In the 20 years since he’s had a diverse career in the fields of international law and human rights. Andrew currently lives in New York and is the CEO of the NGO, Crisis Action. We recently got in touch with him to hear about what he’s doing now, and his experiences with UN Youth.
You’re currently the Executive Director of Crisis Action. Could you give some insight about what your job involves and the work that Crisis Action does?
mission is to prevent war, stop armed conflict and protect those people caught up in the horrors of war in places like Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. We do this by building advocacy coalitions of civil society voices to convince policymakers to act. Working entirely behind the scenes, you will never hear about Crisis Action but the voices we amplify are on the front pages of the papers and briefing the highest level policymakers. As Executive Director/CEO, I am responsible for leading an organisation of about 50 people in 12 countries. My job has involved everything from briefing the UN Security Council to developing our organisational strategy and overseeing our finances and fundraising. I feel so lucky to have a dream job and one that in many ways led directly from my time at UNYA.
Could you describe your pathway from university to a career in international law and human rights?
My career in human rights definitely began with UN Youth, while I was at high school. When I was at University (Arts/Law at the University of Melbourne), I was the National President of UN Youth, Australia’s first Youth Representative to the UN and a consultant on youth rights to UNESCO in the Pacific Islands and UNESCAP in Thailand. By the time I finished Uni, I already had significant experience in UN issues. Like most Aussies, I took the year off after Uni and traveled in South America, volunteering for some time with the UN Refugee Agency in Ecuador. I got qualified as a lawyer in Melbourne at Mallesons and did some fascinating pro bono work with their Human Rights Law Group, the Brimbank Melton Community Legal Centre and helping Afghanis/Iraqis to claim asylum at the Refugee and Immigration Legal Clinic. I moved to New York 14 years ago to do a masters in human rights law at NYU Law School. From there, I worked for 5 years at Human Rights First and now 8 years at Crisis Action. It’s been a fantastic pathway.
What impact do you think your experience with UN Youth had on the pathway you took after graduating?
Looking at the pathway above, you can see that my UN Youth experience had a direct impact on my career path. I was able to parlay the UN Youth experience into UN consultancies which set me on my career path. More broadly, UN Youth taught me invaluable advocacy skills which I have used in all my subsequent jobs.
You played an instrumental role in establishing the Australian Youth Representative to the UN program, and served as the first Youth Rep in 1999. What was the process like trying to convince the government of the day to agree to the program, and what was it like to serve as the inaugural Youth Rep?
It was tough! I remember feeling very lonely in New York as the first Youth Rep. The mission was unsure what the youth rep should do and wanted to treat the position as a glorified intern. I had to clearly demarcate the role and value add of the youth rep, which ruffled some feathers in New York and Canberra, but which in the long run I hope paved the way for the really successful program that is in place now. Establishing the role was a classic advocacy campaign. The inclusion of youth representatives in government delegations had been a recommendation of several UN reports and Youth Conferences. At a meeting with then foreign minister Alexander Downer, I asked him if he thought a Youth Representative was a good idea. He said yes and we then used that commitment to follow up with DFAT until they gave in!
Some memorable experiences as the first Youth Rep.
I spent 3 months staying in a dingy New York hotel in a single room where the hotel door clipped the bed as it opened. I remember arriving to that room from Australia on a weekend and then Australian UN Ambassador (and UN Youth Patron) Penny Wensley, calling me and telling me to accompany her to the UN Security Council! Without even a security badge, she whisked me in to the Chamber, where I sat behind her as she volunteered that Australia would lead an intervention force into to Timor (INTERFET
) to stop atrocities. It was one of the most iconic moments for Australia at the UN Security Council and a very surreal way to start the Youth Rep.