Receiving an MBE for my ‘Services to International Development’

A year ago this month, I was informed I had been put forward to receive an MBE in the 2020 New Year’s Honours list for ‘Services to International Development’, for my work with MapAction. Trying to keep the secret quiet over the Christmas holiday, even under lockdown, was a challenge but the outburst of congratulations over the new year period was incredible and fairly overwhelming. The pandemic has disrupted so many parts of our life and the Honours System has not been immune.  The backlog of investitures meant I had to wait over a year before being invited to Windsor Castle to receive my medal.

Social distancing rules have forced the format of the ceremony to be changed but the day turned out to be less formal and more friendly than in previous arrangements; my guest (we’re only one allowed at the moment) was able to stay with me throughout and got a personal view of the ceremony itself very close to the action. As we passed through the state rooms at the castle we were given plenty of time to look at the many famous paintings and ornaments in each room. Once briefed and queued up in medal and alphabetical order, one by one we were presented to Princess Anne for bestowal. For me, this was accompanied by a very knowledgeable chat about how mapping helps disaster management, especially in response. She knows who we are, what we do and the difference we make.

And this is of course is what it is all about. My privilege of having such a special day and being awarded for my contributions is all possible because of the high profile MapAction enjoys across many sectors including, apparently, with the Royal Family. It is a testament not just that such a small organisation can be seen to punch above its weight and maintain its visibility, but that our high profile across multiple sectors (royals included) is built on a substantial reputation to deliver innovative,  practical and relevant outputs that really make a difference across the humanitarian world.

As MapAction starts to look forward to its third decade, our technical depth and breadth of skill and experience combined with active and important partnerships around the globe put us in a strong position. Despite the challenges of climate change and increasing pressure on an already stretched humanitarian system, the application of maps, spatial analysis and information management to those challenges is the intelligent way forward to provide cost effective, pertinent knowledge in the hands of those who have to make decisions on where to put aid, support communities to be disaster resilient and ultimately leave no-one behind. 

As I finally stepped out of the castle entrance and was allowed to pose for the obligatory photos it was a moment to savour, reflect on all I have been through with so many members of the organisation for so many years and be proud of our joint achievements. I have to admit I had a grin on my face most of that day. But as I drove down the hill away from the castle, I knew that fairly soon I shall have to roll up my sleeves again and apply all that experience to those challenges ahead.

See other articles about Alan’s award:

Natural Resources Institute – News Article

MapAction – News article

MapAction members recognised in New Years Honours

MapAction’s Chief Executive Liz Hughes and one of our long-serving volunteers, Alan Mills, have been awarded an OBE and MBE respectively in the Overseas and International Honours List 2021 announced last night. The awards come in recognition for their services to international development and humanitarian crisis operations.

Head and shoulders picture of Alan Mills smiling to camera
MapAction volunteer Alan Mills becomes an MBE

Alan Mills has been a MapAction volunteer since 2005, applying his knowledge of geospatial systems to help get aid as quickly as possible to people caught up in humanitarian emergencies. He has undertaken many emergency missions including to Beirut for the Syria crisis, hurricanes in Jamaica, the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands, cyclones in Vanuatu and Fiji, floods in Namibia, Benin, Djibouti and Serbia, the Libyan migrant crisis and Ebola in Mali.

For the past ten years, he has also coordinated MapAction’s preparedness work, helping governments and disaster management teams around the world put in place the skills and technology they need to access essential geographic information in the event of a humanitarian emergency. As well as this, he has helped to run numerous training courses including in the Caribbean, South East Asia, Europe and Nepal and served as a Trustee of the charity from 2012-2018. In his day job, Alan runs his own consultancy business specialised in geospatial systems.

Picture of Liz Hughes smiling, seated among MapAction team members
MapAction’s Chief Executive Liz Hughes has been awarded an OBE

Liz joined MapAction as Chief Executive in 2013, after directing humanitarian operations at the Red Cross, Save the Children and Oxfam. She is recognised not only within MapAction but across the humanitarian sector in the UK and globally as a truly inspiring leader. She has helped shape our reputation for technical excellence and value in providing real-time critical information for humanitarian crises and has led us to provide far more than might be expected of a largely volunteer organisation of the size of MapAction. When the Covid-19 crisis prevented operational deployments, at the same time as demand for our services surged to unprecedented levels, she lead the team to rapidly switch our operating model to remote delivery. She is greatly respected by all for her knowledge, clarity of thought and incisiveness and greatly appreciated for her passionate, persuasive and empathetic nature.

MapAction’s Chair of Trustees, Nick Moody, said “Liz has transformed MapAction. Under her inspirational and trusted leadership, the charity has greatly expanded its deployment of geospatial professional volunteers in the face of humanitarian need. She has also grown its technical and operational capability to the extent that the charity could triple its service delivery worldwide during this, the most difficult of years for humanitarian operations. None of this would have been possible however without the dedication and professionalism of volunteers such as Alan.”