Voices: The road to Geneva

"At UNOPS, business as usual is not an option. In order to transform policies into action, we are always searching for new innovative ideas and operational improvements." - Philipp Von Waechter, Portfolio and Grants Manager

​"​​​I began my Junior Professional Officer (JPO) assignment in June 1996 as an Associate Portfolio Manager working in the Environmental Programmes Division at UNOPS. I managed an expanding sub-portfolio of over 80 projects in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean under the Montreal Protocol ozone layer protection programme, which supported technology transfer for mostly small and medium enterprises in developing countries.

"Growing up in West Germany during the 1980s, I witnessed the 'green movement' and the introduction of environmental standards and technologies (such as solar and wind energy). To this day, the preservation of nature through effective environment projects has remained one of my main aspirations.

"The Montreal Protocol was recognized by many, including Al Gore, as the most effectively implemented international environment treaty. My work involved the coordination of all operational aspects (including hiring staff and procuring environmentally-sound equipment) and included the launch of a new Montreal Protocol operations manual and several visits to countries including Argentina, Mexico and Nigeria. As part of an excellent UNOPS/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) team and a pool of technical experts, I received a special award for my early contributions to this highly successful environment programme.

"During that initial period (1996-98), I was also active as co-coordinator of an informal UN-JPO network in New York which organized special sessions with high level officials and representatives from organizations such as the World Bank, Médecins Sans Frontières, UNDP and the UN Secretariat.

"In 2002, I moved to Nairobi to manage a new project portfolio and liaise with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters to develop more joint business proposals. My work involved visiting various African countries and occasionally heading the entire regional office while also representing UNOPS in some high level meetings. Professionally, this was probably the most challenging and interesting period of my career so far.

"In 2005, after several years in Nairobi, I was selected to lead the UNOPS Small Grants Cluster in New York, managing the UNDP lead Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP). The programme provides almost 4,000 grants per year in over 125 countries and is widely recognized as one of the most effective UN grassroots programmes. I not only had to build a dynamic team to handle all operational issues, but also further refine a strategic approach and communication style to get things done within the context of this highly political programme.

"In 2010, I relocated to the UNOPS headquarters in Copenhagen, taking up the position of Community Grants Advisor.  My main focus was to replicate the successful SGP delivery model, create a user-friendly UNOPS grants manual and incorporate community engagement as a core principle in all projects. In addition, I secured a major agreement with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) through a competitive bidding exercise and established a new partnership with the UNEP-Risoe Centre.

"Since 2013, I have served as a Portfolio and Grants Manager at the UNOPS office in Geneva, leading our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene portfolio. I mainly coordinate operations for the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). After my last role, which dealt more with conceptualizing UNOPS position, I'm now back to 'keeping all the balls rolling', while managing major global grant operations worth over $23 million annually. The new job is a natural fit for me and has also made me realize the pressing need to improve global sanitation and hygiene standards, which severely impact the health of the poorest communities around the world.

"At UNOPS, business as usual is not an option. In order to transform policies into action, we are always searching for new innovative ideas and operational improvements. Fortunately, I consider UNOPS a 'small family' – clear, without strict hierarchies but with focus and effective management and decision-making. With its flexible, adaptive business model, I think UNOPS can continue to make a real difference, maybe more so than some other (larger) development partners or UN outfits."