UN Habitat Programme Manager for Kuwait and the GCC
By Reaven D’Souza
With a doctorate in Sustainable Architecture and Role of Policy Making and End Users, Ameera Al-Hassan is the first Kuwaiti woman leading a UN programme in the region. Soft spoken but determined, she has been going about creating change with tangible results. In an exclusive interview with the Managing Editor of The Times Kuwait, she elaborated on her work, and hopes for an even brighter future for Kuwait and its people.
Giving us an insight into her academic background and her decision to work for the United Nations at the onset of the interview, Ms. Ameera explained: “My experience as a sustainability expert and my doctorate research theme enabled me to work efficiently for the UN-Habitat, which is the United Nations program mandated in issues pertaining to Sustainable Urban Development and the United Nations Human Settlement Program, UN-Habitat.
“UN-Habitat aims to help city dwellers create a better urban future for their cities and to realize the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the New Urban Agenda. The SDGs are described by the UN as a global blueprint for dignity, peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future. My long experience on ways to implement sustainable development goals at a personal and societal level inside our cities, so as to achieve environmental, economic and social sustainability, encouraged me to join UN-Habitat, initially as an intern in 2009 when I was a PhD reader. Over the years since then, I have worked to enrich my experience at the UN and on its roles and regulations.
“My roles and responsibilities at the UN have varied through the years, and in 2019 I was officially appointed in 2019 as UN Habitat Program Manager and Analyst for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, with my headquarters here in Kuwait. As the years progressed, I was tasked to do different assignments, starting from corresponding with our stakeholders inside and outside Kuwait; participating in the preparation process of the National Reports of the GCC countries; involving in c capacity building activities at the Gulf and Arab regional level, reaching out to donors for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees in the region; and in preparing and executing conferences and ministerial meetings. I have also been engaged in activities designed and conducted for people with special needs, youth and women, and other activities related to achieving SDG11 designed for experts in the Gulf and Arab region.”
Revealing some of the challenges that she faced as a women in what is still a largely male-dominated region, and her experiences as a woman working in her profession, the UN envoy said: “I believe, as the first Kuwaiti woman leading a UN program in Kuwait, my main challenge was carrying out a project that aimed to mitigate the effects of climate change and achieving sustainable urban development in Kuwait and other Gulf countries.
“Though aspirational, gender equality is a concept that is yet to be achieved on leadership level in UN organizations. We still have a long way to walk; women still continue to be less in numbers and earn less in wages. Highly educated women do not have the same opportunities as similarly educated men.
“Moreover, my challenge has been in leaving a legacy behind for Gulf women to follow, as Gulf women are still very low in numbers in the UN system, not because of lack of qualification, but usually because they need to step forward and take action.
“Besides these, as the world is facing the effects of climate change, we need to urgently implement projects that help mitigate the effects of climate change on the Gulf states. as well as in other Arab countries. This includes among others aiming for zero fossil energy, improving energy efficiency products, and better solid waste management. We need to eliminate the effect of climate change on public health, therefore, as I see it, it is my duty to encourage people to plant more and more trees on each passing day, so as to contribute to improving the general environment.
“There is a Chinese proverb; the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago! This shows you how important trees are, and by planting seedlings in the open public spaces we are in fact contributing to both the physical and psychological health of the general public.
“With the COVID-19 emerging out of the blue, a new challenge has risen, as women make up 75 percent of the medical and nursing personnel; helping at the societal and state level while maintaining a healthy family atmosphere became a priority as well as an essential element for survival.
Turning to what she enjoys most about working for the United Nations, Ms. Ameera disclosed: “Creating change and tangible results is the most joyful thing in working for the UN… You commence a project aiming at changing a situation and once you are done, you look back to it with total pride and a sense of achievement. Seeing people laugh happily when they receive their newly refurbished houses is incredibly fun. I enjoy meeting up with new people at different levels from presidents of states to prime ministers, ministers and members of the public and vulnerable people and learning from them.
“Preparing a new project, allocating resources, and implementing strategies, as well as coordinating and collaborating with the different stakeholders and partners so as to achieve the desired result, is such a wonderful experience. Raising funds for a cause and achieving your target are very hard work and yet very rewarding mentally.”
Elaborating on her work as UN Habitat Program Manager, Ms. Ameera explained: “At present being a program manager and analyst involves creating an annual work plan for the office that should link up between each GCC country strategy, the UN Agenda 2030 and the New Urban Agenda, as well as setting a timeline, implementing and reporting.
“Moreover, I have to link up with other organizations under ONE UN theme, and collaborate with other partners at governmental and non-governmental level. Our vision includes involving youth, women, vulnerable groups, NGOs, and the private sector to achieve SDG17 where possible in our projects. Therefore, over the course of the past decade I have met up with new partners and succeeded in creating continuous bonds with them.”
Speaking about her plans for the future, the UN program manager said: “ My ambition knows no boundaries; in the coming years my vision is to grow the UN Habitat role while achieving new milestones. While doing so, I will be seeking tangible results and creating a legacy to become a role model to other Arab women looking to join the UN. As a Kuwaiti citizen, my vision is to get appointed in a new post which no other Kuwaiti woman previously was recruited in, and this in itself will be a kick-start for my peers to consider working for the UN in larger numbers and climbing the success ladder.
“I honestly believe that more women from Kuwait should join international organizations. We need more women from Kuwait and GCC countries to get appointed to UN posts, as they do not lack the academic qualifications or experience, but they need to rise to the challenge and prove to the world that they too can achieve success at the highest levels. Already we have Gulf women becoming medical and academic doctors, engineers, artists, singers, teachers and even pilots, but until present time we face shortage in the number of Gulf and Kuwaiti women working for the different UN organizations and in the UNH.
“Work with the UN is important as it connects people and brings them together
In many ways, we work for humanity, linking donors with vulnerable people. Our work is based on the fact that nations all over the world face different kinds of challenges depending on their geographical location; some nations face famine and poverty, while others suffer from pandemics and diseases, natural catastrophes or wars. For us at the UN, we do not work on the basis of race, religion or gender, but rather we respond to the needs of nations and do our best to respond quickly to crises, because time is a very critical factor.”
On a personal note, Ms. Ameera revealed her hobbies that include watching movies, “however, because of time restrictions I watch movies usually during my mission flights. My other hobbies include hiking, mountaineering, playing squash and learning new words in new languages. I like attending public talks, learning new information and traveling to discover historical places. If there is one experience I would like to share with your readers it would be that my most precious experience is the ones related to humanitarian work.”
Nudging her to talk about other sides of her personality, Ms. Ameera revealed, “Since my undergraduate years until present time, I have worked in different jobs on full-time and part-time basis. For example, I have worked as a university journal editor and correspondent for some time, I volunteered as a microbiology lab technician in Ibn Sina Hospital in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
“I also worked as a high school teacher, a university professor , a puppeteer and a scientific researcher. I am good at drawing but I can never sing! I believe there are no limits to human’s capabilities and we only need to explore our hidden talents.
For instance, I became a mountaineer during my postgraduate years and I had the chance to do live translation for a famous cable news channel. Moreover, in 1997, I read a conference closing statement in Spanish in Mallorca, Spain. Though I have plenty of stories on my experiences to narrate, I still want to learn and experience new things in the coming years, as I join new posts and on the personal level.”