“I’m eager to get into the work,” said Mr. O’Brien. “We’ve done really good work particularly in the last two or three years in response to Yolanda [Typhoon Haiyan] and I’m looking forward to doing my best to continue doing that and hopefully for Plan International to go from strength to strength,” he said.
A Canadian national, Mr. O’Brien moved to the Philippines to take up the highest role at one of the country’s oldest and largest child-centered international non-governmental organizations. Prior to this appointment, he was the Country Director of CARE in Indonesia.
He will be replacing Maja Cubarrubia who served as Interim Country Director of Plan International Philippines in the last six months.
“Plan International is one of the best and most respected NGOs in the world. It’s humbling - it’s a privilege and somewhat unique opportunity to be able to come and play this role,” he said.
With Philippines as one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, Mr. O’Brien said the organization has to continue working in that area to remain relevant.
“There is a great opportunity for Plan International to make a difference, to work with government and communities, and to help make this country and its people more resilient and able to cope with the next disaster,” he said.
“We have to find the best way possible to align our mission with the strategies and vision of the government and see how we can add value to that,” he added.
Our role is to keep finding ways to help give communities the opportunity to become more resilient
Working with grassroots
Mr. O’Brien also pointed out the need to work with communities, including local government units, to help create opportunities for people to improve their lives.
“In my experience over the years, what people really need is an opportunity to improve themselves. They don’t need a handout and they don’t need a gift,” he said.
“I think our role is to keep finding ways to help give communities the opportunity to become more resilient. And in the process they will get out of poverty or not fall into poverty.”
Upholding child participation
As an organization with a focus on children, Mr. O’Brien said Plan International must find ways for children to have meaningful engagement in their own and community’s development.
“We have to find ways throughout what we call the development cycle - assessment, design, planning, implementation, monitoring – to make sure we avail the children the opportunity to take part, to contribute, to make suggestions,” he said.
“We have to do it in a way that isn’t simply ticking a box,” Mr. O’Brien said. “We have to do it in a way where we are listening and making sure in the best way we can that we’re incorporating their issues, their needs, their perspective into what we’re doing.”
He also urged the development community to keep in mind the remaining needs of communities in developing its strategies.
“Poverty [in the Philippines] has pretty much stagnated and yet economic growth has done well,” he said.
“Growth is not inclusive at all and we have to do better. We have to hold ourselves accountable, but hold government accountable as well,” he added.