UH Hilo alumnus, now based in Rome with the United Nations, returns to campus to share his experiences

Colin Hourihan, who serves at the World Food Programme, will give two public talks about his career, April 7 and 9.

By Susan Enright.

Hourihan sits on ground with group of Afghan men in orchard.
UH Hilo alumnus Colin Hourihan (at left) in Herat, NW Afghanistan, for group discussions with local displaced populations regarding basic needs. 2009. Click to enlarge. Courtesy photos.
Colin Hourihan
Colin Hourihan

Colin Hourihan, a University of Hawai‘i at Hilo alumnus, who lives in Rome, Italy, and works for the United Nations World Food Programme, will visit the UH Hilo campus in April to give two lectures about his career.

  • DATES: Tuesday, April 7, and Thursday, April 9
  • TIME: 8:00 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.
  • PLACE: University Classroom Building, room 100, UH Hilo

Both lectures are free and open to the UH community and the general public. (Update: this event has concluded, reservations are closed.)

From Hilo to Rome and beyond

Three men with Hourihan on dais.
Hourihan, second from right, in 2013 at the German Auswärtiges Amt or the Federal Foreign Office, the German version of the U.S. State Department. Hourihan’s office at World Food Programme was asked to speak to the leadership regarding operational best practices, constraints and future plans for WFP’s work in emergencies. Click to enlarge.

Hourihan has held a number of positions with the United Nations World Food Programme. Since 2012, he has served as the emergency preparedness officer and civil military coordination focal point in Rome, Italy.

His recent field deployment to the Philippines as Interim Head of Sub-Office focused on providing relief to those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Prior to his work with the United Nations, Hourihan worked with the Non-Violent Peaceforce in Romania and the Institute for Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding in Austria.

Erected tent with group of men seated inside.
Hourihan seated under tent for group discussions in Jalalabad to see if any human rights had been violated as well as to understand major security issues. 2009. Click to enlarge.

At the U.N. World Food Programme, a typical workday for Hourihan includes meetings related to WFP’s various emergency responses—for example, Syria, Iraq, Ebola—in which topics ranging from funding levels to political issues are discussed. In addition, he spends a great deal of the day coordinating with UN partners on issues that range from the development of standardized guidance documents to more specific operational issues, related to a specific country. He also spend a few hours a day working to strengthen WFP’s civil military coordination with organizations like NATO.

Women at open market.
This is a food distribution center in Herat for female-headed households. Hourihan says this type of oversight by WFP workers is done to ensure the safety of beneficiaries. 2009. Click to enlarge.

“I feel most rewarded for my work when I am deployed to an emergency operation,” he says. “When you can see physical changes in people’s lives, it is a very powerful motivator. This feeling is even more overwhelming when you can actually link your work to life-saving activities in crisis-affected communities.”

  • See an article co-authored by Hourihan, World Food Programme News Stories, June 11, 2013: “Food,Trucks and Radios: WFP’s Role In The ‘Cluster’ System.”

Fulfilling work

Hourihan says his work is incredibly fulfilling.

Hourihan (right) with colleagues on their last night in Ormoc City, Philippines. The city had put together a party to formally recognize WFP’s role in the Typhoon Haiyan response. 2013. Click to enlarge.

“I have the honor of working with incredibly passionate and gifted people,” he explains. “I enjoy the fact, that we as team, try to hold each other to the highest possible standards and though we can always do better, WFP is arguably the most effective humanitarian organization. In addition to this, I find the work incredibly challenging as I am constantly being forced out of my comfort zone.”

The UH Hilo alum says he most likely will stay with WFP for the next few years to gather more experience in the field. Then, he says, he’ll decide if continuing to work overseas in humanitarian response is something he would like to continue doing.

“It is a high stress environment, and as emergency responders our work is completely unpredictable, which can be taxing after multiple years,” he says. “What I can say with complete certainty is that regardless of where my career ultimately takes me, I know that it will be related to serving something larger than myself.”

Some advice to students: “When presented with a life changing opportunity, say ‘yes’!”

Hourihan received a bachelor of arts in political science, with a focus on international relations and affairs, from UH Hilo in 2001. His career path then took an unexpected turn from the plans he had made.

“While working to complete my undergraduate degree in political science, I was far more interested in the possibility of working in national politics, and was not really considering working overseas or for an international organization at all,” says Hourihan. “This actually led me to work for a lobbyist in D.C. before adjusting my focus to more of an international track.”

This unexpected journey into incredibly fulfilling work leads Hourihan to give some advice to undergraduates currently studying at his alma mater.

“As cliché as it sounds, you can truly do what you want to do with your life,” he says. “There is always a way to reach your goals, as long as you remain steadfast and diligent in your desire to do so.  I would also note that in my life and my career, it has been vital that when presented with a life changing opportunity, to say ‘yes.’  Decisions that can change your life will come unexpectedly and when that moment happens, regardless of your level of trepidation, say ‘yes’!”

Hourihan says he misses Hilo, especially his family, the ocean, and poke (a local dish of seasoned raw fish).

He misses UH Hilo, too.

“What I miss most about (UH Hilo) is the relationship I had with the professors and the diversity of the student body,” he says. “I did not realize how much that would help me in my career. I also miss the friends I made, though many of us are still in touch, it is never quite the same after you leave. Lastly, I really miss watching the Vulcans men’s basketball team play!”

For more information about Hourihan’s upcoming visit and talks at UH Hilo, contact Su-Mi Lee.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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