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Long ago, New Zealand born Cory Steinhauer dreamt of working with the United Nations in conflict and post-conflict countries around the world. It’s a goal he has certainly achieved and then some.
From the relative safety of a childhood in Auckland, Cory always wanted to contribute to social justice. Even though he had no idea if such a career was possible, he knew he wanted to work hard to make a difference. From the age of 6, being exposed to global news and events, it dawned on Cory that his reality in New Zealand was an anomaly and far from the norm. “My parents instilled a strong global outlook and work ethic through leading by example”.“Indeed I grew up petrified that I’d remain on the sidelines, unable to affect change, and be held hostage by an inequitable international system”.
From writing his own Sherlock Holmes international mystery stories at 7, to completing High School at 15, swimming nationally through his teens, and graduating University at 19; Cory was driven to head offshore and explore the world and his place in it.“The Earth was overwhelming. I wasn’t prepared for the harsh realities of facilitating change in a complex system.”
His world changed in Mexico. Teaching and learning, Cory was exposed to grassroots community development at its rawest in the lower socioeconomic areas of Mexico City. The brutalist nature of communities fighting for a voice significantly altered Cory’s view’s on his and indeed anyone’s place in social change.
“I felt I could add little value - but through ongoing collaboration true synergies emerged. I forever take Mexico’s lesson’s with me”.
After stints teaching, training and Lecturing across Korea, Canada, Mexico (a second time) and Australia, Cory finally felt prepared to drive towards his childhood dreams.
When an opportunity arose to join War Child as their Education Development Advisor based in Kabul, a couple of years after the 2001 invasion, Cory jumped at the chance.“I was never going to say no. This was THE opportunity I had been building towards for a long time - exciting, yes; scary, beyond imagination”.
“Getting on that Ariana Airlines flight out of Dubai was intense. Old DC10, even older interiors - toilet doors not closing, aircon on the blink - combined with searing 45 degree heat made for an eventful introduction to Afghanistan… and I wasn’t even in-country yet!”Cory worked with closely with the Afghan Ministry of Education on curriculum development, gender equitable access to education and child rights advocacy from the western province of Herat to refugee populations in Peshawar, Pakistan.
“Afghanistan was a lesson everyday.”
The political, social, legal, economic, technological and environmental variables in Afghanistan made a for sink or swim professional existence. “Nothing is ever cookie-cutter in social change. Without real participation and contextual awareness, analysis and integration; no Humanitarian or Development Cooperation program will achieve sustainable results. I’ve witnessed many failures in the Humanitarian space due to professional incompetence and laziness. But done right we can achieve success.”Cory’s career progressed with International Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) across South Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and inevitably Afghanistan again as well completing his postgraduate studies. “Afghanistan changes everyone for the better. The history, the society, the people are all extraordinary.”“My career has afforded me experiences I did not think possible. From engaging traditional tribes in South Sudan and PNG to working closely with Vietnamese Government officials - I often feel my growth has been supported by the individuals and communities I work with, not the other way around!”
10 years in, and only then did Cory feel he was sufficiently prepared and capable to begin exploring career options with the United Nations.
Cory’s story is a remarkable one. “If you told 6 year old Cory he’d have a career working in Turkey, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Kenya and so on… I’m pretty sure he’d smile.” If Cory’s professional journey can demonstrate to one person that a purpose-driven career is possible - then that’s contributing to the critical mass we need to change the world.“The narrative in our society is so often backwards. Why do we celebrate and reward individuals for inconsequential work, yet expect those working on our globe's most pressing issues to volunteer? To move forward we must question and re-evaluate many of the myths on work, careers, purpose, change and place. We need talented people to choose careers tackling the toughest problems… not merely improving click-throughs.”
Learning to challenge himself, and to grow and change in the face of new opportunities and adversities is critical to Cory’s ongoing success. Even now he continues to explore new challenges; Cory Lectures at the University of Sydney, is the Father to an energetic 3-year old boy and continues to drive Humanitarian Institute’s educational and organisational innovations in Australasia and internationally.“I believe now, as much as I did as a child, that I can contribute. Even when the odds seem insurmountable, I refuse to give-in. I’m committed to preparing and educating people to generate sustainable change in our world - we can all shape tomorrow.”
Contact Cory | LinkedIn