Most of Jean-Marc Mangin’s career has been about making things happen. From running refugee camps and emergency response teams, to representing Canada in Nepal, to coordinating an international movement on climate change, the kinds of things Mangin makes happen are diverse. But whatever he is involved in, he has actively helped to shape and lead.
Despite being part of the first cohort of IDS Co-op students at UTSC, Mangin and his peers got to work right away influencing the international development industry in Canada. IDS students and staff organized Global Government Week to bring together scholars and practitioners. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) picked up the idea and now holds a nationwide International Development Week every year.
“It’s an innovative thing that happened at UTSC that now has national relevance,” says Mangin. “I really enjoyed the fact that people wanted to be part of the real world from the word go, not stuck in an ivory tower.”
From intern to leader
Mangin’s IDS Co-op placement was one he says, “wouldn’t be allowed today,” but was also a super-accelerated learning process. He was placed by WUSC in what was then Zaire, working with 40,000 Angolan refugees in four camps run by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Within a week of his arrival in the country, the whole international program team had been fired. When the International Program Head arrived, Mangin served as translator, a task that led to him becoming the logistics coordinator of the UNHCR program in Zaire for the duration of his placement.
The scale of this challenge was completely outside Mangin’s experience. Instead of bolting, he got to work, learning practical skills like running a fleet of vehicles and communicating by telex as he went.
Communities in the camp became self-sufficient very quickly, which Mangin attributes to their knowledge that “they could only count on themselves.” It was this level of empowerment that inspired Mangin to write his IDS co-op thesis on the community management of refugee camps.
Safety was an issue, he recalls. Once, at the airport, he was carrying a letter to his girlfriend. In their correspondence, they would use a very simple code to talk about Zaire’s political situation. “It was pretty obvious,” says Mangin. Despite the guards not being able to read the English letter, he was accused of being a spy and kept for most of the day. The guards found a woman who could speak English, and as she translated it line by line, she skipped the paragraph that could be read as a criticism of Mobutu. With a sigh of relief, Mangin was released.
“Before the IDS Co-op program I had the desire,” says Mangin. “What IDS gave me was a grounding in knowledge and practical experience. We were given the tools to do our own critical thinking. The co-op placement was critical for transferring the ideas that we were playing with in our heads to test them in the real world.”
Since graduating, Mangin has worked with UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and CIDA in countries as diverse as Malawi, Nepal, Angola, Kenya and the former Yugoslavia. Shortly after the genocides in Burundi and Rwanda he was called up to run CARE Canada‘s emergency response. Mangin describes these as “the most intense three years of my professional life.”
After nine years with CIDA, Mangin headed the Global Campaign for Climate Action, also known as Tck Tck Tck. The movement brought together 250 civil society organizations in coordinated action in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Since 2010, Mangin has served as the executive director of the Canadian Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences, which supports social scientists and humanists to contribute to the public good.
Despite the international focus of his career and his ongoing interest in development work, Mangin feels that the IDS Co-op program was more than just job training: “It doesn’t really matter if you end up doing international development work or not. You come out of the program as a more engaged global citizen.”
Profile written by Kate Jongbloed (Class of 2008)