We spoke to one of the most prominent faces of UNICEF in the field of supply and logistics: the regional chief of supply at UNICEF Middle East and North Africa, Paul Molinaro. It took five questions to scratch beneath the surface and know more about the UNICEF mandate, one of the most critical areas of its focus and the people working behind it.
- How long have you been with UNICEF?
❝I’ve been with UNICEF for the past 15 years and pretty much my whole professional career has been in supply and logistics. ❞
- Where do you feel was best for you working with UNICEF?
❝I’ve worked at country offices, at Supply Division in Copenhagen, and at the Regional Office in Amman for the past three years. Each are different and each bring in a new angle to the job.
Working at the Supply Division was very rewarding because the work has global reach and a high impact.
The country offices are also rewarding because you’re closer to children in need and you have a more direct interaction.
As for the Regional Office it’s a mix of the two. There’s a lot to learn. Work gives a good perspective on how to do things. For example, I know how the Syrian-Iraqi border looks like. I know what we can do in southern Turkey to reach children in need in northern Syria. I understand better on how we operate in Yemen.
Bringing all of that together: working in a country office and working with Supply Division are very useful experiences to have in the work I’m doing at the regional level. ❞
- Why do you think supply and logistics is an important priority for UNICEF?
❝It is a pillar of programme delivery: not just delivering supplies, but delivery of services, delivery of cash assistance to partners for them to implement services and providing human expertise.
Why I love supplies is because one gets to understand UNICEF’s programmes much better: how it functions, how you plan, and what your role in it is. So you really see things in an integrated manner. At the same time, the way UNICEF is, you’re also looking at all of that with a lens of operations.
You come with a management aspect, the financial aspect, and the risk component aspect. So having one foot with operations and one foot with the programmes is such a well-rounded experience.
What’s important is that you deliver assistance for children in need at the end of the day. ❞
- When did you know you wanted to work with supplies and logistics?
❝It was by accident, I have to admit.
I started doing it for an NGO in my home country: Kenya. I worked in north-east Kenya with the Somali refugee programme.
I was initially there for the first three months distributing food to refugees on behalf of the World Food Programme. I found that very rewarding. It was a tough and challenging job but at the same time I had a daily engagement with people.
It was a very immediate impact because you see that you provide, you sustain, and you nourish people. We were helping people in need. I think this has continued, what started off as an accident, but I got an affinity for it and I decided I really like this work and it has been with me ever since. ❞
- Is there a story you’d like to share with us that you believe has stayed with you?
❝In the years I’ve done this there are obviously many stories worth sharing. Two related stories come to mind which have had a profound impact on me. They taught me the meaning and value of certain programmes that UNICEF carries out.
In the year 2000, I was working for UNHCR in Guinea on the border of Sierra Leone:
Entering a refugee camp on the Sierra Leonean border with a normal basket of supplies that UNHCR provides: plastic sheeting, jerry cans, hygiene kits and really being met with an angry group of refugees who were very concerned because they received a message the same day that their children were going to lose a full year of education.
I was rolling into the camp with our trucks and they made it very clear that they were upset. I left the camp after I was beaten up… but this experience ,with a beating, woke me up to the power of education.
The follow up to that was two to three years later with UNICEF in Liberia where I was taking school supplies, what we call “school in a box” , for the back to school campaign from Monrovia to Tubmanburg. We had to go through a series of road-blocks and checkpoints which were sometimes quite distressing and not so easy to navigate. Many of those were manned by child soldiers. On the last road block before reaching the school, we were stopped by two or three child soldiers on the road block. It was quite intense and they insisted that we unload some of our cargo because they wanted to inspect the boxes.
The” school in a box” kit comes in shiny aluminum boxes which were very attractive. It wasn’t our policy to allow road blocks to check our supplies but we had to relent.
We opened one of the boxes and they started to rummage through its contents.
Inside the school in a box there was a multicolored counting cubes game that you can use as a counting aid.
These kids, after a while, started to play with the cubes. They put down their weapons and within a few minutes went from being aggressive military soldiers to children playing.
That left a lasting impact on me and now I see how it’s possible to rehabilitate these children. I don’t think I’ll forget this for the rest of my life. It kept me going. ❞
Paul Molinaro has been the regional chief of supply and logistics at UNICEF Middle East and North Africa for the past three years. He has previously worked with UNICEF country offices , Supply Division and other UN agencies.