UNOPS

31/03/2015

Voices: Advancing rural communities in Africa

“I love to see people move from a situation where they were economically disempowered, especially women, to a situation where some of them are able to build and manage their own homes. We really make a difference to people’s lives and they genuinely appreciate what we are doing for them.” - Bamidele Ilebani, former Director of the Ethiopia Operational Hub

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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.

 

I joined UNOPS in September 1999 as a portfolio manager, where I worked on projects with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Before then, I worked for the World Bank as a task manager, where I handled a number of projects for several different countries.

At the time, I wasn't really looking for a new job when the opportunity to join UNOPS came along. My friend told me that it would be a good move and, in hindsight, he was right, because 16 years later I am still here and enjoying it very much.

What we have managed to achieve together over the years makes me very proud, especially the projects we did in partnership with IFAD. When I joined, we had 25 people in Nairobi and we were overseeing around 60 IFAD projects in more than 12 countries around southern and eastern Africa, as well as the Horn of Africa. IFAD and UNOPS work together to provide rural development projects for people living in the poorest rural communities, with a focus on using rural finance, rural marketing, agricultural production and improved technology - p​rojects that help people to help themselves.

The experience I gained from working on these projects really broadened my horizons. I learned that people from poor rural communities can really benefit from having access to resources that further their economic and social wellbeing – making sure that these projects can profit them long after we have completed them.

At an irrigation project we were supervising in rural Tanzania, we were miles away from anything. I went there to visit people who had been begging for money from people travelling through on the train. I went back years later and I saw that they were all farming and producing rice to sell in the fields we had helped​ irrigate.

In Ethiopia too, when I was working on a rural finance project there was a lady in one of the communities that said: "I could not eat. My children were suffering. So I started spinning [fabric] and I was getting two birr a day (around 10 US cents). After working for three years I had made enough money to send my children to school and even started my own business. Now I am a respected member of the community." That really touched me.

I love to see people move from a situation where they were economically disempowered, especially women, to a situation where some of them are able to build and manage their own homes. In their homes they have nice food, nice furniture. Everyone is grinning, because some of them never even imagined that they would be able to afford these kinds of luxuries. That is why I love my job so much. We really make a difference to people's lives and they genuinely appreciate what we are doing for them.

I will retire at the end of April, but am leaving UNOPS Office in Ethiopia in great hands. And I believe that UNOPS will continue to grow in the region. I will continue to cherish my time at UNOPS.