"Flexibility to adapt to new cultures and eagerness to catch insights from each experience"

Magdalene Matthews, WASH Officer, UNICEF Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa

UNICEF
22 July 2019
A UNICEF Staff Member teaching a boy
UNICEF

The JPO programme is a unique career-enhancing opportunity to grow, learn and develop one’s passion within an exciting environment, while being closely mentored and coached along the way.

What drew you to a career as a JPO with UNICEF?

Growing up for the most part of my childhood, with my country, Liberia, at war, I was exposed very early on to the disparities of unequal access to basic services, including safe drinking water. Watching a young mother prepare her baby’s porridge with highly turbid water from a nearby stream was the epiphany that drove my career path towards water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). With a newfound purpose, I set out to help change the narrative. 
I began working to support capacity development in the WASH sector at a critical time in Liberia’s history—during post-conflict, post-ebola recovery. I conducted one of the first post-war lab-based microbial analysis of urban water, trained several technicians from the national utility in water quality assessment and developed a Water Quality Assurance Plan to harmonize testing protocols in water treatment plants across the country. 
Inspired by my involvement at the national level, I was drawn to a career as a JPO with UNICEF to contribute to the larger, global WASH agenda and help secure equitable access to safe water, dignified sanitation and hygiene for vulnerable children around the world.

What do you do in your current position? 

I currently serve as WASH Officer in the UNICEF Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa. My role involves translating the global UNICEF WASH Strategy into regional priorities and implementable programmes at regional and country levels. Recent pieces of work have been on WASH in schools and WASH in health care facilities, both focused on analyzing the bottlenecks to at scale programming and providing strategic recommendations to strengthen the enabling environment for sustainable institutional WASH service delivery and menstrual health management in the region.

What has been the highlight of your experience while in the JPO Programme?    

The highlight of my experience has been my extensive field exposure to WASH issues in Eastern and Southern Africa, including several country missions to Comoros, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda and Kenya. As a JPO, I have also benefited from a wholesome mentoring relationship with my supervisor along with professional career coaching funded by the programme.

What has been your biggest challenge so far? How did you overcome it? 

Work in a regional office, supporting multiple countries with different socio-economic realities requires a broad understanding of diverse contexts. Organizational skills, strategic planning, and an eagerness to learn and adapt have been key throughout my JPO experience. On the personal front, settling into a new city, as a young mom, with an infant can be quite challenging, but my UNICEF teammates were extremely supportive in helping me navigate the transition; meeting my professional targets, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

What is your advice for someone interested in the JPO Programme?

The JPO programme is a unique career-enhancing opportunity to grow, learn and develop one’s passion within an exciting environment, while being closely mentored and coached along the way. It provides funded training opportunities and a strategic platform to glean from the collective wisdom and experiences of team members. My advice for someone interested in the programme is to approach it with an appetite to learn, a flexibility to adapt to new cultures, and an eagerness to catch insights from each experience—some of which just might be life-changing.