UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Tanya Bhandari
UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Yumiko Shinya

Valerie Crab, Programme Specialist / Innovation Lead at UNICEF Indonesia

Tell us a bit about your background.
Life is a moving target, and when targets change, life must adapt. So far I’ve called six countries “home” (Belgium, Hungary, Austria, USA, DRC, and Indonesia). I speak a few languages, but in my head, they’ve all become one. I studied international relations and then business administration. I worked for the private (banking and sales) and the public (OSCE, UN, UNDP and UNICEF) sector touching upon a wide array of topics/themes (freedom of expression, public relations, preventive diplomacy, human resources, climate change, marketing, administration, and more).  My background is a case-study for re-invention, and the previous ones enrich every new experience.

What do you do?
I am a Programme Specialist / Innovation Lead. I lead a team of three fantastic Indonesian UNVs who have the passion for innovating running through their blood and a consultant who does a great job at finding solutions to all our T4D dreams. Our work is heavily focused on growing the Indonesian U-reporter base through partnerships, as well as providing programme support on topics like RapidPro, Human Centered Design, data, and other innovations. We also actively reach out to Indonesian youth and start-up networks to promote innovation for child rights.

What’s your working day like?
Lots of meetings, some fun with the fantastic people in the office, scaring my supervisor with the next crazy thought. Apart from the innovation stuff, what I like is managing innovative projects, bringing innovations out of their niche and into mainstream programming to go to scale and help reach better results, and that is what I try to do on a daily basis.

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
Think Lego’s Duplo. You get a box with bricks and a picture representing what you are supposed to do with those bricks (representing: UNICEF tools, funds, partners, colleagues and more), then something happens and you need to think of a new way to use the bricks and create a new construction that is hopefully even better than what is on the picture. Sometimes you’ll need to build a high tower that falls over, sometimes it will be pretty much the same as on the picture but in a different color, but a few times it will be the best pink elephant standing on a bridge built on a train you’ve ever seen! I try to build new structures or make existing constructions better so that UNICEF can continue to help give every child a fair chance.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
A friendly – absolute ruler…

How/when did you join UNICEF?
I joined in 2013 – I applied for the U-report position in DRC.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
Seeing youth get excited about opportunities presented to them.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Working in the current ever-changing environment, and trying to respond to its needs while having to work through administrative rules and regulations.

What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
In the spirit of One UN, I am going to make this about my best UN experience. I have many fond UNICEF memories, but having worked for different UN entities over the past few years, there is one particular experience I keep on going back to that I think has shaped me more than any other so far. In 2011 while I was working for the Mediation Support Unit of the UN Department of Political Affairs in NY I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, right before he retired from the UN. Mr. Ould-Abdallah is a former SRSG who served the UN in many difficult contexts like Somalia, Burundi, and Sudan.  Working closely for a few months with a senior official of his caliber who is willing to share his experiences, points of view, and teach you to become a better professional was truly a unique opportunity. His lessons, words, and humour have stuck with me ever since.

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
Have a baby. As a woman, it’s a pretty risky affair. Being pregnant in DRC with questionable access to health care even for an expat really hit home what other less fortunate women around the world face. I hopped on a plane and delivered my baby in a nice hospital in Belgium, they stay and bravely hope for the best while often facing the worst. The importance of promoting maternal health and women’s rights have taken on a whole new dimension in my mind since this experience.

What are your passions?
I am but a mere mortal … chocolate, I love chocolate. Yes it’s cliché, I am Belgian. But I love chocolate.

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

Who do you look towards for inspiration?
The youth I work with and for. It’s inspiring to see their enthusiasm, drive to achieve results and positive attitude.

My colleagues don’t know that…
I grew up with a lot of animals… Monkeys, snakes, bison, lizards, tigers, horses, wolves, crocodiles, parrots … Name it, there’s probably a pretty good chance it crossed my dad’s garden or the first floor of our house at one point in time.

UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Tanya Bhandari
UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Yumiko Shinya