Meet Radhia Achouri
When did you join the UN (year or time period)?
I joined the UN in March 2003
Why did you join the UN?
International relations, world affairs and multilateralism have always been a passion of mine. Prior to joining the UN, I was a diplomat for my country. Multilateral diplomacy was my field of expertise in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including six years with the permanent Mission of my country to the UN in New York. That posting in the “Mecca” of multilateral diplomacy did it for me, in terms of where I wanted to belong work-wise. The UN is the place to keep humanity humane, and I believe in its Charter and its ideals. I wanted to be part of making them a reality, even at the smallest of scales. It is still the most rewarding feeling.
What is your main motivation to work in UN peace operations?
For me, it’s the “roll-up your sleeves” and get busy in the field part. To translate what is in UN Security Council Resolutions into reality and interface with the people we are meant to serve. It is one thing to read about a people, a country, a conflict and the suffering going on, and it is totally another thing to actually be there and do what you can to help, to listen, to understand, and to learn how you can be helpful from the actual people you are supposed to be helping during times of trial and tribulation.
Do you have a personal habit or trait that has been critical for your success?
I come from a developing country and a poor one, by today’s standards in a rural family and area. I grew up in places where most people are illiterate and live in difficult conditions. I can relate to such realties in the countries where I have served, but I can also see that these realities can change by shear will of the individual, the community, or the people. Additionally, I am very curious and I always try to understand what goes on around me. This keeps helping me do what I do with the UN. And finally, I do not give up! I am borderline stubborn -- resilient to keep up with the UN language. I owe this to the fact that I had to struggle every step of the way throughout my life as a female in a fairly conservative society coming from a modest background. And if there one thing to do when working with the UN, it is to never give up, never let hurdles and setbacks stop you, and to always look for a solution instead of problems -- no matter how complex and overwhelming the challenges may be.
Is there anything about working in this field that you did not expect when starting?
Honestly, I expected that I would become blasé at some point, that I would lose my passion or belief in the usefulness of what the UN does in maintaining, keeping and building and rebuilding peace. It never happened, even if some days are harder than others, especially when I have to complete reports on very emotionally difficult situations.
What is a typical work day like for you?
A typical day begins when all my plans for the day are changed from the start due to developments on the ground. The crisis du jour needs to be addressed immediately and overtakes everything else. There are meetings to develop our response, conference calls to the teams in the regions. Meanwhile, the whole day is punctuated with interviews to the media and drafting and editing communication materials.
What’s special about working in UN Peace Operations?
Working with a UN Peace Operation means that you are part of setting or adjusting the course of a part of the history of a people, of a country, and sometimes, the people of a whole region. As such, it feels like a tremendous responsibility, and it is indeed. But it so rewarding to extend a hand to someone who needs it. By the end of the day, the UN will not be relevant if it did not act in the countries where it is needed. And peace is at the centre of everything in life. Without it, nothing can be built: societies, economic growth, prosperity and well-being. It is indeed the noblest common cause there is to humanity and the UN is the only entity in the world that can shoulder such responsibility.
What are the most important lessons that you would like to share with anyone interested in pursuing an international development career?
One: dare to think, to share ideas, to ask questions and dream and always dream big. Never underestimate the impact you can make. When I first joined the UN, I was intimidated by the hierarchy and the CVs of UN officials and titles. I thought who am I to even rub shoulders with these people? A short while after, I discovered that all the UN literature, rules, procedures, and its way of working are the product of actual regular people such as myself who took the time to research what is needed, thought outside the box, created new boxes and kept adjusting them to changing realities or even set all boxes aside and used creative flexible solutions.
Two: consider your experience with the UN as a perpetual learning curve.
Three: always listen and humility is the asset that will serve you best.
Four: be persistent. Never give up. Peace and stability are not objectives to be achieved overnight and in the best of worlds there are always setbacks and frustrations. But when you know that your organisation made it possible for a child to have access to food, to vaccines, to shelter, to school and for families, and children to sleep soundly through the night without fear for their lives, it makes it all worth it.
Tell us the story about what you consider as your biggest reward during your career? Or proudest moment?
I am always proud of what the UN achieves. People do not know how much of a difference the UN does on daily basis particularly in post-conflict countries or unstable countries in general. I am the proudest when the team I work with scores an achievement. It is such an exciting and fulfilling task to bring a team together from diverse backgrounds and help them dig out the best in what they have in terms of skills and have them work together in a complementary way. But my proudest moments are the ones when as a team (in a public information office), we put our heads together to come up with a way to give voice to the people of the countries where I have served. To help them talk to each other when only yesterday they were shooting at each other. We did this through the radio and outreach campaigns. I am equally proud of giving a voice, again together with my radio team, to victims of human right abuses of all kinds and to break the taboo around abuses such as rape and sexual violence.
Looking at MINUSMA, where you currently work. Why did you choose to work for MINUSMA?
I have joined MINUSMA less than a year after its deployment. I wanted to be part of the early phases of the life of the Mission and help develop the structure of the communications component of a Mission that had all the potential contribute to stabilizing the whole of the Sahel region. The situation in Mali is one of the most complex ones, with terrorism and asymmetric warfare taking place. Therefore, it was and still is one of the most challenging missions of the UN. But most importantly, the overwhelming majority of Malians genuinely reject extremism and violence. They just need a hand to prevail against those who threaten peace and stability in the country. I wanted to be part of the UN effort to address the new challenges the UN faces in the peacekeeping area.
What do you believe is the most important skill(s) needed for a career in UN Peace Operations?
Before talking about skills, I believe that a high sense of integrity is a must. We need to remember that the UN is about the people and serving the people. In terms of skills, one needs to have what is required to do the job at first but one needs to be creative, to be open to learning, to always challenge oneself to do better as no one knows it all, and to be strong in teamwork. Obviously, communication is critical to success in the UN.
We know that many of our followers would like to hear some advice on how to get a job with MINUSMA. Do you have any good tips to share?
Follow our website (MINUSMA website) and our MINUSMA Facebook page to learn more about the work of peacekeeping in Mali. Also, do not get intimated by UN careers website, apply and ask for help if you need help.
Tell us about your work? What is your core mandate/mission?
I am the head of the Strategic Communication and Public Information Office of MINUSMA and also the Mission’s spokesperson. In a nutshell, my work is about explain what the Mission is set to do, what it does, how it does it. We also support the Government in promoting support to the peace process, and the implementation of the peace agreement. Obviously, there is also the management of crisis communication side. This includes addressing sexual exploitation and abuse and other misconduct cases by the Mission’s personnel.
How are you achieving it?
Through 4 components:
1) Interaction with the media (press briefings, interviews, organized press trips etc);
2) Outreach, by organizing meetings and exchanges with communities in areas where the Mission is deployed, especially with youth and women. These meetings are meant also to listen to the people and their concerns, their needs and how they want to be assisted.
3) Digital media (Facebook, twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, MINUSMA website). We publish a variety of informational material but we also engage with followers and audiences in discussions about the work of the Mission and related matters.
4) Radio Mikado that broadcasts in the capital and five regions of the countries (the north and the centre of the country where MINUSMA is deployed). The radio is our most effective tool to communication in Mali. Radio is still the first source of information for Malians due to multiple reasons such as illiteracy, lack of access to electricity and internet. But most importantly, our radio, beyond covering and explaining MINUSMA and the UN family work in Mali, is open to all international community partners, Malian authorities, the parties to the Peace agreement, civil society figures and to actual citizens who call in to share their stories, views, and contribute to the national reconciliation process.
Can you share with us a story or personal experience of how your work made a difference for the people of the country in which you are working?
My work (communication) does not influence directly on daily lives of people. However, part of it does. For instance, advertising the hot line to call in case of human rights abuses helped many victims, advertising the hot line for sexual exploitation and abuse did help victims as well, campaigns organized in support of UN Mine Action Service on the threat of unexploded ordinances, mines and IEDs helped save children. The quick impact projects that my office initiated to support community radio stations helped communities in getting information on timely basis, in some instances information that prevented violence from happening. Mostly, and at the risk of repeating myself, our radio helped disputing groups and their supporters talk to each other, which we are hoping will go a long way in fostering reconciliation. The same with victims of human rights abuses, women and girls in particular: they have a voice with our radio and they can speak for themselves and they can talk to the authorities concerned as well as those who can provide them with support (physical and psychological). I believe that’s made quite a difference.
Tell us about a recent success you’re proud of.
The quick impact projects we initiated in support of community radio stations in three regions in the north and the one coming up in the centre (Mopti). This support is crucial to enable communities to be connected again to the each other and the rest of the country. I am proud of the work of our radio team in covering the Conference d’Entente Nationale, a major event that brought all Malians together to discuss and agree on the Mali they want to shape and that is home for all Malians. Our work was in fact in support of the Malian authorities and we took the lead in organizing a partnership with over 40 Malians radios to keep Malians throughout the country fully informed of this event, 24/7, in their local languages.