I remember the day I arrived in the Maldives.  As I stepped out of the airport, a hazy ocean spread out in front of me. Beyond, Malé looked like a mini-Manhattan, a mini-Manhattan with colorful high-rise buildings.

The cloudy weather was a reflection of my state of mind that day.

I took a deep breath. Back in 1997 during an interview for my first UN job, I said passionately that one day I want to be a UN Representative. Seventeen years later in October 2014, I was heading into my dream job.

Landing in a new country with a new job always gives me goose bumps.  It is a combination of anxiety and excitement, the former weighing more.

I did not know what to expect from this miniature capital city, and from the island state better known for its luxurious resorts.

My family and friends said, “Poor Shoko, she is off the career track”.

Four and half years later, all I can say is that my experiences in the Maldives have been extraordinary. By far the best job.

My work covered a combination of development, political analysis and sensitive human rights. This is what the UN stands for.  Some of our work is visible, such as improving water access and waste management for communities. Some may not be so visible, such as closed-door diplomacy, strategic policy advice and capacity development.

Shoko Noda meets President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldives.


Hard work pays off. One day when I was walking back to the office, a random person on a motorbike stopped and said, “Thank you for all the good work of the UN”, and drove off. It made my day to hear the words of appreciation unexpectedly.

I also felt rewarded to witness Maldivian’s firm commitment to democracy. The voter turnout of 89% in the presidential elections last September was amazing. And all went so peacefully. It was truly democracy in action!

Despite all the work we have done, one big disappointment was to see the results of the recent parliamentary election, only four women elected. We went from 5 female MPs to 4, placing Maldives’ global ranking at 186th out of 191.

If we truly want gender equality we need more women in leadership and decision making roles. We have to be bold. I hope the recent announcement by the President to introduce a quota system at the local council level will become reality and inspire young girls across the country to demand a seat at the table.

Through these days and years, I have also come to realize that it is most important to believe in ourselves, our ability and our potential. I have met so many young girls and women with so much potential in the Maldives. Even the majority of the UN team here in Maldives is female, showing us what we can accomplish when both women and men work together.

Somebody warned me that being a Resident Coordinator would be a very lonely job. It was actually the opposite.  Of all nine assignments in the UN, this RC job has been the most gratifying and exciting experience.

What made it so? With a fantastic team in place, we can find solutions to overcome any challenging external factors. I feel very lucky and proud to have been a part of such a great team.

Maldives is the place, where my dream has come true to be a UN Representative.

Maldives is my second home, where I have lived the longest time outside of Japan.

The day has come.

The day to turn back and look at my little Manhattan one more time, with nostalgia before moving to a new country, a new job. My next destination – Incredible India!


Shoko Noda recently finished her assignment as the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives, and will join as UNDP’s new Resident Representative in India.   

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