Meet Andrew Harper


Name: Andrew Harper
Work: Innovation Lead, UNHCR
University: Australian National University
Lives: Geneva, Switzerland
Award: 2017 Advance Global Australian Social Impact Award

Describe what you do and why it’s important in one sentence.

I think there’s no better job than working with and for people who are in need. In this case, refugees are probably the most vulnerable people in the world.

What’s your favourite story to tell about your career?

Whatever opportunities that come about, have no regrets and make the most of every day that you’ve got. It’s no use waiting for others to make a difference when you’ve got the potential yourself.

What’s your earliest memory of making an impact on someone’s life?

I was in Turkey and working for the Australian government before I even joined UNHCR. There were thousands of refugees crossing through Iraq; you were responsible for other people’s lives. You had to make sure that people had accommodation, water, and food. You can’t postpone when people’s lives are at stake. There’s nothing more rewarding or satisfying than being able to say you are doing the most that you can. At the same time you’ve also got to we say continually be dissatisfied I’d say with your performance. If you say you’re doing enough then that’s not enough. Most importantly, you’ve got to put yourself in the position that they are in. It’s no use trying to bring your values or your ideals into a situation where that doesn’t work. You have to be understanding, be able to listen and to continually refine how you approach things and to continually learn.

Why do you think it’s important for Australians abroad to have access to a network of other Australians?

I think there is a need for when people are in difficult locations and challenging locations to be able to talk to somebody or share experiences with others who can relate to it who’ve got a grounding or a base from somewhere which they can share.

What does winning the 2017 Advance Global Australian Social Impact Award mean to you?

What I would be saying is this is recognition for all Australians who are working with refugees both at home and abroad and trying to give people the opportunities that we often take for granted. I’ve got friends who are Australians who are in Afghanistan or in Yemen or in Somalia and they deserve these awards probably even more so than what I do. I’m accepting this award on behalf of all Australians working with refugees and displaced persons.

What would you say is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t worry too much about rules and procedures, make your decisions if it helps somebody. If you’re doing it for the right reason and so that somebody will be better protected or be better assisted than you can always justify it.

What’s the first thing you do after returning to Australia after a period of time away?

Have a sausage roll and give mum a call!

How would you say innovation and technology are improving global humanitarian efforts?

We’re looking at improved communications and looking at a world when everybody has a smartphone when connectivity or access to the internet is omnipresent when the cost of data is zero and sort of saying in that type of environment, what types of protections and services and information can we provide. The world is moving incredibly rapidly.

Meet Andrew Harper, the 2017 Advance Global Australian Social Impact Award Winner.

Meet Andrew Harper, Innovation Lead, UNHCR

Andrew's Sister Virginia Harper accepting the 2017 Advance Global Australian Social Impact Award on his behalf