SFU alumnus inspired by her organization’s 2020 Nobel Peace Prize

December 23, 2020

Simon Fraser University alumnus Cynthia Jones has seen many challenges to global food security over the past 25 years—from wars to the latest pandemic—working with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Despite the ongoing impact of COVID-19, she says the organization’s recent 2020 Nobel Peace Prize has been a highly motivating and inspiring factor for staff heading into a new year.

Jones says she was “absolutely dumbfounded” when she heard the news. “We at WFP have been recognized for our work on the front-line of hunger in conflict zones and for the role that we play in supporting peace and security,” says Jones. “And in this very difficult year with COVID and long hours, it has given everyone the motivation to keep going.”

Jones began working at the WFP after graduating from SFU, where she studied kinesiology and developed her leaderships skills through studies and on SFU’s field hockey team. As a front-line worker with WFP’s Sudanese refugee operation in Northern Uganda, her role involved feeding approximately 200,000 refugees who had fled the war in southern Sudan and Ugandan internally displaced people (IDPs).

“The majority of the population was forced into the camps by the military,” she recalls. “No other aid organizations were moving to the camps because of the security situation with landmines and ambushes along the roads, and attacks on the camps. Rolling into those camps with a convoy of food trucks behind me and seeing the Acholi people cheer and dance is forever imprinted in my mind.”

Over the course of her career, Jones has worked across four continents in roles ranging from front-line operations to head office strategic planning.

In her current role as chief administrative officer, she leads a team of about 70 staff at WFP’s headquarters, providing guidance to 2,000 administrative staff in the field and enabling services, such as travel, transport, protocol and accommodation to field operations. She has also contributed to the secretary general’s vision for UN business operations reform, with the aim of greater cost efficiency and improved service delivery.

Jones, from Agassiz, B.C., has advice for youth looking to follow in her footsteps. A degree in international development, second language skills, including French, and an area of specialization will help new grads succeed.

“I would encourage those interested to consider specializing first—in health, nutrition, public policy, economy or human rights,” she says. “Bring some expertise in any further studies on International Development, she says. “Languages are also essential. As a Canadian working abroad, you are expected to be fluent in French.”

The pandemic has made the work Jones and her colleagues do even more crucial. WFP estimates that 271.8 million people are already or are at risk of becoming acutely food-insecure due to the aggravating effect of the COVID-19 crisis. A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021, nearly a 40 per cent increase on 2020, almost entirely brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To support the work of the WFP, follow them on Twitter and share information on social media. Download Freerice, an online educational game that donates 10 grains of rice to people in need for every correct answer, and the award-winning Share the Meal app to share a meal with a child.

By Melissa Shaw