Chris Szymczak, Event & VR Lead, UNICEF Office of Innovation, NYHQ.
Follow him on Twitter: @theentreflaneur
Tell us a bit about your background.
Right now? It’s the Hudson River on New York’s West Side – as I am writing this from the Hudson River pier. Also, I graduated from law school in Warsaw, Poland, but never practiced law, and from Media Studies in New York, but never worked in media. I spent 10+ years in advertising and events working in client service mostly for luxury brands, and then for Google. Then I quit and traveled. Then I found a job opening posted by UNICEF Office of Innovation, I applied, and I was very fortunate to be accepted for the position.
What do you do?
My work covers two areas: 1. Events: I strategically plan with the team to whom, when, and how we talk about and describe our narrative and the work we do. 2. Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality: I develop a portfolio of projects that use these technologies for solutions that can benefit UNICEF’s work, either via investments by UNICEF’s Innovation Fund, or through working on VR/AR projects directly with UNICEF’s Country Offices.
What’s your working day like?
I arrive in the office at 8:30 AM with a fixed plan for the day. At around 10:00 AM nothing is left of it, as unexpected ideas and threads tend to materialize with astonishing regularity on this team. It’s great. At around 5:30 PM I pick up where I left off at 10:00 AM. My working day never really ends but it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy every minute of it.
How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
I introduce children from different playgrounds to each other so that they can share their toys, and then build new toys together. Some of these toys look like big, weird glasses which allow you to see new and cool things.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I didn’t want to be anyone in particular, I just wanted to play with my friends.
How/when did you join UNICEF?
I found the job offer online from my apartment in Warsaw one day. I applied, and as mentioned before, I was very fortunate to get accepted. This was almost exactly 2 years ago.
What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
Hands down the team I work with. I am secretly in love with every one of them a little. I can’t imagine a smarter and kinder group of humans and friends. On top of that, all of the incredibly bright people that I get a chance to meet and talk to everyday, from different groups and networks.
Technology and tools that we create or support mean nothing without the human factor behind them – because they either won’t work, or will be used in a foul or insignificant way.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Too little time. But hey, it’s everyone’s problem these days, isn’t it?
What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
I think that for everyone who for the first time finds themselves in the humanitarian space (as is in my case with UNICEF), it’s very humbling to go to one of the programme countries and see real problems that people face on a daily basis. Sometimes they’re the worst memories, rather than the best, but they put things in the right order.
What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
For many, many years now I’ve had a fairly vague concept of what I’ll be doing in the next 12-24 months (and where). I don’t consider this a risk, but I know that a lot of people do.
What are your passions?
House dancing, writing, and everything art-related, with the focus on collecting photography.
What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours?
Especially when you’re applying from a private sector, you will never, ever believe how much it is worth the incredible hustle that it takes to get one. But it is, trust me.
Who do you look towards for inspiration?
My colleagues don’t know that?
…for many years I wrote a blog about fashion, parts of which were printed in the French magazine Jalouse. I also published a book about traveling once.