Nigel Fisher came to Canada from his home in England—just for a year, to complete a Master’s degree at McMaster University. But he never left, because at Mac, he met his future wife, Trinidadian-born Jennifer and they decided to make Canada home. It was at McMaster that they learned about CUSO and the opportunity to volunteer. From 1971 to 73, Nigel and Jennifer went to teach in southeastern Nigeria, which was still recovering after the ravages of the civil war.
The experience (and travelling around West Africa on a motorbike) confirmed Nigel’s passion for international development. Back in Canada, he worked as Local Committees Coordinator for CUSO, moved on to IDRC and then embarked on a multi-decade career with the United Nations. The first two dozen years were with UNICEF in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, before he moved on to the Department of Peacekeeping, to the UN Office for Project Services (as executive director) and lastly to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, leading the UN’s regional Syria crisis response operations in the Middle East. His skill as a leader in crisis management and response took him to some of the world’s most devastating conflict and disaster zones, from Iraq after the first Gulf War, to post-genocide Rwanda, to Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban, post-earthquake Haiti and to Jordan in his Syria crisis response leadership role. Nigel has always been innovative—from creating UNICEF’s now-standard school-in-a-box for war-affected children, to pioneering the use of digital photos for tracing and family reunification of children separated from their families in times of conflict and disaster, to negotiation for the release of child combatants, to helping to build local and national crisis response and reconstruction agencies.
Nigel’s work for the protection of children in times of conflict and in peacekeeping, as well as his international advocacy for humanitarian principles and human rights, has been recognized globally and here in Canada. He received the Meritorious Service Cross in 1998, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McMaster in 2008 and was named to the Order of Ontario in 2011. In 2013, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada and was awarded the Medal of Honour of the Canadian Medical Association in the same year. He received the Pearson Peace Medal in 2014. In 1998, Nigel was a special advisor to Cuso International Chair and then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy, developing policy on children affected by armed conflict.