David Carrey Makes an Impact at UNICEF Through Information Management

In applying to Columbia’s Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) master’s program in 2012, David Carrey wanted to take the next step in his career at UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. A multilingual global citizen, he wanted to make a difference by using his skills in information management. Thanks to his Columbia studies, Carrey advanced within the U.N. system. As an information management specialist, he now uses his IKNS talents every day to support key decision makers whose work impacts the lives of people in troubled regions including Syria and South Sudan. We sat down with Carrey outside Columbia University’s Pulitzer Hall to discuss his career and how his work influences decisions at UNICEF.

Before you decided to enter the IKNS program, what were you doing? What led you to explore a master’s program?

I had been working at UNICEF for about two years. In the U.N. system, a master's degree is essential in order to move up, so that was one main reason I went to graduate school.

What do you do at UNICEF?

I had started at UNICEF as an IT training coordinator then transitioned to an information management specialist role in the emergency operations center.

Prior to that, I had worked in Egypt and Yemen doing various project management roles. I was also in the Peace Corps in West Africa.

Were you still working at UNICEF while you were in the program?

Yes, and I have no idea how I did it. My current role as an emergency officer is essentially 24/7. We work on three shifts every day, and we monitor the news, we analyze events, we create security briefs, and we create analytical products for decision makers.

Basically, if I started the program now, I don’t think I could do it; the level of urgency in the world today has increased perhaps twofold since when I started.

Is there any particular reason for that heightened level of urgency?

I work in the emergency operations division of UNICEF. We have different levels of emergency classifications. L3 is the highest, and we have three L3 emergencies, which is a lot: Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. A fourth one could start due to a natural disaster or a huge political blowout.

We’re starting to evolve our information products on these regions into more analytical products. So the workload has been increasing based on how much more unstable the world seems to be today.

How have your IKNS skills helped you manage all these data related to international emergencies?

The program has changed the way I frame things and the way that I analyze issues. I can assess a problem and solve it quickly and easily.

Thanks to getting my advanced degree, I was able to go on a mission for two and a half months to the Central African Republic as an information management specialist. A lot of what I was doing was data management, creating maps, creating analytical briefs – whatever UNICEF needed in that context.

I applied many of the tools that I learned in the program. Plus, people from my cohort had good advice for the various data management issues that I was facing. So the program has helped a lot.

You recently returned to Columbia as a facilitator for the Visualization of Information course in the IKNS program. What was it like returning as an alum?

I enjoyed seeing the evolution of the students’ work, culminating in the final infographic. There were a few students who chose to do their infographic on international development, so it was a treat to provide guidance to them in my area of expertise. All in all, a great experience that I hope I will have a chance to do again.