The man with a strategic plan
A veteran of both policy and emergencies, Yasuyuki Misawa is upbeat about WFP Iraq’s new five-year outlook
Yasuyuki Misawa’s had a long and varied career with the World Food Programme (WFP). Growing up in Tokushima-ken on Shikoku — the smallest of Japan’s five main islands, near the huge Naruto whirlpools — he could barely have imagined his future life… surely the only boy from Tokushima who’s lived in Baghdad? Always measured, Yasu smiles and says: “Possibly, yes.”
Moving between diverse country contexts, ranging from post-crisis transition to emergency, Yasu’s developed a strong skillset that includes policy and project management.
He brought a host of experiences to his most recent role as WFP Iraq’s Deputy Head of Programme, overseeing the crafting of the new five-year Country Strategic Plan (CSP). Yasu’s hybrid policy/emergencies background was the perfect fit for this task.
Yasu started his career working with a top Asian airline in cargo, travelling all over Asia and developing expertise in project management. A graduate of Kanseigakuin University, this seemed the perfect opportunity. “But I began to feel that something was missing,” he tells me. “I had always been interested in Japan’s development assistance, and applied for a Master of Public Administration.” So, at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, he first started to grow his policy skills.
Upon graduating, he applied to be a UN Junior Professional Officer but didn’t pass the interview stage. “I was advised to get some hands-on development experience, and managed to secure a role working for a Japanese NGO in Mindanao in the Philippines,” he says.
“Although I was disappointed not to get the JPO position, it’s actually one of the best things that could have happened. I got first-hand experience working in an emergency context in Mindanao. That’s also where I met my wife. She is Filipina, and had just returned from studying in Japan. She was looking for a conversation partner to keep up her Japanese.”
When applying second time around, Yasu was offered a JPO position. “It was 1994. And my first experience working with the UN — with WFP’s small Mexico City office. We were just seven staff, working mostly on capacity-building.” Yasu loved that early experience.
“With a small team you get to wear many different hats,” he says. “I do love working on big operations too, but I got to learn every part of our work in Mexico well, understanding about a country in transition and how WFP can and did help support the government’s work towards self-sufficiency.”
He adds: “I got both great policy and management experience, as officer-in-charge whenever the Country Director was away.” After three more years in Central America, having learned Spanish he became Regional HR Officer — developing expertise in human capital and the management of people as well as processes.
He and his new family were ready to return to the Philippines. By then he had a small daughter, plus in 2000, he wanted to help following the East Timor crisis.
From East Timor the family eventually went to Eritrea, Angola, then Myanmar, where Cyclone Nargis struck in 2008. For one week he and his family struggled with little water and food — all the WFP distributions had already taken place for the month — and Yasu developed innovative ways to procure locally for WFP.
“Especially in emergencies, you have to be able to react quickly — making fast and prudent decisions, based on experience and knowledge of the potential consequences.” Thinking quickly and always putting people first, this is the Yasu I’d come to know and respect. He helped secure the food needs for people affected by the cyclone, alongside new and expanded partnerships with NGOs.
After Myanmar, he was appointed to WFP’s Regional Bureau in Thailand, which was a good fit for his young, growing family. In 2011, from Bangkok, he was unexpectedly seconded back to Japan for three months to provide support and coordination for the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami response.
“WFP loaned me out to help in a role similar to a [logistics] cluster coordinator. The work was broad — ranging from coordinating different organisations towards different needs, to responding to calls for help.
These included, “There’s a big ship on my roof”, and, “There’s a train carriage in my house.” I had never expected to serve in my own country, and I was glad to have been able to put my emergency experience to good use. We allocated the best and most practical resources and volunteers to meet needs.”
Yasu ended up taking more and more challenging posts, such as in Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan and then Iraq. By the time he arrived in Baghdad, he had plenty of experience for developing WFP Iraq’s new Country Strategic Plan. The five-year plan outlined is designed to be flexible and shock-responsive, providing practical support towards long-term self-sufficiency in Iraq.
Iraq’s new CSP is built on three pillars: Crisis response, Resilience, and Capacity building — which includes technical expertise to digitalize the Public Distribution System of food rations. Yasu oversaw the development of the CSP for over a year, from inception towards implementation. The Zero Hunger Strategic Review — on which WFP partnered with the Government of Iraq and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas— underpinned the initial CSP Concept Note. This led to a CSP full document, in tandem with a draft budget process. The final full document was approved in November at WFP’s Executive Board week in Rome.
Yasu and the team made sure the CSP remained practical as it evolved. “A robust CSP is more than just a theory: it is a workable plan that can be actioned and adapted, to the situation of the country at a given time in the coming five years … a strong strategy for Iraq.”