2020 was a year unlike any other, and its transformational tentacles reach well into this new year. Ongoing humanitarian crises and climate change merged with the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to wreak global havoc. At the heart of it sits Kirsten Mildren who leads global communications efforts to ensure continuous support for the 239 million people in dire need for humanitarian assistance. Kirsten is the Head of Public Advocacy and Campaigns for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) – which, admittedly, is “an absolute mouthful”. Despite all global challenges, Kirsten brought her sunny Australian soul, dog and kids, along with her team across the big pond from New York to the Hague.
I wanted to be a journalist ever since I was a little girl.
Prior to her current role, Kirsten materialized her childhood dream to become a journalist and worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Writing about current affairs eventually led her to cover asylum seekers and how the Australian government was treating them, so she “spent a lot of time in the desert, outside these detention centers working on these stories, because the conditions were deplorable. There were riots the whole time and breakouts”.
These instances may have sparked the tipping point for her to discover her inner humanitarian. A few years later, she moved to Ethiopia after meeting someone working for the UN there, and love had her in its grip. On her quest to find work as journalist, she stumbled across UN OCHA and has been with them for 15 years ever since, bringing a full-fledged skill set of knowing how to tell a story with her.
I really like putting order into chaos and making things work. Being at that frontline of advocacy and communication is, frankly, a privilege.
WHAT DOES KIRSTEN DO?
On the quest to reduce the impact of natural disasters and conflict, Kirsten has been working on Public Advocacy efforts of some of the largest humanitarian global challenges – ranging from Syria, Sri Lanka, Somalia, to Yemen, Myanmar, and Haiti. Strikingly, instead of walking into the office, exclaiming “Oh my god, how can I face another day dealing with these global challenges!”, breaking down these vast needs into manageable tasks is key. Right now, an advocacy campaign revolving around 10 years of conflict in Syria as well as raising the necessary 4 billion for Yemen are of prime importance for UN OCHA.
Syria really stood out for her, specifically one event at the UN General Assembly in 2016 for the World Humanitarian Day organized with her colleague Charlotte, who is also a member of the Humanity Hub. Telling the story of those suffering lies at the heart of her work at UN OCHA. At that time, the Syrian conflict was 5 years old and Kirsten and her team acted upon the need to share the story of the family featured in the documentary “The Children of Aleppo” at the event, which brought in much needed media attention. Ultimately, “the US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, used it in her address to the Security Council. It’s a good example of public advocacy influencing decision makers”.
We were so invested in this family, their safety and wellbeing. They represent hundreds of thousands of families who had the same story and same childhood stolen. It was an honor and privilege to have met them and to have been able to bring them to NY.
KIRSTEN AND THE HUB
Having looked at the Hub in 2019 left her tremendously excited to join the Humanity Hub and decentralize the OCHA office, looking forward to be “surrounded by all these partners who could be really relevant” in regard to what Kirsten and her team do in the communications team. Yet, only arriving in The Hague from New York in June last year, Kirsten and her team never actually got to properly move into their office in The Hague due to Covid. Despite the challenges, Kirsten values the Communications Coffee, a Hub community peer to peer group, which she sees as a great source of collaboration.
Having now settled into life in The Hague, UN OCHA are looking for creative partners, those that can help with boosting on social media, partners for bigger campaigns, as well as graphic designers and people who can create micro sites for photo exhibitions around the city center.
When you’re dealing with these challenges you face in comms, the greatest way you can do it is to get together with other communications people and hear about their workarounds and solutions to these big challenges. We really need to make those those linkages, that’s why the Hub is really critical for us.