UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Fatou Wurie

Our Emergency Specialist (Digital Engagement)

UNICEF Innovation
Fatou with women in a community during a field mission
Fatou Wurie

26 February 2020
Headshot Fatou Wurie
Martin Romero

What is your name, title, office location?

Fatou Wurie, Emergency Specialist (Digital Engagement), HQ-NY

Tell us a bit about your background.

My background is in advocacy policy, community mobilizing and movement building with and for youth, women and girls on pressing social issues around health, political participation and education. My work often requires fostering partnerships with government, private-sector and public institutions to achieve social change for communities, especially marginalized groups.

What do you do?

I spend a lot of time thinking about ‘accountability’, what that means to the organization, to our partners (at interagency level) and to the communities we reach and serve. My work focuses on documenting, testing and recommending the uses of U-Report (and sometimes other tools) for humanitarian action - preparedness, response, recovery/resilience as well as identifying where the tool adds value and where it can be leveraged to improve the quality of humanitarian action, relationally to communities affected by crisis’. A significant part of our work is figuring out how digital tools like U-Report can help close that ‘feedback loop’ and thus improve accountability mechanisms, meaning collecting community voices, acting on those expressed needs/wants and then taking that back to communities and saying this is how we’ve acted on what you say is important to you. So, I am constantly on the road and working with amazing colleagues from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Jordan, Mozambique, Malawi, North-East Nigeria and more recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I incorporate their good program practices into the global guidance note on U-Report for Humanitarian Action which we are about to release.

What’s your working day like?

I start at about 4:00am EDT, most mornings to ensure I take meetings from countries in other time zones. I often start by reviewing all incoming requests or outstanding items that haven’t been actioned yet, so most of my mornings are hectic because I focus on responding to issues. The rest of the day depends, if I am in NY I focus on meetings and updating HQ colleagues on the progress of our work. If I am on mission, it is following a fairly strict schedule which involves meeting with partners or running focus-group discussions or going to refugee or displaced people camps. It all depends on which country I’m in, this keeps my work interesting.

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?

I listen to people and take what they say they want or need and share it with people who can give it to them or change something for them. Then I go back to the people who shared their thoughts and tell them what was given, or how long it will take to give it to them, and also what we cannot give or change.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I wanted to be a human-rights lawyer or an actor. I oscillated between those two choices my entire childhood.

When did you join UNICEF? And how did you get here?

I joined UNICEF about 5 years ago in Sierra Leone at the tail end of the Ebola response to set up and manage U-Report. I ended up in UNICEF because I had supported the Ministry of Health and Sanitation’s M-Health committee for 2 years providing technical support and coordination to improve and strengthen the use of digital tools for health programming across the country. At the time, I worked for a DFID-funded program where I had piloted a mobile youth-centered project, working with 1000 young people all over the city, training them, providing information and strengthening their engagement with their community health care centers to amplify their voices in demanding for accessible, safe and quality health care for all, especially for pregnant women and girls’. My work aligned with what the country office’s vision for the use of mobile technology (vis-a-vie U-Report) to engage young people on issues that matter to them.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?

Hearing from communities the impact of our work in their lives. Those very real stories really anchor our work in a way that isn’t always possible to see from New York.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Hearing the stories from people living in camps, especially young children. It never gets easy because every child and young person deserves to live a safe, free and happy life.

What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?

Every time our global team meets to plan and update one another, new memories are made. Our team truly is filled with kind and passionate human beings, and this makes for a memorable and priceless UNICEF experience – the people I work with.

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?

Leaving UNICEF, a couple of years ago to run my own non-profit and becoming responsible for a team of staff and ensuring we did no-harm to the communities we served. I didn’t know the ‘how’, for example how I would pay myself, but my ‘why’ the vision to improve the lives of adolescent girls and women post-Ebola was quite clear. It was very risky, yet ultimately one of the most rewarding work I’ve done to date.

What are your passions?

I am deeply passionate about people and connecting with humanity. This means I am passionate about equality, equity and justice and I go about translating these big and sometimes elusive concepts into tangible things like using storytelling for social change, technology to hear, and then amplify the voices of the often marginalized and campaigning for gender equality because I truly believe that the reduction of structural poverty rests on the socio-economic and political liberation of women and girls.

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

I think people get fixated on working for specific organizations and I would say don’t worry about the ‘where’ but rather focus on the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. Remain passion-driven and curious about shifts and transformative approaches that enhance the lives of the most vulnerable children and communities. Seek out opportunities where your skills-sets, personality and values align. It often leads to an organization or group of people equally as passionate, highly technically skilled and deeply committed to achieving results for positive social change.

My dream dinner party guest list would comprise of...

People who are already dead, unfortunately. I’d love to dine with Thomas Sankara, Ann Sexton, Jean Rhyse, Winnie Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Toni Morrison and my grandmother, all the people who have significantly framed and shaped my perspective.

My colleagues don’t know that…

I LOVE country music because I grew up listening to classical west African music and country music.