Special Representative, Iraq
Marie-Hélène Bricknell says she stumbled upon the world of development. The young Bricknell had just moved to Jos, Nigeria, for her gap year, where she discovered that many children in her community had to walk several kilometers to come to school. “These children were not ready to learn—they were too tired, and some of them were hungry,” recalls Bricknell. She took it upon herself to organize and provide meals for the school children.
Bricknell had a lucrative career as an interpreter and translator of English, French, Italian and Spanish. She enjoyed the flexibility the profession offered her, but it wasn’t enough. “I wanted to be in the thick of things,” says Bricknell.
When she moved to Washington, Bricknell sought work in international development and joined the World Bank in 1981. She later obtained an MPA at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
In her current assignment as Special Representative in Iraq, Bricknell leads the policy dialogue with the government, works with development partners on the ground, and monitors the Bank’s project portfolio to ensure quality and delivery.
Working in a fragile and conflict-affected country carries a unique set of challenges. Security threats are constant. “We have to be extremely vigilant and err on the side of caution,” says Bricknell.
Another challenge is the fragile political situation, which affects governance and private sector development.
Right now Bricknell’s highest priority is the Iraq multidonor trust fund portfolio that was created to help reconstruct the country. “The challenge is to ensure that the projects stay on track and deliver benefits to the communities, as well as adhere to World Bank guidelines on procurement,” says Bricknell.
So what keeps her going? “It’s a game of patience, understanding the context in which we are working, appreciating the culture of the people we’re trying to help, and also appreciating the incredible resilience that makes this country continue to tick,” she says.
Bricknell knows something about resilience. Her family fled Haiti when she was ten years old after members of her family had been murdered by the Papa Doc regime. They relocated to New York as refugees in an unfamiliar country.
This might explain Bricknell’s ability to adapt and adjust to difficult situations, her love for people, and passion for languages.
“I am learning Arabic. I learned Turkish and Macedonian when I worked in those countries. Altogether now I think I know eight or nine languages,” says Bricknell. In her spare time she also enjoys reading, hiking, going to the movies, and spending time with family and friends.
Contributed by Thaisa Tiglao Katz, External Affairs