When Liam Brown, BA’15, landed a job with the United Nations in 2019, he was on top of the world.
“I had a dream of working there from a really young age,” Brown said. “I couldn’t have been more excited.”
Nor could he have known how a global pandemic would soon change the world, and the role he would play in helping the United Nations World Food Programme combat hunger in the most challenging global crisis since the second World War.
Brown’s interest in international issues took root early on, and was ignited at home.
“I was surrounded by the news growing up. CBC Radio was always playing in the background — my parents never turned it off. We would also pass around sections of The Globe and Mail over the breakfast table, so I was lucky to form a keen interest in what was going on around the world.”
Brown took part in Model UN team conferences throughout high school before coming to Western to study international relations.
He spent the third year of his undergraduate studies in France through the Ontario-Rhône-Alpes exchange program, returning home with a certificate in political studies from Sciences Po Grenoble and a cemented desire for a global career.
“Studying abroad helped me fully realize I wanted to be in a field where I could work internationally, across cultures, and continue to meet people from all over the world,” Brown said.
Today he’s realized all of those goals, working in Munich, Germany, supporting the WFP’s mission to achieve zero hunger by 2030 — one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all member states in 2015.
“Achieving zero hunger is a huge, insurmountable challenge,” Brown said. “But it’s something I feel good about working on every day, and I’m privileged to be working with a great team of people who feel the same.”
When Brown joined the WFP in 2019 as communication consultant for its Innovation Accelerator, acute food insecurity affected 135 million people in 55 countries. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit less than six months later, the number soared to 272 million.
“COVID drove up humanitarian need like never before because it compounded the root causes of hunger – conflict, economic shocks and climate shocks” Brown said. “That really demanded WFP to step up with its largest humanitarian response ever. I was lucky to be a part of it in my own little way.”
Brown was recruited to WFP’s five-member COVID response unit after being spotted for his strong writing abilities.
“My job was to get the global picture of what was happening and write reports to help inform our senior leaders and outside partners so they could coordinate a more effective response to the pandemic,” he said. “It was one of the biggest projects I’ve ever had the chance to work on. The scale was incredible.”
The organization had to change its programming to promote social distancing and safe interactions, while responding to massive need.
“A big part of what we do involves providing meals to kids in classrooms so they can stay in school, but with the school closures due to the pandemic we had to pivot to take-home rations or food vouchers instead. It was a huge amount of work.”
Writing about famine and conflict experienced by generations of people worldwide can be overwhelming at times, but Brown often finds inspiration in their resilience.
“Last year I had a chance to work on a story about a woman named Faida in the West Bank who was trained to grow her own fruits and vegetables using hydroponic equipment. When the pandemic hit, she was able to use that equipment to grow food at home for her family.
“The other huge source of inspiration is my colleagues,” Brown said. “I’m sitting writing at my kitchen table in Munich, but they’re the front-line humanitarians working in difficult situations around the world.”
He was excited to see their efforts recognized last October when the WFP was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.
“It was so meaningful to our work,” Brown said. “It acknowledged the important link between conflict and hunger and, on the flip side, between food security and peace. The award increased our opportunity to provide a voice to the millions of hungry people around the world and mobilize support for the food assistance they need. You can’t have peace if there is going to be hungry people, and there’s going to be hungry people as long as there’s conflict.”
With COVID-19 response fully integrated into the WFP’s daily operations, Brown now works as an information management officer in the organization’s emergency operations division. His team responds to other urgent situations driving hunger, including conflict, natural disasters — and any future pandemics.
“I have seen how COVID has affected people in many ways and feel very lucky to be healthy, working abroad and in emergency response,” Brown said. “I am counting my blessings a lot these days.”