South-South volunteering builds management skills in Mozambique and Brazil

12 September 2018
Patrick Newton
I got the opportunity to serve as a United Nations Volunteer from March 2014 to April 2018. During this period I served in two duty stations: Mozambique (Numpula) and Brazil (Brasilia). In both, I served as Associate Programme Officer, the main focal point for assessments, planning, budgeting, monitoring and reporting at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
UN Volunteer Patrick Newton (Ghana) served in Mozambique and Brazil as UNV Associate Programme Officer with UNHCR.
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Prior to my UNV assignment, I worked with the UNHCR representation in Ghana as a national staff member, thus UNV presented an excellent opportunity and platform to further develop a career in programme management in that it afforded me an opportunity to work and learn from more experienced colleagues. I was also particularly excited about international UNV as it was a platform where I could gain experience and knowledge of humanitarian response within the UN, particularly UNHCR.

Following my short experience working in Ghana, when the UNHCR Representation responded to the Ivorian crisis and influx into Ghana, I felt like the humanitarian response to displaced persons is one of the most important interventions in the world.

It felt worthwhile to build shelters to host displaced persons, partner with others to ensure the provision of basic needs and essential services to be a part of the team that worked to ensure that the rights and dignity of refugees and asylum seekers were still kept intact while they looked for new homes, new opportunities and return home where circumstances permitted.  

During my time in Mozambique, I worked closely with the Head of Office and a very small programme team to build and maintain and an efficient project management system. My colleagues and I developed monitoring tools for effective monitoring of projects implemented directly by UNHCR and with government and non-governmental organization partners.

UNV presented an excellent opportunity and platform to further develop a career in programme management...  it afforded me an opportunity to work and learn from more experienced colleagues [and] gain experience and knowledge of humanitarian response within the UN, particularly UNHCR.

My role required planning for the needs of refugees and asylum seekers and ensuring intervention programmes remained relevant. This meant that during planning sessions, I met cross-sections of refugees and asylum seekers to involve them in the identification of problems, outlining needs and prioritizing responses. I also implemented multi-functional monitoring exercises where I and the team had to go to refugee communities, observe and engage in dialogue with refugees in efforts to measure the progress on achivements of set objectives and where needed revise plans.

This level of interaction with population of concern were especially useful and relevant not only as part of efforts to ensure that resources were used for intended purposes and results were being achieved but it also fostered trust and partnership between UNHCR and persons of concern who are not viewed only as ‘beneficiaries’ but  as actual 'right bearers' and partners. As a young volunteer my presence in the field on these important consultative planning processes and monitoring exercise would go to foster this trust and partnership.  

One of the major challenges in the provision of assistance to over 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers is the management and coordination of response measures. The proper coordination of all partners and stakeholders to ensure the timely delivery of goods and services, shared responsibility and accountability was therefore one of the major objectives for the team.

To this end, I led the team to institute regular coordination meetings with all stakeholders and partners including refugee leadership.  These sessions were not only for reporting and planning but also for trainings and workshops.My second UNV assignment took me to Brazil, where I provided training to over 80 UNHCR staff and external partners on key underlying principles of partnership-building and maintenance, results-based management, implementation of projects, accountability and reporting.

I was also able to complete several learning programmes and enhance my skills during my UNV assignments. For example, Programme Management for Managers was a nine-month online certified course that I found particularly useful and relevant for my career.  This included intensive self study and a one-week workshop in Geneva.

I also had the opportunity to take French language lessons on the Rosetta Stone online learning programme. Costs for these programmes were borne by UNHCR and UNV. All I had to do was to enroll and study; an opportunity I appreciated. 

Following my experience with the UN Volunteer programme, I am now serving as a Programme Officer UNHCR.