4-10 August 2017 #870

Pheri Bhetaunla, Stewart

The ultimate leader who worked for the upliftment of children and women in all countries he served in, but most so in Nepal
Rupa Joshi

ROYAL COMPANY: Stewart McNab, who served as UNICEF Nepal Representative in the 1990s, with King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya at a function in Kathmandu in 2000.

The one memory that sticks to my mind of Stewart McNab is of him climbing uphill to meet a group of women in Bharatpokhari village in Kaski, stopping to chat with every child and woman he met on the way with genuine interest, concern and empathy.

The former Nepal representative of UNICEF died at age of 70 in Scotland last week, and it is in the outpouring of love and loss from those who knew, admired, and were inspired by him that I rediscovered Stewart. They remember a former colleague, mentor, friend, his wit, good humour and a can do approach to almost everything.

Kunda Dixit
A commemoration service on Saturday in Kathmandu for Stewart McNab of UNICEF who died last week in Scotland at age 70. He served 14 years in Nepal.

Stewart approached issues with clarity and a human touch, they remember. He was a fair, honourable, generous, caring, courageous, helpful, approachable, incredibly generous and a fun-loving man who was great, not through grand gestures, soaring rhetoric, or a lofty position on the organisation, but through his warm humanity, hard work, and unswerving commitment to getting things done for children.

He got the best out of people, tapping into every individual’s knowledge, experience, creativity and sensitivity and getting everyone to work together. The ultimate leader who worked for the upliftment of children and women in all countries he served in, but most so in Nepal.

Stewart first came to Nepal in 1975, three years after UNICEF had set up a proper office in Kathmandu, as a Nutrition Officer. He then went on to head the Health and Nutrition section, and after leading the Bhutan office in the early 90s, was appointed Representative in Nepal in 1998. He spent a total of 14 years in Nepal, turning him into a Nepalophile. This was where he started his family with his wife Di, where he had one of his two daughters, and where he also found a Nepali son. Even after leaving UNICEF, he continued to work through The Nepal Trust as adviser.

Stewart wrote in a commemorative booklet in 2009 about Nepal in the 80s and 90s: UNICEF was the biggest supplier of vegetable seeds in the country; delivered textbooks to primary schools in remote districts via a UN aircraft; supplied Royal Drugs Ltd with the first packaging machines, as well as packaging foil, for the production of Jeevan Jal; distributed top-bar African beehives to rural families; used helicopters to supply HDP pipes for water supply systems in inaccessible areas; operated two vegetable and seed-processing units in Khumaltar Farm; provided trusses and red roofing materials for hundreds of primary schools; provided six salt iodination plants in the terai; supported a pilot project to immunise young children against childhood disease initially in six districts; operated a printing press in the basement of its office building; popularised the home preparation of the infant feeding mix called Sarbottam pitho; and supported village electrification using water mills (ghatta) which resulted in the national consultant being awarded the Rolex International Award for Innovation.

Stewart was instrumental in jumpstarting many innovative programmes that focussed on empowering women, and giving voice to the children, and ears to the adults. He helped plant the seed of decentralisation and local governance through community-based programs, believing that working with local governments would bring positive changes for Nepali children. Decentralised Planning for Children (DPCP) became the bedrock of what has now evolved into the Child Friendly Local Governance (CFLG) adopted as a national Strategy by the Government in July 2011. The investment in human capital at the local level is paying off as village facilitators, community mobilisers, child club members, and members of women’s groups have been empowered, and have now become deputy mayors, parliamentarians, child rights activists and champions.

Stewart was a team builder, coach and motivator, and got people fired up, excited to do their very best for children. He never had to impose his ideas on the people, office or country – they came to fruition as he rallied his team and cut through the hierarchy.

In the UN’s Country Team he helped agency heads to function as a team, taking them all to Achham in 2000 to understand the local situation and improve coordination. The trip resulted in a single MoU signed by the various UN agencies with the Achham DDC.

It was not an easy time to be Representative, Nepal was in the throes of an armed conflict. For Stewart there was only one side to take — that of the disadvantaged children and their families. Talking to Nepali Times in April 2002, Stewart had said:”Children and women suffer the most in conflicts … when a water supply system is blown up, it is again women who have to fetch it from somewhere up the hill.”

At the height of the conflict, when Mangalsen was under siege, Stewart arranged to send a helicopter to rescue a UNICEF staff and other development workers stationed there. Staff security, safety and dignity were Stewart’s top priorities. A highlander, Stewart loved travelling to the field which always helped him to get his focus back on the children that he cared so much about.

Stewart’s legacy lives on in Nepal not just in the programs and memories of his friends and colleagues, but also in the smiles of hundreds of children with cleft palates, and club feet fixed through the Human Touch Fund. Initiated by Stewart, the Fund was made up by contribution of time and money from UNICEF Nepal staff.

Pheri bhetaunla, Stewart.

Rupa Joshi is Chief of Communications at UNICEF Nepal and collated this tribute with help from friends of Stewart across the world.

Read also:

Future imperfect, Binod Bhattarai

Improved water mills improve lives, Madhusudan Guragain