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From teacher to UN ambassador

by Alex Doudy

UniSA graduate and United Nations Chief of Recruitment Michael Emery speaks to UniSA students.When Michael Emery decided to volunteer as a teacher in Liberia he wasn’t expecting to be caught in a civil war that would start a chain of events for the UniSA graduate that led to a senior position with the United Nations.

“Basically I came to work at the same time as a rebel group was moving down the country and my town was the next that they were going to take, so all of my students became refugees one weekend,” Michael said. “I came to work and there were no kids there to teach.

“Then, together with a good mate of mine, who was also a teacher and an internally displaced person, I went to the United Nations office and said ‘have you got a job?’ They said ‘do you know Liberia?’ I said ‘yeah sure’ and we started that afternoon.”

Now Chief of Recruitment in the United Nations Development Program in New York, the teaching graduate has years of field experience in some of the world’s most dangerous and politically charged conflicts.

After working in West Africa and the Balkans during the 1990s, Michael was posted to East Timor with international anti-poverty agency CARE Australia in 1999, and again with the United Nations in 2002.

He used his expertise in human resources and career development to help East Timor get back on its feet, an experience which he counts among the highlights of his career.

“It was just amazing to see a country literally starting from ashes to having a reasonably functioning government and having independence - it was quite remarkable.”

Another major achievement was initiating an International Organisations Career Development Roundtable.

The concept of bringing international organisations together to discuss career development trends was his brainchild, and grew organically from the first meeting of 25 participants, to a major global event that attracts around 70 organisations.

“It’s got to the point where it’s become such a big event that countries are actually now competing to host it, which is lovely.”

He also makes regular visits to the world’s top universities to speak to students hopeful of following in this foot steps, and this month he took time out of his holidays to address UniSA students for the first time. The visit was arranged by UniSA’s UN Society and the Global Experience team.

Michael highlighted the importance of networking and persistence for career advancement and encouraged students to take calculated risks when applying for positions with the United Nations.

And despite all the travel, he remains staunchly committed to staying an Adelaidian.

“Even though I’m only here for four or five weeks of the year it’s very much home. In fact every time I enter immigration in JFK in New York there’s always the question, ‘where do you live?’ I say Australia.”

Information about UniSA’s Global Experience program is available here