Ms. Barrie Freeman is Chief of Staff at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). She tells her impact story and shares valuable tips how to build a career in this field and insights about the challenges and the rewards working for peace at the United Nations.
Name: Ms. Barrie Freeman (USA)
Job position: Chief of Staff, United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Bangui, CAR.
Tell us who you are…
I am first and foremost an optimist. I believe that positive change is always within reach and that we all – regardless of nationality, religion or ethnicity – share a common humanity that transcends borders and cultures. I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my career working in Africa and on African issues, and I have seen the possibilities for growth when guns are silent and governments are accountable to their people.
What you do in this mission?
I am the Mission’s Chief of Staff. I’m responsible for executing the priorities of the Secretary General’s Special Representative and for ensuring on a day-to-day basis that the mission works together across the various civilian pillars and uniformed components to achieve our complex mandate as efficiently as possible. I am a “connector” in this regard, something that’s very important in an organization that has a tendency toward silos. I also am a key link between the Mission and Headquarters in New York for organizational planning, prioritization, and operational effectiveness. I oversee the Mission’s 11 Field Offices, the Joint Mission Analysis Center, the Joint Operations Center, the Legal Office, the Mission’s Strategic Planning Unit, the Board of Inquiry, the Protocol Office and the Mission’s Conduct and Discipline team.
When and why did you join the UN?
I joined the UN in 2014. My first job was as the Director of Political Affairs in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). I applied first through the Senior Women Talent Pipeline initiative. After I was chosen for the Pipeline, the staff in the Department of Field Support managing the Pipeline suggested I apply to this position in MINUSCA. They also provided guidance and advice throughout the process, and eventually I was selected.
I’ve spent most of my career in various US State Department positions in Washington and overseas, and working more recently, from 2002 – 2014, for a US-based NGO, the National Democratic Institute (NDI). At NDI I managed democracy and governance programs in Central and West Africa initially, and then in North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring. I applied to the UN as an opportunity for professional growth and for a new challenge. I saw it as a valuable opportunity to play a lead role in resolving conflict, promoting peace and saving lives.
Do you have any personal habits or traits that have been critical to your success?
Tenacity, determination, empathy for others, emotional intelligence, a positive outlook, and grit!
Working in UN Peace Operations
Is there anything about working in this field that you did not expect when starting?
There are so many contradictions between what is expected of a peacekeeping mission and what is actually possible in highly dysfunctional and asymmetrical conflict settings. MINUSCA has a complicated and mandate from the Security Council and must balance resources in a fluid environment where it’s a constant challenge to identify and prioritize emerging threats, especially to civilians.
What is a typical workday like for you?
There is no typical workday! But often there are senior staff meetings or interactions with colleagues in the Mission headquarters and the field offices to keep the Mission working together as one, troubleshooting and problem-solving on myriad issues from outbreaks of violence that affect civilians and UN staff, working with the host government on issues related to the Mission’s Status of Forces Agreement, and ensuring the recruitment and onboarding of new staff. There are many mundane tasks as well, from office space and vehicle allocation to managing transportation requests from host government officials to filling staffing gaps, to clearing correspondence and maintaining open contact with New York colleagues. All too often days include some form of crisis management.
What’s special about working in UN Peace Operations?
The ability to harness a broad spectrum of resources – humanitarian, development, and peace and security --- to create an environment where peacemaking and peacebuilding is possible. It’s like steering a very big ship in choppy seas when you need all hands on deck working toward a shared goal.
What are the most important lessons that you would like to share with anyone interested in pursuing a career in UN Peace Operations?
Be open to different cultures and ways of achieving results, and understand the primacy of politics in all things! You also have to work hard and demonstrate integrity – it’s part of the commitment to the UN but more importantly to the people we serve.
Tell us the story about what you consider as your proudest moment in your career with UN Peace Operations.
I was one of the senior leaders developing and implementing the political strategy of MINUSCA to support the post-conflict elections in CAR in 2015-2016. With all our hard work, planning, and the commitment of the Central African population, the elections were peaceful at a time when violence seemed inevitable. This is not to say that elections are an end to themselves, but the conduct of peaceful and credible elections represented an important milestone for Central Africans and the international community that supported them.
We know that many of our followers would like to hear some advice on how to get a job with UN Peace Operations. Do you have any good tips to share?
Prepare a good Personal History Profile (your application) that reflects who you are, practice for your interview, and go to networking events to get your foot in the door. For me, joining the Senior Women Talent Pipeline was a great opportunity to network, understand the recruitment process, and gain an appreciation for what peacekeeping would be like. It helped me take the plunge!