UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee is a regular in the UN Social 500 top 10. We asked him to give us an insight into his work and some of his favorite tips for social media.
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya, a post I have held since August 2016. Immediately before this role, I was the UNFPA Representative here in Kenya where we focused mainly on gender equality & empowerment, advocating for removing obstacles that keep women from playing their rightful social and economic role in society.
These include access to sexual reproductive health and services, maternal mortality, child marriage, FGM and other forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls.
I have previously worked in international humanitarian and disaster response settings with organizations such as UNICEF, UNOPS, UNFPA, UNDP as well as the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies and in UN peace-keeping missions. I have served in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, South Sudan, Indonesia, Sudan, Somalia, Denmark, and Switzerland. My early career was as an officer in a Special Forces Unit in the Indian Army. A lot of what I do today is based on the experiences I have had there. Having served in some of the fragile parts of the world during my service in the UN and the Red Cross,
I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable. I have seen first-hand many human tragedies and triumphs from which I have learned important lessons and I strive to uphold human dignity.
I am a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
You mentioned that you work with UN Kenya, can you tell us a bit more about the work you do there?
I am privileged to be working with an incredible United Nations Country Team in Kenya, led by a highly professional and committed group of UN colleagues. I coordinate the work of 27 UN agencies represented here and our work, in a nutshell, is to work with the people and government of Kenya to achieve the national goals including what is known as Vision 2030 and the SDGs.
We are committed to the Delivering as One process, therefore as the Resident
Coordinator I am responsible for harmony in the outputs of our programs as the UN family in Kenya. This includes all objectives as identified in the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), where we are supporting the government to deliver on its priority development milestones. Developed under the leadership of the Government, the UNDAF reflects the efforts of all UN agencies working in Kenya and is shaped by the five UN Development Group programming principles: Human Rights-based approach, gender equality, environmental sustainability, capacity development, and results-based management. The UNDAF working groups have developed a truly broad-based Results Framework, in collaboration with civil society, donors, and other partners.
We are also assisting the Government of Kenya by launching a Flash Appeal (Video) to respond to the current drought, ensure timely and effective humanitarian interventions and to build the resilience of communities in the face of climate-related hazards.
As a United Nations Country team in Kenya, we have come together to advance Mr. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General’s Prevention Agenda. With over 65 million people displaced around the world due to conflicts and natural disasters, there [are] increasing violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. People are fleeing their homes on a scale not seen since the second world war and the scourge of violent extremism threatens every region.
In fact Kenya has been a victim of cross border terror stemming from instability, in the region. Meanwhile, climate change, a rapidly expanding youth bulge, rapid urbanization, food insecurity and water scarcity are adding to the tensions and instability in Kenya and the region. Kenya is also home to nearly 500,000 refugees. As the UN Country Team and we intend to sharpen our focus to assist the Government of Kenya in responding effectively to the above issues.
Kenya is a beacon of hope in a region mired in instability.
With a median age of 18 years, Kenya can lead the way in reaping a demographic dividend, ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment and achieve its Vision 2030. Vision 2030 aims to transform Kenya into a middle income country and providing a high quality of life for all its citizens by 2030. We have as a UN family in Kenya committed to walking this journey with the Kenyan government and the Kenyan people.
— SIDDHARTH CHATTERJEE (@sidchat1) August 11, 2017
What issues are most important to you?
I have a personal mission to champion the rights of women and girls, because I have seen how this half of humanity has been treated and what harm that is bringing to our societies.
The years I spent in fragile environments will always remain a poignant reminder of the disparate harm that women are predisposed to whenever one form or other of humanitarian crisis arises. Some were victims of rape and torture, others were widowed at young ages, their husbands murdered or kidnapped. I have seen how rape is used as a weapon in conflicts. I have seen children as young as 5 being recruited as child soldiers.
In many of the countries I have worked in, disease outbreaks, lack of water and sanitation were the order of the day. Reproductive health services, including midwifery outreach services, antenatal care, management of prenatal complications and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS were not readily available in conflict regions. These problems had particularly harsh consequences among women and children.
Regrettably, even in peace time, many societies still exhibit levels of patriarchy and misogyny that are simply appalling. The psychosocial status of the women who have survived such atrocities is an issue that continues to preoccupy me.
What could be described as a highlight of your career?
The demobilization of 3551 child soldiers during an ongoing conflict in South Sudan would be one such highlight. A task considered impossible by many came to fruition as a result of being part of a great team in UNICEF South Sudan and leadership at the highest level which was not risk averse.
What we learnt from this programme was that we need not wait for conflicts to end for children to be removed from armed organizations. This is something I wrote about in my article “For Child Soldiers, Every Day Is A Living Nightmare”
I am interested in reaching the people who can make a difference, at the policy and program levels but also those influencers who are within communities.
Do you think it is important for individuals to use social media as part of their work? How do you think your use of social media impacts your work?
For better or worse, we are living in times of information overload. Audiences want fast, concise information and they have very little time to get it. Social media tools provide a good avenue for information on the go, and traditional media is slowly losing ground. With mobile telephones penetration, social media also removes the need for gatekeepers and therefore there is less chance of distortion or blocking of information.
On the downside is, of course, the fact that we are also in the era of fake news, which means a lot of harm can be done to besmirch individuals and organizations. On the whole, social media has opened up space for me as there are now numerous avenues for me to articulate issues across a range of media through blogs, but also through my twitter handle.
I encourage organizations to get their program staff to develop social media skills and use them to push forward their agenda as widely as possible. My presence on social media has connected me to many organisations and individuals with similar agenda and this had led to many opportunities for collaboration and partnerships.
You’ve been in the top 10 on the UN Social 500 leader board for a while now. Can you give us any tips for making the most of social media?
I would say stay relevant, stay interesting, and stay current. These three will help you build your network and build your relationships. You must add value to your networks by sharing information that will benefit them. Build your network by following people with similar interests and connect with them through activities like live tweeting of events, where they can contribute to current discussions.
I am a regular contributor of op-eds to international media such as Reuters and
Huffington Post and I always tweet links to those articles so those in my network may also re-distribute to others with similar interests. There is no limit to creative ways to reach out to people on social media.
My ultimate aim of using social media is to advance human development and humanity.
How have you benefited from being part of the UN Social 500?
The UN Social 500 is a wonderful forum where we can share lessons about how to improve social media presence and as a way to improve our program communication objectives.
We saw an article about you in Ariana Huffington’s Thrive Global. Is it true that you run a half marathon every Sunday?
I find running is therapeutic and a great way to de-stress and find solutions to
sometimes complex issues. Yes, I love running and most Sundays I run a half marathon if I can.