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A career in the United Nations – guest post

December 20, 2015

I’m excited to have Paul Hebert write this guest post on his distinguished career in the UN – if you have questions for him please add them to the comments on this post and I’ll invite him back to answer them.


I have just finished reading all of your chapters on the blog as well as a number of the interviews you provided. I want to say that your site is a must for anyone who might have an interest in working in the field of humanitarian or development aid. I have worked in this field for about 40 years and retired about 5 years ago from UN OCHA. I have been researching books and on-line resources related to work in humanitarian aid, as I had my own idea of adding to this information for young professionals wanting to start out in this field. I found your blog to be the most informative of any resource that I have so far found, and it has helped me in thinking through my own writing project.

I find that your experience and advice is not very different from what I would write. I have thus decided that the best thing I could do is to write from my own specific experience of 40 years in development and humanitarian aid, as it might provide a unique perspective from someone who has been at it for so long a period.

In a nutshell here is a summary of my own experience. After completing service in the US Army as an officer, I started my overseas work with a small foundation in Iran (1974-76) pre-Iranian revolution, attached to a Iranian medical/environmental Research Station (part of the University of Tehran). I had to learn Farsi to survive and became quite fluent in one year, which proved to be a blessing. I already had a masters degree in environmental engineering. My wife was with me, doing field research for her PhD in medical anthropology. After returning from Iran after two years in the field, I went back to graduate school to complete a PhD. I then worked for the World Bank in SE Asia for 10 years and later as a consultant training engineers in the field all over Asia, including nearly 2 years in Nepal.

Following that, my wife started a job with the World Health Organization and I switched my own focus and literally fell into a job with the UN Special Office dealing with the post Gulf War crisis in northern Iraq. That Office was soon merged into the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, which became UN OCHA a few years later. I worked my way up the ladder serving as a senior program officer covering Iraq, Yugoslavia and Former Soviet Republics. I left the HQ environment to work in Bosnia directly after the Bosnia War, and then in Kosovo, Albania and Serbia.

It was very interesting as my wife was also in global public health and we followed one another with kids in our assignments. Juggling two careers, raising children abroad, and experiencing revolutions in two of the countries resulted in an incredibly interesting life for our entire family. As our children grew up and went on to University, they would join us for volunteer opportunities.

We spent our last 10 years in East Africa, where I worked for UN OCHA as Country Head of Office and my wife worked as a regional health advisor for CRS. I am now retired from the UN and a visiting Professor at Virginia Military Institute teaching a course on Humanitarian Aid in Conflicts and Natural Disasters and working on water and sanitation programs through Rotary. This blog and your book is a must read!!!

Keep it up!

Paul Hebert

3 Comments leave one →
  1. abeer permalink
    December 20, 2015 12:24 pm

    I have been applaying for a job with un agencies for 8 year .but it’s like impossible to get a job with them her in Jordan .I have lost my dream between their tests and interviews .I am so patinate to humanitarian works and I hope if I can get some help from you to make my dream come true
    Thank you

    • December 22, 2015 2:16 pm

      Hi Abeer – I’m guessing that you’re Jordanian? Getting a job with the UN as a national isn’t something that I have any experience with unfortunately. That said, I think that most of the advice about getting jobs with the UN probably applies to your situation. You’re right that it’s tough – it’s very competitive. You need to be highly qualified, well connected, and lucky. I think you’d probably do well to simultaneously apply for jobs with other humanitarian agencies while you work on your dream job with the UN.
      Good luck,

      • abeer permalink
        December 25, 2015 10:54 am

        Nick can i get any way to contact you directley i want to explain some point to you

        Here is my email addres

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