Voices: Looking back on a 40 year journey

"I am fortunate enough to have been a part of the inspiring work done by several agencies in different capacities, which has made my work very interesting and has given me a lot of job satisfaction.” - Shirani de Mel, Senior Human Resources Associate, Sri Lanka


Throughout 2015, we will be celebrating some of our key achievements, speaking to some of our longest-serving personnel and looking ahead to how UNOPS can continue our mission – serving people in need.

When I look back at my UN career, I often feel I am travelling in a special compartment of a train. Many passengers board the train; some stay for a short while and they get off the train and go in different directions. Those who get in are multinational and multicultural. As I now approach the end of my career, it is time to reflect upon where this train has taken me over the course of nearly 40 years, and rekindle the happy memories during my journey.  

I joined UNDP Sri Lanka in 1976. In addition, I have worked locally for the World Food Programme, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the International Organization for Migration. Outside of Sri Lanka, I have worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency Vienna and UNDP in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). I joined UNOPS in January 2007 as the Senior HR Associate to assist the International HR Officer. 

Since 2010, I have been heading my office's HR unit, which I feel is a vital role in the organization. I focus primarily on recruitment; a role which deals with people, and requires impartial thinking, patience, respecting others' views and earning the confidence of personnel and management. It is important that the work is well organized and that deadlines are met, while maintaining confidentiality at all times.   

One of my greatest accomplishments at UNOPS was in 2008, when the International Contract Agreement (ICA) was introduced. This was a major change for UNOPS, and required a lot of work from HR unit, but the change in contract modality was worth it. With time, ICA introduced benefits for personnel, including leave entitlements, medical assistance and a provident fund. In my view, this was a big step forward for UNOPS globally in their efforts to strengthen best practices in human resources.

Overall, the most exciting time of my career was when I was posted to UNDP in DPRK. Living in a communist country was so fascinating. People had little to no exposure to the international world. I remember inviting our national staff to a farewell gathering at my apartment in the diplomatic enclave. I had to obtain ministry approval for them to even visit my apartment! In a speech made by a local employee, it was mentioned that this was the first time they enjoyed different flavours of food. These are the moments I have cherished the most – unique moments, with unique people from all over the world. 

I feel it is a privilege to work for the UN. I am fortunate enough to have been a part of the inspiring work done by several agencies in different capacities, which has made my work very interesting and has given me a lot of job satisfaction.

Now that I am retiring, I plan to enjoy life in a different way, together with my family. When thinking about the days to come, I am reminded of a poem called "Leisure", which I learned in the eighth grade. It begins: "What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare." I now want to relax and appreciate this beautiful country I call home – and enjoy the surrounding nature, the birds, the squirrels and the trees.

I wish the UN family success in their continuous efforts in making the world a better place for all!