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Jamaican girl continues to shine - Gyles-McDonnough to lead UN activities in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei

Published:Sunday | June 30, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Michelle Gyles-McDonnough

United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has appointed Jamaican Michelle Gyles-McDonnough as the resident coordinator of the UN System's operational activities for development in Malaysia.

Gyles-McDonnough will also serve as resident representative of the UN Development Programme in Malaysia, with additional responsibility for the Republic of Singapore and Brunei Darussalam.

She will have overall responsibility and team leadership for the coordination of UN development activities in these three countries.

Gyles-McDonnough leaves Barbados on June 29 after a successful five-year tenure as UN resident coordinator and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative for Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

During her tenure, she significantly raised the visibility of the development challenges facing small island developing states and mobilised other development partners to work with the UN to support Barbados and OECS member states to address several issues.

These included the impact of climate change; making the transition to more sustainable energy future; strengthen capabilities to assess and manage disaster risks and impacts; and improving citizens' security, well-being and life chances.

Other positions

Prior to her posting in Barbados, Gyles-McDonnough was programme adviser in the executive office of UNDP, and regional adviser in Jamaica.

She has also served in the United Nations as coordinator for the Grenada Recovery Programme following Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and chief - UNDP Caribbean Sub-Regional Resource Facility in Trinidad and Tobago, which she was instrumental in establishing in 1999.

Before joining UNDP, Gyles-McDonnough worked with the Organisation of American States in Washington DC as member of Cabinet and adviser to the secretary general.

Gyles-McDonnough, who grew up in east Kingston, speaks with a delightful rhythm that has more than a hint of travel and an interesting blend of numerous cultures making it difficult to determine her nationality.

Jamaican mannerisms

But when she becomes passionate, particularly about regional development, there is no doubt that she is Jamaican, as her distinct 'yard' accent and mannerism override and become pronounced.

"Growing up in Jamaica, I was always very passionate about people's access to opportunity.

"I grew up in a home where my mother was a housewife with a passion for children and I would come home and see some different child living with me for the next three months, because she believed it was a right for a child to be in school and she decided to help," Gyles-McDonnough told The Sunday Gleaner last year in Barbados.

At that time, it was noted that the trade lawyer by profession was a Jamaican success story shining brightly in the Eastern Caribbean and building a solid global reputation.

Now, she is off to Asia as her reputation continues to grow.

She will move on to the South-east Asia region, initially with her two children, 11-year-old Sydney and seven-year old Liam, who have travelled a lot in their short life.

"We have commuted a lot (over the years), but one of the beauties of commuting is that my children see Jamaica as home and wherever else they are, they just say they go there to go to school," Gyles-McDonnough declared in that interview last year.

Gyles-McDonnough is married to Ambassador Lorne McDonnough, CEO of the CARICOM Development Fund.