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Jesper Morch: 'The luckiest staff member in UNICEF'

Not long after he joined UNICEF, in 1982, Jesper Morch was accused of being a CIA agent.

Morch was acting as one of the chief negotiators for UNICEF in a meeting in Armenia in 1986, from which there was to be a joint declaration. "We would not be manipulated and refused to bow to strong-arm tactics," he says. "At some point the Soviets complained to the head of UNICEF's delegation, Victor Soler-Sala, that they had reason to believe we were CIA agents assigned to ensure the meeting would be a failure. Victor gave them a piece of his mind and we stayed."

It was an educative introduction to the politics of such negotiations at a time when Morch was learning fast. His next job was advising on the establishment of projects for street children in Latin America. "I have never learned as much about life and work as I did in those eight months," he says. "That was also when I decided to spend the rest of my life with UNICEF, hoping to be able to make a difference for children in difficult circumstances at the global level rather than just the local level … I would like to believe that I was among those who helped UNICEF move beyond a strong focus on child survival to a broader focus encompassing child protection and eventually child participation."

Building trust

Morch continued to work to put such aims into practice. Building trust with and among different groups is a prerequisite for successful projects on the ground, and Morch's next posting, to Indonesia, provided an object lesson in how this can be done.

"We built the Child Survival Project with Religious Organizations, in which Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic and Protestant non-governmental organizations would encourage child survival and development through religious services and faith-based activities," he explains. "It was a great initiative, partly because so many Indonesians were reached and mobilized through these organizations, and partly because it built confidence, trust and mutual respect among organizations and religions that otherwise could barely tolerate each other."

Another highlight of Morch's career was getting a call asking him to be UNICEF Representative in South Africa. "Not a day at work where you didn't learn something new," he says. "And feel part of a just and noble struggle to alleviate poverty and create a South Africa in which all South Africans would be free and better off." Morch is particularly proud of his work in helping to secure funding for HIV/AIDS initiatives in South Africa, one of the countries most affected by the AIDS pandemic.

In October 2002 Morch became UNICEF Representative for Somalia – a complex emergency area without central or provincial government, beset by chronic conflict. "I had my doubts," he admits. "But eight months into my assignment, I consider myself the luckiest staff member in UNICEF … Somalia is a fascinating country with a proud past, a terrible present and great potential for a bright future.

"The quality of the work of the UNICEF team in Somalia has made UNICEF the most important agency in the country. "Without us, here would be virtually no basic services at all," Morch says, lauding his colleagues to the skies. "It all can be done. It all is being done. To be allowed to be part of that process – who could ask for more?"



Related link

"A glimmer of hope for Somalia's battered people" - By Jesper Morch, published on International Herald Tribune, 7 December 2004

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