On 4 August 2008, Fernanda Guerrieri took up her new post in Budapest as FAO’s Subregional Coordinator for Central and Eastern Europe and Deputy Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia. Fernanda started at FAO as an APO in 1988. She went on to be the FAO Representative in Viet Nam at a young age and at a time when there were very few female FAO Representatives. Prior to her new post, Fernanda was the Chief of FAO’s Emergency Operations Service (TCEO) for six years.
“I am an agronomist so getting a foot into FAO through the APO programme was the dream of my life. It allowed me a life that is not imaginable to the average Italian - especially as a woman.
I was assigned as a Project Operations Officer in the Forestry Department for the Operations Service, Latin America and Caribbean Desk. After less than two years, funding for my APO position ran out so I had to come up with an exit strategy. One of the countries I was responsible for was Equatorial Guinea and I was posted on the island of Malabo for almost three years. This was my first time in Africa and to begin with it was very difficult - I got malaria after just three weeks. The main FAO office for Equatorial Guinea was in Cameroon where none of the Representation staff spoke Spanish which made things complicated. On the other hand, such isolation meant we were very independent and this was fortunate for my future career. I became more accountable and learnt quickly how to be responsible.
Throughout my career I have had the chance to rotate continuously between headquarters and the field, in positions of progressively higher responsibility. So far, my most satisfying experience has been shaping FAO’s Emergency Operations Service and contributing to making FAO a reputable humanitarian and relief actor - all this without losing my humour, temper, enthusiasm and the ability to care for my family.
I think personal motivation is perhaps the most important thing in this line of work. It is really a life decision. To attain a higher level role at FAO you would normally need a significant amount of experience (minimum of five years usually) in the field. You must be very flexible and able to make quite a lot of personal sacrifices and this can be difficult for people - especially women with families. In many ways, working for the UN is like a mission, it’s not for everybody.
I think mentoring is a fundamental aspect of the APO programme. People should be placed in positions that are demanding so they can learn but it is vital they receive lots of guidance from a good supervisor.”