Posts Tagged courage

“The thought of succeeding invariably brings to mind the existence of failure”

In a continent where development is most often threatened by the lack of adequate health security, it takes alot of determination to be fully involved. This week, we talk to Ngime Epie,  a Cameroonian  volunteer/health communicator, on the role courage in his passion for peace building. 

On a personal level, how have you experienced your courage?

For me, courage has been a permanent requirement for the completion of my everyday assignments, both professional and family related. In my neighborhood, where I grew up, courage is indispensable. From school fights, which I took part in, to crossing the road safely to trying to convince members of a community to take up a project, I have always needed courage. My first school fight taught me the greatest lesson in life. As a school boy, I was one of the favorite targets for bullies partly because I was always calm. Then one day when a guy about my age seized my pencil and asked me to write with my fingers, the whole class burst out laughing at me. My head swelled with shame but my heart also bit faster with anger. In that state of anger, I gave the guy a serious knock in the face and he fell. Every one stopped and looked at me in shock. The guy got up, rummaged his bag and found my pencil which he handed back to me. He never bothered me again. I realized from then that I could accomplish a lot if only I could summon the courage to do anything.
What does courage in the international system look like?

The international system is composed of many sub-systems and coordinating all the sub-systems to function as a unit is an uphill task. It involves some tasks like asking people to change their mentalities and habits and this will take a lot of courage on the part of the actors and stakeholders. The fear to fail at an international level that is always lurking behind and around any project to be undertaken commands courage from those who implement them or oversee their implementation.
What are the stumbling blocks you have ever encountered that could deter your courage?

I am my first stumbling block. Sometimes, I let fear get the better part of me and it stops me from accomplishing so many projects. Another factor that usually discourages me is the thought of lack of means and resources to complete an assignment or task. The dearth of financial and material resources is a constant challenge to my courage in carrying out some professional tasks.
What is the place of Courage in carrying out a successful project?

The thought of succeeding invariably brings to mind the existence of failure. At the start of every project, there is the fear of failure lodged deep in the hearts of conceivers and actors of the project. Therefore, courage is at the heart of every successful project because taking up a project means overcoming the fear to fail.

Part Two

Who are you?

My name is Ngime Epie. I am a language services provider I multi-task. First, I work with a Cameroon-based NGO, Global Health Dialogue (GHD) where I serve as Assistant Project Officer. I am also a freelance translator (Fre<>Eng) and a contributor to a number of blogs

Can you tell us more about your work?

As the Assistant Project Officer in an NGO, I take part in sensitization campaigns in local communities, training of leaders of other NGOs. I also help to design projects, attend meetings and make recommendations to local authorities through reports. Most importantly, I design health projects to impact the most remote regions in my country. I also try to seek immediate as well as long term solutions to serious health problems plaguing remote areas in Cameroon.

What are some results you’ve seen in your work?

Some of the sensitization campaigns I take part in have resulted in change of attitudes and habits. Also some of the recommendations have helped local authorities in taking decisions that have affected, positively, the lives of the local peoples. Tackling a recent cholera outbreak in 2011 was one of my satisfying results because I acted spontaneously through GHD to tackle an epidemic in a community which I have never been used to.

What are your favorite things about working for GHD?

The best thing about GHD is flexibility. At GHD, most projects are designed with a lot of flexibility to minimize the impact of its failure, just in case. Also, the professional working environment is convivial

What are the challenges of working and living in your duty station?

It is not easy to live in town like Buea where information does not circulate freely. Information is also poorly managed and not archived. This is one of the challenges of carrying out a project in Buea. Lastly, the cost of living in Buea is slightly higher than average.

Inspiring courage: GVI interview with Fabrizio Hochschild.

Defending the truths of the UN Charter has taken guts, ambition, but above all courage. As such was seen in the legendary bravery of former Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello and former UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjöld. In efforts to understand these two men and the role courage should play in the UN system, GVI’s Gesù Antonio Báez interviewed UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Colombia, Fabrizio Hochschild to discover more.


1)  In your article “In and above conflict: a study on leadership in the United Nations” you begin with the quote “The world needs leaders made strong by vision, sustained by ethics, and revealed by political courage….”: Could you explain what exactly is political courage and is it present in the current UN System?


Political courage is akin to moral courage, it is about standing up for those who do not have a voice, it is the courage to speak truth to power in order to uphold the values of the UN Charter.


The importance of moral courage – especially among the organization’s senior leaders – is not always adequately promoted and celebrated. There are many examples of it, especially in the field, and I would suggest more among junior colleagues. As we get more senior, many of us grow less willing to speak up and we tend to place a greater value on caution, on maintaining relationships and avoiding controversy.


2)  You worked for many years with the late Sergio Vieira de Mello who for many, together with former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, is viewed as an example of the political courageousness and valiance. What was it about these two extraordinary men that was so unique? Can you identify anyone present in the current system who has these qualities?


Sergio I knew well, Hammarskjöld only indirectly, mainly from reading. Both were motivated by many of the same convictions about the UN but were quite different in style and character. Hammarskjöld was a Swedish civil servant and former central banker while Sergio was a Brazilian career UN staffer and former student activist with long work experience in conflict areas.


Both were inspired by the notion that the UN served and promoted international values and norms. Both believed strongly in the importance of the independence of the UN Secretariat and the need for staff to be scrupulous in avoiding representing individual member state or regional interests.  Both believed that the main purpose of the UN was to serve the less fortunate, those without access to power or influence and that staff needed to be guided by the values set out in the UN Charter. At the heart of Hammarskjöld´s vision – which inspired Sergio – was his concept of integrity: Integrity not understood in the narrow sense it is often used now but in broader terms, integrity not merely as avoiding breaking UN staff rules, but more importantly as an obligation to pro-actively uphold the standards and norms of the UN especially when it is difficult and controversial to do so.


Hammarskjöld was reflective, cerebral and, as “Markings” reveals, quite spiritual. He argued flawlessly based on principle and law. Sergio´s approach and style differed. He relied more on charm, charisma, eloquence and an uncanny ability to empathize with his interlocutor than on principle and conceptual reasoning to win over others to the cause of the organization.  He also drew a lot on his field experience.


Both to this day move and inspire staff. I have seen examples of their skill, vision and courage at every level in the organization.


3) In life, it is sometimes necessary to take risks in order to achieve a greater good. This, of course, takes courage. However, in the present UN System, many within are afraid of taking those risks for fear of losing job security. What action do you think must happen in order to encourage more courage within the system and generate true leadership? And by which actors (e.g. managers, directors, general staff, NGO’s, etc)?


There are a number of things that can be done. The first is that field work should be encouraged, as well as first hand exposure to the conflict situations the UN was created to attend to. This experience is far more likely to light the flame of passion and conviction which nurtures the courage to stand up for what is right. Where staff only know UN service from sitting in an office in New York or Geneva, far removed from those we serve, it is much harder to gain the inspiration and courage that comes with field service. Those who have lived through conflict, witnessed crimes against humanity or been exposed to extreme poverty, know that job security is not what matters most.


A second thing that can be done is to look again at our recruitment and promotion processes. We need to value much more integrity in the sense Hammarskjöld understood it in these processes. We don’t value sufficiently the ability of skillfully, tactfully and courageously advancing principled causes where it is difficult and controversial to do so. We need to go back to what Hammarskjöld stood for and what most people want from the UN: The courage, conviction and skill to uphold and promote the implementation of universal values; the disposition to serve those in direst need and to be able to do so under pressure without flinching or undue compromise. We need to seek out and recruit those who have a proven record of this in their CVs. We also need more women in leadership positions.


Thirdly we need to re-awaken what made most staff want to join the organization but then too often gets diluted or forgotten as their careers progress. Caution and inaction too often become the default tendencies in light of contradictory pressures and a risk and criticism averse culture. We too rarely risk sticking our necks out until we are sure we are not too exposed and we are part of a pack of powerful interests. We must learn again to work more from a norms and values based perspective and accept that friction and criticism is inevitable when we do that. We also have to think less about how we will be judged today or tomorrow and more about what history will have to say about what we managed to do and the positions we took.


And finally, those of us who are senior have to do better at trying to set an example, an example in conviction and persistence, and in terms of independence from member state interests and upholding the international norms when it many be perilous and difficult to do so. We need to try and set an example for younger, more junior staff rather than profiting from their idealism and commitment while not doing enough to nurture it. We have to do more to create a culture where staff feel safe and supported taking initiative and taking risks in pursuit of what the organization stands for.




I want to see you be “brave”: courage in and around the UN system

There’s a catchy new song from the popular singer Sara Bareilles that has hit the radios recently. Entitled “Brave”, the song goes into detail on the singer’s desire for the listener to “say what they want to say” and “be brave”.


As the lyrics go:


You can be amazing

You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug

You can be the outcast

Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love

or you can start speaking up


Catchy as the song may be, it does leave room for pondering on how inactive we may have been in certain situations in our lives, and makes us wonder how brave we have really been.


It also prompts us to ask if there is any relevance of bravery to the actions of those that work in and around the UN system? Recent criticism is that many are not taking risks for fear of being reprimanded or making an unpopular decision. But with the general scope of work involving the need to be purposeful in our roles, where is the courage to vocalize one’s passion?


It’s indeed normal for many to be afraid of failure, but given that the work of the United Nations is designed to have an impact on the 7 billion citizens that inhabit this plant, wouldn’t those who work in it be obliged to try and try again, in order to achieve the true potential of both their role and their work within the UN?


Nelson Mandela was famous for saying that it was through his greatest failures that he achieved his greatest strengths. But taking risks and preparing for failure takes courage and bravery – above all, it takes confidence and passion. Could this be lacking within the system?


In January and February, we will be exploring this topic and trying to understand how we can indeed be brave and take the initiative to rekindle passion and promote positive and purposeful change in and around the UN system






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