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Monday 26 March 2007

UNICEF: Maura retires, Melanie joins

This particular posting has very little to do with “the software industry” and more to do with the “other things” , so skip it if you are just interested in technology!

As I mentioned in my first posting, I am (non exec.) Chair of UNICEF Ireland. If you travel transatlantic with Aer Lingus, you may be aware of our “Change for Good” campaign which the cabin staff and airline management promote for us..

I first became involved in UNICEF as a result of an early decision at IONA to designate it as our corporate charity. I joined the UNICEF Board level back in 2001 after IONA underwrote a major auction for HIV/AIDS at Sothebys in New York for memorabilia donated by the movie industry, as a result of a wonderful initiative taken by Liam Neeson.

Maura Quinn got me involved, in her role as the Executive Director. Maura has been a tireless leader and advocate for children at UNICEF, since starting in 1996. She has been a frequent visitor to UNICEF’s field operations worldwide. She put the “Movie action for kids” initiative together, and was the driver behind the UNICEF world wide initiative on HIV/AIDS – a decision taken when we hosted the annual global conference of the national fund-raising committees in Dublin in 2004. During her tenure, the Irish Government has dramatically increased its giving to the third world and is well on its way to its public commitment to invest 0.7% of GDP, and in particular – and I believe as a direct result of Maura’s intervention – for children and HIV/AIDS.

Maura came to me last September and told me she had decided, after ten years, to step down as Executive Director. She is doing so for personal reasons, and will be returning to her home town of Roscommon. I am very sorry to see her go, wish her the very best, and am sure that she will continue to be a great friend of UNICEF.

Amrop-Hever very kindly offered their services in finding a replacement for Maura. We had a large number of candidates, and some very strong ones indeed. I am very happy to confirm today that Melanie Verwoerd is taking over from Maura, from April (ie next week).

Melanie is a South African national, living in Dublin. She lived and studied in the UK for a while, but returned to South Africa in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. She advocated strongly against apartheid, and on behalf of women and children.

She was invited by Mr. Mandela to stand for Parliament on behalf of the ANC, and was duly elected in 1994 as the youngest ever woman to serve the South African Parliament, and subsequently also re-elected.

In 2001 she was appointed as the South African Ambassador to Ireland. She was involved in the Northern Ireland peace process, and during her tenure both trade and tourism in South Africa from Ireland greatly increased.

In 2005 she finished her post as Ambassador and has remained in Ireland. She has been the weekly presenter on national radio on issues relating to immigrants and children in Ireland. She also has represented the Mandela Rhodes Foundation here.

As far as I know, I believe that this is the first time a major Irish based NGO has appointed a foreign national as its Chief Executive, and I believe that Melanie will bring a fresh perspective and linkage between childrens issues in the developing world and in Ireland.

I enjoyed very much working with Maura. I believe that working with Melanie will be as exciting, and I expect she will be a very powerful advocate for children.

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