 months, there was the largest field mission anywhere in the world of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, also with a time-limited mandate and a sensitive relationship with certain national groups, there was a humanitarian coordination office that was due to close down "any time" and there was 20 some big and small UN agencies. The RC Office had 6 staff. With these uncertainties, there was increasing expectations on the RC to take the lead and steer the UN through this transition.
The RC had an idea to create a special transition setup which would integrate development, humanitarian, info management, peace building and political affairs in one office. We started developing the concept and the RC started to raise the funds for this one of a kind setup. It was important that the funds were raised from sources outside of Nepal, ie. funds that would not have reached Nepal had it not been for this initiative. UK DFID and UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention & Recovery (BCPR) came forward early on with commitments that would cover roughly 60% of the estimated cost. We have later been able to raise further funds from the Australian Government and the Swiss Government. Over an 18 month period we have expanded the office from the original 6 staff to 60 staff and 4 field offices. For more information on this exciting initiative, please visit the UN Nepal Portal at http://www.un.org.np
I am the only officer level staff who has been part of the entire development and implementation and have at times had to take on additional responsibilities as Head of the RC/HC Office for 3-4 months as staff changed. This has provided me with opportunities to develop my management skills, my conceptualisation and fund-raising skills and my operations management skills.
What is the set of skills that you had or that you developed, which were key to your assignment?
I think the key skill I have, which helped me though this period is my ability and willingness to adapt to new scenarios quickly. I have taken all the changes as opportunities to learn and develop and have never once felt it a burden. Every day has been different and that is what has been so rewarding.
What three words come to your mind, when you think about your SARC years?
Opportunities. Learning. Innovation.
Can you give a personal impression of your duty station? Is there an outstanding positive aspect which comes to your mind?
I have worked my whole career in South Asia and feel very comfortable here. Although Nepal and especially Kathmandu can seem chaotic and traffic jams and power cuts are frustrating, you learn to live with it.
Kathmandu is so full of opportunities. Culturally, it is probably the most exciting place I have worked. There are dozens of live music places, galleries with modern art exhibitions, vibrant restaurant scene with almost any world cuisine you can imagine from Russian and North Korean to French and Italian. Here are several international standard cinema halls, even one with 3D capacity, shopping malls with all the internationally known brands.
Outside Kathmandu you find some of the most extraordinary nature in the world. Beautiful retreats dot the edge of the Kathmandu valley and beyond. And then there is of course the trekking. The Annapurna Circuit, Everest Base Camp and the fabulous Solukhumbu region. Down south is the Chitwan National Park with rhinos and tigers and birds galore. You cannot get bored in Nepal.
The diversity of Nepal is what brought on the 10 year civil war, but it is also what makes this place so unique and exciting. Working here has been a treat, overall.
What was most challenging/difficult to adapt to?
The craziest traffic jams in the world continue to baffle me. It is incredible how traffic can get so completely and utterly stuck, with nobody being willing to budge just a tiny bit.
Power shortages are probably unmatched anywhere in the world. In winter we suffer with 18-20 hours of power cut per day, making it absolutely necessary to have an inverter (car batteries that can power a house) and even then, the time intervals with power are often too short to recharge the batteries properly and they run out of ‘juice’ fairly fast. This of course leaves plenty of opportunity for candle light dinners, actually candle light EVERYTHING!
But like so many things, you get used to it and adapt your routines.
What are your major lessons learned during your SARC assignment in terms of professional growth, career planning and opportunities?
There is no doubt that I have grown professionally in the last 3 years as SARC. I have rarely, if ever, said no to a new task and I have taken each day, each week, each year as an opportunity to learn.
What is your motivation to work in the field of development?
I think I have it in my blood. My parents worked for DANIDA in the early 1970s in East Africa and I spent the first 2 years of my life in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. After briefly flirting with ideas about private corporate sector, I got back to what I really wanted. To work in developing countries, where I hope my contribution can be felt. I have absolutely no plans of returning to my native Denmark. Out here is where I am happy.
What are your future career plans, if it is not too early to say?
I want to continue in the UN system and I have for the past couple of months been applying for jobs in various UN organisations, mainly UNDP/RCO, and hope that within a few months something will present itself. I will be sad to leave Nepal and the RC/HC Office, but on the other hand, it's time to move on to new challenges.
What role has your JPO/SARC assignment played in your career-related considerations?
Being a JPO back in 2000-2003 was what really made me want to make a career in the UN and the last 3 years as a SARC has only confirmed that. It is a great opportunity to get to know the UN system and to create the networks that are so crucial for further advancement.
By the way...
"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."
- Eartha Mae Kitt, American Actress & Singer, 1927-2008
Life and all the smart people I have had the good fortune to work for and with.