Yumiko Shinya, Programme Officer (Innovation), UNICEF Sudan Country Office

Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Hiroshima, Japan. Hiroshima is historically known for its advocacy and participation in peace education. So since I was young, I had a natural tendency to think about what I can do around peacebuilding. Exploring my future careers, I was deeply interested in international development particularly in post-conflict countries. So I studied peace and conflict and further advancing this focus with a PhD. Professionally, I have worked with various types of organizations in different fields such as education, community development, and peacebuilding. Sudan is closely becoming the second longest country I lived at apart from Japan. I’ve also lived in Cambodia, Cameroon, UK, Russia, and Liberia.

What do you do?
I work in a cross-sectoral manner with UNICEF Sudan and external partners to introduce different methodologies, products, and technologies which can help improve existing programmes, accelerate results, and achieving positive impact. In particular, I encourage the youth and adolescent community to be part of the innovation process.

What’s your working day like?
There is no typical day as an Innovation Officer. But I usually have a lot of meetings with different stakeholders, and conference calls with partners and colleagues based in different countries. Building new concepts for possible innovations is often on my To Do list.

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
Typically, I am given a question and it’s my job to look for the answers – these answers are not limited to solely one. My grades/marks depend on how good the quality of my answers. Also, how I found those answers also counts.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I don’t think I had a concrete idea of who I wanted to be, but I do remember I was very interested in teaching English when I was a junior high school student. I did not become an English teacher, but I enjoy learning foreign languages.

How/when did you join UNICEF?
I am a Japan-funded Junior Professional Officer (JPO) since October 2015, but this is not the first time to join UNICEF. I previously worked with the Education Section in UNICEF Liberia in 2013 as an intern.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
Through innovation activities, I encounter fresh ideas, especially from young people. I feel very fortunate to be given a role where I can catalyze and operationalize these ideas. I also enjoy collaborating with a group of intelligent and passionate people – who loves to think of out of the box ideas.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
In challenging emergency settings, my type of work may not necessarily create immediate impact for the people in need. It is sometimes challenging to focus on work around the capacity building or solutions development phase and not be able to offer immediate help to those who need urgent care.

What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
Meeting our beneficiaries in the field makes me feel blessed. When I was on a field monitoring mission, I had a visit to an Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP) Center in a remote village in Liberia. One of the lady students proudly showed me her name written on the notebook and said: “I learned how to write here.” This simple gesture showcases the great work UNICEF is doing there.

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
I took the risk of not actively participating in mass job hunting in the fourth year of my university. In Japan, most companies hire new graduates in bulk – simultaneously and students take job hunting very seriously. However, I was so eager to gain international experiences. I started studying French intensively to obtain a student exchange opportunity in France. With that plan falling out – I decided to go to Moscow to brush up my Russian, which I had been learning for a few years. After graduation, I was one of the very few students who were unemployed, enjoying my volunteer activities in Nepal. In this situation, it was very tough to believe in my potential, whether I could fully equip myself to survive in the journey of international development.

What are your passions?
Traveling to different countries and areas. I like seeing various culture and people. I am fascinated with finding local inventions and ideas. They are everywhere – streets, transportation, and shops to name a few.

What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours?
Be open to learning new, emerging topics and in honing your ability to adapt to various, different needs.

Who do you look towards for inspiration?
Many inspiring innovators I am in touch with regardless of organizations and countries.

My colleagues don’t know that…
Besides being an aid worker, I wanted to become a “weekend” photojournalist.  I wanted to highlight social problems through photography and also try to intervene simultaneously.

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