by Andre Spatz

What It’s Like To…Send People into Danger

Dec 15, 20042 mins
IT Leadership

My travels as CIO are hairier than the typical CIO’s. In Colombia on the eve of elections, I had soldiers outside my hotel room. I also had to have armed guards when I traveled to Ivory Coast. And these weren’t soldiers protecting me; these were just men with guns.

Of course, as the CIO of Unicef, I am not normally on the front line, but I am responsible for the people who are.

Unicef rotates its international staff around the globe. We only keep people in crisis situations for a maximum of two years at a time. In most places, someone might stay for five years; but in places where you can’t have your family because it’s too dangerous, we ask people to stay for much shorter times.

We train them. They do everything from working at the help desk to learning security skills for dangerous situations.

We ask a lot of our staff. IT has become such a critical enabler of everything we do that our IT group, which is also responsible for telecom and other technical support, is among the first group of people to go in. For example, in the summer of 2003 when Unicef helped negotiate a cease-fire in Liberia so that we could go in and give immunizations against the measles, the IT guys were on the first flight in so that they could set up the satellite equipment we needed. When we met with our Iraq staff shortly after Baghdad fell, they showed us photos of them setting up satellite links on rooftops. You could see the Black Hawk helicopters in the sky behind them.

—As told to Ben Worthen