Farewell Op-Ed from UNDP Resident Representative, Jorn Sorensen


August 25, 2023

The End of a Season 

by: UNDP Resident Representative Jorn Sorensen

Four years ago, I arrived in Samoa amidst an air of optimism and promise. It was my first time in the Pacific region, and I was excited to begin my journey as the United Nations Development Programme’s Resident Representative for the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, and Tokelau.

Little did I know that in the space of a few years, a lot would happen, not just in Samoa but globally as well, that would change the trajectory of the world as we knew it.

My tenure in Samoa coincided with some momentous events in the history of this country. A month after I arrived in August 2019, Samoa started grappling with the mammoth challenge presented by the measles epidemic that took the lives of 83 people, most of whom were children. The tragedy of this remains to this day. 

During my time here, there was also a change in government for the first time in over 30 years, and with it came the instatement of the country’s first ever female Prime Minister. It was a historic moment that reverberated worldwide.

Then along came one of the biggest modern-day crises the world has ever known in the form of COVID-19, the ramifications of which are still being felt today in every facet of life as we now know it. 

As it does everywhere else around the world, UNDP continued to stay and deliver. 

In response to COVID, we provided much-needed COVID-19 test equipment and kits from the outset, working with other United Nations agencies and development partners to achieve this. 

We supported digital transformation during lockdowns, through the provision of video-conferencing solutions, which enabled the governments of Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau to still function during these critical times. We also supported education continuity for many schools by facilitating access to online learning platforms. 

Our response during COVID also supported and empowered women business owners to still earn an income during the lockdowns through the production of cloth face masks and other products from the safety of their own homes, as well as providing helplines, a critical service for victims of domestic violence during the lockdowns. 

Our COVID response was also inclusive and accessible, as we partnered with local organisations for people with disabilites (PWDs) to provide PWD-specific educational materials and other necessary equipment and support.

UNDP will continue to stay and deliver. We are committed to serving the people of Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau.

My term as UNDP’s Resident Representative comes to an end in the first week of September. As that time approaches, and as I venture into retirement after 29 rewarding years with the United Nations, most of them with UNDP, I look back on a very fulfilling professional career that took me throughout Asia – from Mongolia to North Korea, China, India and Nepal – to UNDP Headquarters twice, to assignments in Iraq, Jordan, Sri Lanka, and now ending in beautiful Samoa. 

It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as UNDP Resident Representative in Samoa, working alongside all our development partners, and the governments of the countries under this UNDP Multi-Country Office (MCO), particularly the Government of Samoa. 

I leave Samoa at a time of ongoing crises and numerous unresolved challenges in different parts of the world. These have all put a great deal of humility in me and an acknowledgement of the relevance and importance of the UN system worldwide. 

We see climate-related disasters and scores of other vulnerabilities internationally, and the UN today has more relevance than ever before in supporting millions of vulnerable people.

However, and most unfortunately, we also see a UN that globally today may have lost some of its teeth when being challenged by dictatorships and wars and man-made disasters that are all becoming ever more apparent, and closer to everyone. 

Crisis situations today affect more people than ever before, even those who are fortunate enough to live in a paradise, green island in the Pacific like Samoa. 

In a digital world, we are also getting much closer to people living on the other side of the globe, and we are all affected by negative rhetoric, by crisis situations and the consequences of wrong decisions made by others. 

While delivering development options will remain at the forefront of UNDP’s work, promoting structural transformation and ensuring democratic rights and expanding people’s choices must be among the key areas UNDP should continue to focus on in the future. 

This should be paired with important opportunities in the areas of digital transformation, gender equality, and exploring every aspect of sustainable development such as food security in a rapidly changing environment and climate situation, and a world that is constantly changing, presenting us with new global realities that we must adjust to. 

I leave Samoa and the UN family with a sense of humility. This may be the end of the current season, but it is also the start of another, not just for me, but for my successor and the UNDP MCO in Samoa.

Meitaki ma’ata Cook Islands, Fakaaue lahi Niue, Fa’afetai tele lava Samoa and Fakafetai Tokelau. It has been an honour serving you through UNDP.