UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Guillaume Michels
Networks, Airbnb, and the United Nations
oJonathan Howard-Brand, Supply Specialist (Innovation), UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen, Denmark
Jonathan Howard-Brand, Supply Specialist (Innovation), UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen, Denmark

Tell us a bit about your background.
I am a product designer by trade, but more of an engineer who knows how things works rather than make them look pretty. E.g. I have designed machinery that flavours Pringle chips, shred cheese or release fire doors when there is a fire.

What do you do?
All sorts. My role at the SD Innovation Unit is very varied, but overall I would say I am a project manager managing different product innovation projects, whether that be in the development of TORs, hiring team members, creating funding proposals or liaising with developers and suppliers.

What’s your working day like?
Extremely varied. Things can change day to day being a project manager, but I am lucky enough to have my focus on two main areas – my Acute Respiratory Infection Diagnostic Aid (ARIDA) project looking at diagnosing pneumonia through respiratory rate devices, and being involved in the R&D of diagnostics and vaccines for Zika. A lot of my day is spent liaising with the different stakeholders involved in the management and development of the projects.

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
I am involved in the development of products that help children around the world.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
When I was a kid I wanted to be a bin man – they had cool machinery! Then I wanted to be an airline pilot. They also have cool machinery.

How/when did you join UNICEF?
I joined UNICEF from the private sector in November 2010, primarily to move to Copenhagen to live with my, then girlfriend, now wife. Joining the Innovation Unit, which was so new, was a great opportunity to use my technical knowledge in a new environment.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
Knowing that the projects I work on will make a positive impact to country programmes and therefore the children we serve.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Managing the expectations of the different stakeholders, whether that be the internal Innovation Unit team, the procurement units and centres within Supply Division, different Divisions within UNICEF, or other UN organizations as well as local ministries and donors.

What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
Visiting community health workers in Uganda in 2011 to co-create an ideal tool to help with their better diagnsosis of children with pneuonmia symptoms.The input from these community health workers helped shape the ARIDA project and thus the specifications that developers are using to realise their innovations.

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
Leaving my comfortable position as Technical Director at Fireco and moving to an Assistant role, in another country, at UNICEF in 2010. There were lots of worries about professionally ‘downgrading’ but it was character building and a larger learning experience working in a huge organization.

What are your passions?
Before 2014 I would say football, go karting and cars. Now being a dad I would say family. The UNICEF mandate really comes to you once you have a child and would do anything for them. Having the opportunity to touch the lives of other children through the work you do is an amazing thing and something that adds to what we are here to do.

What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours?

  • Be patient – UNICEF has lots of rules regarding the HR process. It is a long process.
  • Don’t be afraid to take something in the organisation that isn’t what you first aimed at.
  • Learn more about what it is you actually want to do and achieve through your work with UNICEF.
  • Sell yourself in your application – we get a lot of generic applications – why are you the best!?
  • Be prepared to work outside of your comfort zone (both geographically and professionally)

Who do you look towards for inspiration?
I don’t look to a specific person but rather I look to technology for inspiration – what is new and bubbling out there can really get me excited.

My colleagues don’t know that…
I am a petrol head who can recognize cars, naming the make and model from only seeing a small section or angle of one. This is an example: http://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=guess-car-by-part-picture

UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Guillaume Michels
Networks, Airbnb, and the United Nations