People Champion Spotlight: Yahya Arnous

UNDP People for 2030
4 min readNov 25, 2022


People for 2030 is fortunate to have some very talented People Champions who embody and inspire change in their respective Country Offices. The Spotlight series aims to highlight them and their efforts. With each Bulletin, we will be featuring an interview with the hope that reading their story motivates our readers as much as collaborating with them energizes us.

For this People Champion Spotlight, we spoke to Yahya Arnous, Operations Manager at UNDP Syria to learn about his journey at UNDP, especially his endeavours to inspire colleagues to take collective ownership of improving their work environment and voice their opinions.

‘Harmonizing’ efforts is something Yahya is naturally skilled at — be it in his former role as a Common Services Coordinator or his current role as an Operations Manager and People Champion. With a keen interest to solve colleagues pain points in whichever way possible, Yahya appreciates different perspectives and always goes that extra mile to take people along with him on the journey to co-design solutions.

With these five questions, we shine a light on Yahya’s thoughtful journey with UNDP thus far and his work as a People Champion.

Q1. What led you to UNDP and what has your journey been like?

I joined UNDP in 2019 as a Common Services Coordinator, where I worked in close coordination with the Operations Management team, which harmonizes operations across all UN agencies in Syria.

What actually led me to UNDP is that in Syria, UNDP leads this process, owing to which I had an immense learning opportunity in front of me. I got to experience what I call the “mothership” of operations, the UNDP, in action from up-close, and also got excellent visibility into the various operations systems of all involved agencies. This experience was extremely valuable in preparing me for my next role.

In 2021, the position of Operations Manager opened up and as I had cultivated a thorough understanding of UNDP processes and procedures, I was considered a strong candidate and was hired for the same. Through this experience, I now have the opportunity to further build on my understanding of policies at UNDP.

Photo: Yahya in his role as Common Services Coordinator or a team photo of Yahya with other Operations focal points in Syria

Q2. What is the best career lesson that you have learned?

Honestly, the best career lesson I have learned while coordinating across a wide range of stakeholders is to be patient and not make impulsive decisions. It is very important to understand the whole picture. I have witnessed this first-hand at UNDP and I know that the organization does this very well.

When I first started, I saw that there are numerous decisions made by different agencies, and in such cases, UNDP would always take its time to provide input. At first, when you come on board, you ask, “why does it take so long?” But, then you realize that it takes time because UNDP stakeholders always do their due diligence and prepare comprehensive answers taking into account different scenarios and perspectives.

Q3. What motivates you to be a People Champion?

My motivation has been two-fold. Firstly, through my previous role I already made small investments in improving the office environment such as enhancing the office space, ensuring the integrity of building structures, etc. During this process I met a lot of colleagues who helped me to better understand their experiences and challenges. Secondly, the support from our senior management motivates me further because it is a clear signal that we have the role and the room to champion colleagues’ needs.

We even won a People Award in 2021 for our initiative to take care of our people. With the support of RBAS HQ and UNDP Security, our Staff Solar Installations initiative provided a one-off funding facility for over 140 personnel to enable them to install backup solar power systems in their homes.

In my experience, as a People Champion, clear and transparent communications with everyone is sometimes even more important than implementation as it helps you understand the pulse of the office. As we work on and activate more such well-received initiatives, like our recent retreat, my motivation to keep at it has only increased.

Q4. What tips would you give to fellow People Champions trying to implement the People Strategy in a crisis context?

In terms of crisis contexts, in my opinion, the first step is to create a platform to listen. Regardless of the number of personnel in the office, if you can foster a space, big or small, where colleagues can freely share their concerns and suggestions then that is going to be key to you developing a suitable action plan to implement People for 2030.

Ultimately, people are at the heart of it all. The people strategy exists to improve the ways of working for people in the office, therefore they can naturally be the source of ideas on what initiatives need to be undertaken and would be valuable. So start with them and co-create a plan.

Q5. Who is Yahya outside of UNDP?

I am a complete family person. I’m newly married and cherish my family. So outside of work, I love to socialize with my close relatives and extended family. My priority is to spend as much quality time with them as possible — be it going to the mall, taking a trip to the mountains or simply playing cards.

Photo: Yahya with his family