New Zealand Permanent Mission Geneva, Switzerland

Stephen Robinson: A long Way to Geneva

Steve in the Salang Pass Afghanistan

With the chance of working in New Zealand as a primary school teacher, Stephen Robinson saw the chance to live and work in a country that has always attracted him and so he took it. Stephen started teaching in west Auckland at Swanson Primary School.

After serving in the British Army Stephen also took the chance to join the New Zealand Territorial Force (TF) as an engineer.  It was in this capacity that Stephen was asked if he would be interested in deploying to Cambodia to work with the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) as part of a long standing NZDF commitment to the UN, after speaking with him Principal Stephen was deployed for 12 months to Cambodia as a Senior Technical Advisor to the CMAC training team.  

These proved to be a life changing 12 months, as during this deployment Stephen was offered full time work with a mine action NGO based in Eritrea, and for the following 13 years has held a range of posts with other demining and engineering organisations, but mostly with the UN.

Stephen has been lucky with his career working in places as diverse as Colombia to The West Bank.  The chance to make a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of people coming out of conflict has been incredibly rewarding, and the field work is most definitely the best part of the job. 

Stephen has also been the manager for infrastructure projects supporting humanitarian efforts in South Sudan, this included building a number of roads and runways in some of the most inhospitable places in Africa.  This period of his career has probably been the most exciting, difficult and yet rewarding time.  The differences these projects made saved thousands of lives and helped bring aid to some of the neediest people in the world. 

One of the highlights of his career was conducting the UN’s mine action programme in Nepal.   Stephen planned and oversaw the successful destruction of improvised explosive devices used by Maoists as well as working with the Nepalese Army in the clearing of minefields laid by the security forces.  This programme was completed years ahead of schedule and is generally thought of as one of the most successful mine action programmes globally. 

Afghanistan proved to be one of Stephen’s most challenging but rewarding experiences where he planned and worked with the Danish Government in developing plans to support the civilian administration in Helmand district, although eventually this had to be put on hold due to the deteriorating security situation.  Whilst working in Afghanistan Stephen was instrumental in ensuring women’s views were heard in prioritising mine and bomb clearances, and that more women were employed in a meaningful way.  It was this interest in gender equity that has eventually led Stephen to his current post in Geneva.

Stephen is currently working with the IASC Gender Stand-by Capacity project (GenCap) as a gender in humanitarian adviser to UN Development Programme where is he working with the gender team to develop a greater awareness of crises situations and with the UN system overall in ensuring that gender considerations are taken into account with humanitarian assistance. Disasters affect women and men in different ways and it is part of Stephen’s job to make sure that the global level UN systems ensure these different needs and contributions are taken into account.

Working as a gender advisor is a far cry from managing demining and infrastructure programmes. But Stephen’s many years of humanitarian experience- especially working in some of the toughest places in the world -  coupled with his interest in making sure the different voices of women, men, girls and boys are heard, are proving valuable skills as he approaches this subject from the view point of humanitarian actors with an eye on what is practical and works, also good kiwi traits!   He does sometime miss the practicality and excitement of fieldwork, but knows that his current post is making a difference at the global level.

Stephen is hoping to be in Geneva for a couple of years, this will ensure that his work is fully completed and embedded within the UN systems.  Stephen’s journey to Geneva has certainly not been a conventional one, and he often reflects on how deciding to teach in New Zealand has led him to have worked around the world achieving a great deal of satisfaction in helping some of the most needy people in the worst situations.

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