Regional Representative for UNA-Canada
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George Somerwill has had a varied and successful career working as a journalist with the BBC and CBC as well as with international nongovernmental organizations like CARE International, and in several UN Peacekeeping operations. He has held posts in emergency programming, media relations and post conflict reconstruction all over the world. Through his work, he has increased the impact and acceptance of the UN in various countries that have needed its assistance. By transforming the way people can connect through different means of communication, Somerwill has used the tools at his disposal, such as newly established local UN radio stations, and his journalism skills to work to bring opposing sides together to create change and foster lasting peace. Somerwill also notes the importance of social media as being the changing, more transparent contemporary face of journalism, stressing that everyone has the potential to be a journalist and should be better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities increasingly at their disposal.
George Somerwill, Background
George Somerwill worked as a journalist for the BBC African Service in the early seventies, and joined the CBC in 1976. During his journalism career, George traveled frequently to Africa to cover political and humanitarian stories.
Following a brief stint with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), in the early nineties, George joined CARE Canada, working in emergency programming in Zimbabwe, Somalia and Rwanda. It was while working with CARE in Angola in 1995, that he was recruited by the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
In 1998, while taking up a humanitarian post with the UN Oil-For-Food Programme (OFFP) in Saddam’s Iraq, George took over as Baghdad spokesperson for the OFFP. It was a fascinating three years, trying to deal with the world’s media, while both the UN Security Council and the UN senior management were themselves far from agreement about how to deal with Iraq.
In 2002, as the West hunted for Osama bin Laden and Afghan refugees poured into Pakistan, George served with UNICEF Pakistan. In 2003, he returned to United Nations peacekeeping and to the Horn of Africa, to serve in the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).
From 2004 to 2007, as the UN struggled to bring peace to North and South Sudan, George joined the fledgling UN peacekeeping mission in Khartoum as the Chief of Public Information, UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS). It was a challenging assignment, as the host government did not appreciate the UN’s attempts to bring peace and to encourage freedom of information.
George ended his UN career with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), where he served as Director of Communications from 2007 to 2011. The government of Africa’s first elected woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, had welcomed the UN since 2003, and she challenged the UN to use as many communications initiatives as possible to promote peace and the development in her country.
George Somerwill has an MA in Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development, from the University of York (UK).
Podcast recorded July 2013.
Feature Photo Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka