Interview with Gabriella s. Buescher: use your twenties to explore different paths.


Ida Yordi Bredal, 27-11-2015.

Gabriella S. Buescher is the Chief of political office at the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission – UN Regional Office for West Africa, Dakar.

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Gabriella S. Buescher on fieldwork. 

In brief Gabriella is a Director-level senior expert with over 20 years of experience in humanitarian action, emergency preparedness and response, protection, political affairs, resilience and transition. The United Nations Office for West Africa is the first regional conflict prevention and peace building office of the United Nations. Created in 2002 it has as a mission to enhance the contributions of the UN towards achieving peace and security in West Africa. It helps promote the importance of good governance and respect towards the rule of law. It protects human rights and gender in conflict prevention and management in West Africa and helps good border relations between Cameroon and Nigeria. Boko Haram in the sub-region has complicated the work but they are now pursuing confidence building and development projects of communities along the border.

As a woman who has travelled the world, and dedicated her life to development and cooperation, i was curious of Gabriella’s personal choices that led her to where she is today. Which sacrifices that had entailed, how she had known which path to choose and when to trust her instincts.

Gabriella studied Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, and Political Philosophy at Queen’s University in Canada; in 2000, when she was working for UNICEF in New York she decided to go back for a second Master’s—she started part-time and then took a one-year leave of absence from the UN to finish the MIA in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, as a Fellow in the Conflict Resolution Office.

When she studied journalism, it was with the goal of eventually working in the US Foreign Service but later she decided she wanted to work for an international organization instead. After her MA in Canada, she moved to NYC in her early twenties and tried to join the UN in NYC, but realized she needed ‘field experience’ and so started as a JPO for Italy at the UNESCO Regional Office in Nairobi, Kenya. She loved Nairobi but saw that one of the best agencies was UNICEF and after a year in NBI, UNICEF offered her a regular post in Mogadiscio. Somalia. From there she transferred to UNICEF NYHQ to work as an editor, and had the opportunity of going on a mission for a few months to Baghdad, Iraq. There, she met her ex-husband (who followed her to NYC) and found two other passions: emergency humanitarian work and photography. She still pursues both. She just published a photography book with five other photographers on their work in Iceland.

She has since been in several emergencies for the UN system, from working in the bush in Angola and Sudan, to running the OCHA office in Haiti; from running the human rights program for the UN Peace Keeping mission in Cote d’Ivoire to leading the UNICEF New York HQ response to the Haiti earthquake. She is currently working in a more political post in West Africa.

Gabriella has always followed her instincts and chased the next challenge. She has not had a linear career, and this might not be for everyone she says. When asked for advice for a student studying international relations interested in a career in development and cooperation, she says that she’s learned that by having such a career in the field in several countries, it makes it harder to have easy promotions and to have a career-private life balance. Yet, she might not have been considered for high level Director posts now if she had not had a wide range of experience in terms of Agency, location, and focus of work. The wide experience in four continents and with different agencies has provided her with the know-how to do coordination and evaluation work successfully.  One pays the price both in terms of career and love life, living such a nomadic life, but she has always taken chances in both areas, and still does. She has been lucky to have been married twice, to have met men who followed her (and still do), to have great friends in several countries, but has waited to have a family until now when she is ready.

In terms of career choices, follow your passion, follow your heart and you will do well, she advices. She is glad to have worked in challenging contexts such as Somalia, Iraq and Colombia when she was in her twenties and early thirties. It shaped the person she has become and it provided her with valuable work and life lessons. She also took chances leaving jobs that felt restricted her and choose some that she thought she could grow with; she took chances ending UN contracts and going back to school or working for an NGO, learned a new language or traveled. If there is a lesson she would like to share it is this: of course, try to be strategic in a tough and competitive market, but also use your twenties to explore different paths, learn about yourself; take chances, be courageous!

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