Guillaume Michels, Global Product Manager, Internet of Good Things (IoGT), Nairobi, Kenya
Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in a quiet part of France, surrounded by volcanoes and beautiful nature. I have been living abroad across almost all continents for either work or study. I previously worked for large organizations like Orange, a mobile network operator in one of their R&D centres in London. Most of my early professional experiences were in Innovation Marketing and Strategy. I also created a start-up to promote reading and help authors or publishers get their work discovered online. Some of the applications we built made it to the App Store’s top 10 and one application was even advertised in the Parisian subway! After this experience, I had the opportunity to join the UNICEF Innovation team and use my skills to break down barriers to information for the benefit of children.
What do you do?
I make knowledge accessible.
What’s your working day like?
On a typical morning, I would check what has happened in other time zones – whilst I was offline. If necessary, I make calls to liaise with our teams in country offices located in Asia and check on progress of IoGT. After which, I will work with country offices in the Middle East and in East and West Africa. A lot of my work also has to do with tracking product development with our technical partner based in South Africa. I review prototypes and discuss the next phase of development with our technical development team. As the day goes on, I liaise with our team in New York and end my day catching up with colleagues and our partners in Latin America and Silicon Valley. It can be quite full on to deal with so many time zones, but it’s also exciting to think that the work doesn’t stop, as when someone closes their computer someone else is getting online to continue our mission.
How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
Funnily enough, I recently discussed my work with my adorable niece Eva who just turned 5! I said something like… “Well, you see Eva I make some very basic websites – a bit like the apps you use on Daddy’s tablet – so that people can find out tips and advice to help them learn new things. We give people access to information so they can raise healthy babies, make sure children are protected from disease and don’t fall sick. Sometimes people live too far from a doctor or a school, but they have a mobile phone which allows them to receive information. With my work, I help people find useful information so they can live a longer and have a healthy life with their family.”
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be a vet, have four dogs and live in a big house in the forest wearing a leather jacket – A bit like Mc Giver but helping animals.
How/when did you join UNICEF?
I joined UNICEF 2 years ago originally for a 4-month contract in our Nairobi office, and I’ve stayed on ever since.
What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
The scale at which we can now reach and provide people with helpful information. I love the impact my work can have, for example, adolescent girls can find out the right information about puberty, sexual and reproductive health and how to protect themselves from harm and violence or find information on where to get assistance if they need it. Also my work’s ability to give young people access to information on their rights, so they can fight for them to be respected. And giving young parents some reassurance by giving tips on how to raise healthy children.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
It’s making sure that nobody gets left behind – that we indeed, reach the most vulnerable communities and disconnected areas.
What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
I remember a user testing session we ran in Rufisque, which was about 40 minutes from Dakar. We interviewed young people to get their feedback on our content and mobile product. During the session, we asked adolescents how they liked the content we had created with the Senegal office and if they were finding it relevant. Our test users were surprised by the level of localization our colleagues in Senegal had done with the content produced. They also helped us by recommending expressions that resonate with the youth like becoming a true “NandiTic” – a cool young techy person in Wolof. It was great to see their enthusiasm and hear first-hand that what we do is very relevant to them.
What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
Creating a start-up and starting from scratch when I could have followed the path of staying in a comfortable job within a large organization.
What are your passions?
Playing guitar and writing songs, going to concerts, skating, surfing, photography and of course hanging out and having great food with my awesome family and friends.
What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours?
Do what you believe in, go with your gut and let your energy and ideas lead you. Do not follow the path of least resistance. The world needs more doers, not more paper pushers. Get out there and make it happen, people will respect that and the smart ones will give you a chance and will support and join you.
Who do you look towards for inspiration?
It goes from Oscar Wilde, “life’s too important to be taken seriously” to Gandhi, “be the change you want to see in the world”, Banksy “laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge”, Serge Gainsbourg “aux armes et caetera” and the Ramones “hey ho, let’s go!”.
Geniuses are usually quite crazy people that believe in themselves and who think differently. Those who challenge the status quo are my constant source of inspiration. Ah yes, and my beautiful grandmothers too – for all their kindness and knowledge.
My colleagues don’t know that…
I took my grandma on a road trip before she got too ill so that she could visit her old friends. It’s one of the things I am most proud of doing. In our busy lives, it’s important to remember to spend time with the ones we love when we still have time to do so.