Youssouf Abdel-Jelil (Fels '89)

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June 20, 2013

By Kelliston McDowell, MPA '14

The Fels Institute of Government embraces its three principles.

Purpose. Practice. Possibility.

Through his work with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), alumnus Youssouf Abdel-Jelil has channeled the first two in hopes of ensuring and expanding the third. Currently based in the conflict-ridden nation of Syria, Abdel-Jelil and his team are working tirelessly to meet the basic needs of children affected by the crisis.

Abdel-Jelil explained that his role as Representative for UNICEF Syria involves “putting in place and implementing a strategic and scaled-up humanitarian response plan to provide critical support to children across the country.” This includes the state’s hard-to-reach remote areas spread across lines of conflict. Thus far (profile published in June 2013), the death toll from the crisis stands at about 93,000 with 1.5 million Syrians having fled their country and another 4 million displaced internally.

In the midst of a pivotal time in its forty years assisting the country, UNICEF Syria is involved in the areas of water sanitation, health and nutrition, protection, and education. Initiatives within those areas include water chlorination, efforts aimed at immunizing against measles and polio, and supplying the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter.

“Education is one of our key intervention areas in the country,” Abdel-Jelil said. “We have supported an alternative education program to respond to the shortage of school facilities, teachers, and supplies.” Abdel-Jelil estimated that nearly one-fifth of the nation’s 22,000 schools have been damaged, destroyed, or repurposed to shelter displaced families.

In response, UNICEF Syria has worked to repair damages to existing school structures. Efforts have also focused on providing school supplies, classes, and prefabricated classrooms. Abdel-Jelil noted that, since the onset of the turmoil, many of the children have been out of school for up to two years.

“Through the school clubs and remedial classes we are supporting in Syria, there are currently about 115,000 children who are receiving education and psychosocial activities in a safe environment where they can be children again,” Abdel-Jelil said. “We are working hard to increase this number to 300,000 but need more funding urgently.”

Abdel-Jelil has lamented the long-term effects of the crisis upon Syria’s schools: “The damage to the education infrastructure inflicted by the fighting, as well as the ongoing violence which hampers access of many children to schools, is reversing the gains this country has made in terms of children’s education and enrollment in schools.”

A native of Mauritania, Abdel-Jelil joined UNICEF in 1998 as the Deputy Representative in Lagos, Nigeria. He has since served in various capacities and locations for the UNICEF program, including a time as Senior Policy Advisor to the Comptroller in New York and a stint as Representative in Burundi. Between 2009 and 2012, he was based in Geneva, Switzerland with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as its Regional Team Leader for the Middle East and North Africa.

In addition to his work with UNICEF, Abdel-Jelil has also held positions in both the public and private sector of Mauritania. This included the role of Managing Director for the country’s largest mining company, Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM).

Reflecting on his time at Fels, Abdel-Jelil values the curriculum’s emphasis on dual competences in technical aspects as well as the political realm. His current role in Syria demands the “negotiating with and building of partnerships with high level governmental and non-governmental counterparts to leverage and mobilize resources to maximize reach to children.” In this regard, Abdel-Jelil credits Fels with furthering his ability to develop a vision and carry out its implementation.

As for those interested in pursuing a similar career, Abdel-Jelil said: “I encourage them to develop interest and curiosity about global issues and engage in development and humanitarian assistance initiatives around the world. This could be in the form of volunteering, interning, or research.

“Nothing is as valuable as hands-on experience in working to support local efforts to improve the lives of children and people in communities. This experience can be gained within communities in the US and also through internships with US-based development agencies.”

There is a range of ways to assist the efforts of UNICEF Syria. Individuals hoping to make donations to help fund activities aimed at delivering critical supplies and services to children can do so by visiting

Abdel-Jelil also stresses the importance of raising awareness about the plight of young people in Syria. He noted that this can be done through playing an active role in one’s school and/or community, and also by contacting political representatives. “The more there is an understanding globally about the impact of the conflict, the more we can mobilize support for Syrian children,” he said.

“They are enduring a dire situation and risk becoming a lost generation if they don’t receive the protection and services they need after more than two years of raging conflict which continues to rip their lives apart,” Abdel-Jelil said. “The children are paying a heavy price for this crisis.”

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