This profile was part of the Faculty of Public Affairs’ Generation FPA series, which highlighted up and coming alumni who graduated between 2008-2018. The series was published in 2018.
Per Unheim is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at CowaterSogema International, a management consulting firm focused on international development.
You have worked in or visited nearly 50 countries around the world. What does your job entail?
My work focuses on the design and delivery of public sector capacity building, service delivery and economic development projects. Most of our work takes place in developing and emerging market countries, where we work with governments and civil society to improve access to economic opportunities, especially for women, strengthen the quality and transparency of public services, and improve peoples’ quality of life more generally. So, travelling to countries like Indonesia, Myanmar and South Sudan is part of my day job.
You’ve spent quite a bit of time in the recently independent country of South Sudan. Can you tell us about that project?
I’ve been visiting South Sudan several times a year since 2013 for a project we just wrapped up in April. We were working for the Government of South Sudan on a project financed by the World Bank that focused on building the capacity of county governments to plan, finance, procure and manage local infrastructure such as water points, health units, latrines and classrooms. Our role was to prepare and deliver training materials, train and advise county and state officials, and provide technical support related to construction works.
What role did you play?
I served as our headquarters-based Project Director and had the pleasure of seeing the project all the way from A-Z, from writing the initial proposal to the client through to its implementation and closure over a four-year stretch. My movements were unfortunately confined to the capital city of Juba, largely due to security constraints, but our staff were spread across seven states. At its peak we had a team of almost 60 people from both South Sudan and other parts of Africa delivering technical support to over 20 counties, many of which were affected by the country’s ongoing civil conflict. The project would not have succeeded without them.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
It has to be the opportunity to think deeply and creatively about how to design and manage projects so they can have the greatest, lasting impact on people’s lives.
Beyond that, it would be being exposed to new places and cultures on a pretty regular basis. On that note, I heard someone say recently that “kids laugh the same way everywhere,” which is absolutely true; I just wish more people had the chance to experience this for themselves, as the world would be a better and more peaceful place if they did.
How did your MA in International Affairs help you?
In terms of classes, I often think of Professor Fen Hampson’s bargaining and negotiations course, since a big part of my job is negotiating contracts and rate agreements with consultants and partners.
I also got a lot out of Professor Dane Rowland’s course introducing students to international financial institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks. The first successful proposal I wrote for CowaterSogema shortly after NPSIA, an urban service delivery project in Nepal, was for the Asian Development Bank: Prof. Rowland’s course gave me the context I needed to write to their expectations and navigate relations with my counterparts once it was up and running.
Lastly, I left NPSIA with a solid group of friends, as well as a foot in the door with CowaterSogema following a recommendation by one of my classmates. I managed to get a small assignment before I graduated, and after that, the company offered me a job. It’s now been over 11 years!
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This profile was part of the Faculty of Public Affairs’ Generation FPA series, which highlighted up and coming alumni who graduated between 2008-2018. The series was published in 2018. John Nater was elected to Parliament... More
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