Caroline Muhwezi, U-Report Nigeria Project Officer, UNICEF Nigeria, Abuja.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in a family of 5 and grew up in southern Uganda till my teenage years when my family relocated to the capital; Kampala. I spent the most part of my childhood with my dad having lost my mum at the age of 8. Thanks to my hardworking dad I was privileged to attend the best schools in Uganda for my primary and secondary school, studied law at the University and did my bar course to become an enrolled advocate for the High Court of Uganda.
What do you do?
I run U-Report in Nigeria, ensuring poll questions are created and go out to U-Reporters every week in English and four main local languages, and that U-Reporters receive them and are able to respond and receive results in time. I oversee the work of the technical partners that ensure the smooth flow of messages, SMS Aggregator, Nyaruka, Praekelt and telecom companies. Working with the National Youth Service Corps – our main partner – and other civil society and government partners, I inspire and participate in recruitment of U-Reporters from across the country and their meaningful engagement on the platform.
What’s your working day like?
I get into the office by 7:30am and leave at 5pm. I try not to have a daily routine to avoid boredom, so what I start and end with varies by the day but overall I work with the sections and external partners to get poll questions ready, work with the language translators to ensure timely poll translation, data analysts to review poll results and data clean up, partners on the partners page to ensure unsolicited messages are responded to. I occasionally meet with NYSC and train other civil society partners to boost recruitment efforts. I monitor the RapidPro platform to ensure smooth flow of sms and call up the Aggregator or contact Nyaruka in case of system failure or downtime.
How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
I would tell a 5-year-old my job gives people a chance to speak out and improve their lives and the lives of others using mobile phone messages for free.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Growing up, I wanted to be two things – a doctor like my dad, and the first female president of Uganda.
How/when did you join UNICEF?
The first time I had an encounter with UNICEF was at 15 when I was selected after an inter-school debate, to represent Ugandan children at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in New York, 14 years ago. It was a love at first sight kind-a-affair, I loved what I found in the organization that when an opportunity presented itself to become a Youth Participation consultant under Communications for Development in 2011 in Uganda, I took it straight after my Bar course. It was a childhood dream come true.
What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
The most satisfying parts of my job are seeing lives changed with a simple text message – the basis of the U-Report innovation. From young people like Fatuma, an active U-Reporter having the opportunity to represent Ugandan youth at the Rio+20 in Brazil in 2011, and being able to get their voices in the outcome document in real time, to addressing myths and misconceptions in Nigeria during the 2014 Ebola outbreak like bathing with hot water and salt to prevent the disease. I have seen the impact of 160 characters and a little more on days when the SMS are more than 1.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Making sure that each voice actually counts. My job raises a lot of expectations from the U-Reporters and its always a challenge addressing in real time all the issues raised by each one of them. I always remind myself U-Report is not a quick fix to all communication needs. Sometimes it might be faster calling the nearest police office when in danger than reporting the fire to U-Report via text to 24453.
What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
My best UNICEF experience/memory was as a teenager speaking about girl child education at Round Table 1 during the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children. When your first flight in life is all expenses paid; to attend a meeting with 400 other children and leaders from Around the world in New York, including your own President, how do you ever forget that?
What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
Leaving my family, friends, job and fun in Uganda to go toUNICEF Nigeria for a 6-month consultancy.
What are your passions?
I am passionate about children and youth participation. I hate to see young people silenced, excluded or not taken seriously simply because they are young and allegedly have less information. I strongly believe that children are the experts of children, you don’t take your teeth to a dermatologist, you go to a dentist.
What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours?
I would encourage them to be ready to take risks even though that doesn’t guarantee a better experience. I would encourage them to sail away from the safe harbour, dream and explore possibilities. Leaving my comfort zone in U-Report Uganda after 3 happy years at home, for Nigeria – a land I had mixed feelings about, was a tough decision but over one million registered users down the road 2 years later, I have more to be thankful for.
Who do you look towards for inspiration?
I look up to a couple of people for inspiration, growing up as a young woman with many dreams I looked up to Eng. Winnie Byanyima Executive Director Oxfam International, Ugandan aeronautical engineer, mother, politician, and diplomat. Currently, the constant is my dad and our awesome Chief of Health in UNICEF Nigeria Dr. Aboubacar Kampo. It helps to have good leaders at work who actually inspire you to be more and do more, some days it’s all the motivation you need to get up and go to work, especially when it gets mundane.
My colleagues don’t know that…
You can read about Caroline and other UNICEF colleagues on UNICEF’s ‘Faces of UNICEF’ Tumblr: http://facesofunicef.tumblr.com/post/138232361196/take-risks-even-though-that-doesnt-guarantee-a