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A Multi-faceted polyglot, using language to promote democracy

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

Philippa Neave specializes in electoral communications and education, devising information and training campaigns for voters and candidates in emerging democracies. Since 2005 she has worked in electoral assistance as a consultant for the United Nations, developing strategies to inform people on their voting rights, with particular emphasis on reaching women and people with low levels of literacy. She has worked on elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, UAE, Jordan, Turkey, Cambodia, Madagascar, Southern Sudan and Tunisia.

Neave was previously a reporter for 15 years specializing in the Middle East. After a year and a half in Cairo, she became a foreign correspondent for an international features syndicate in based Rome, Paris and New York. Later, in London, she was chief editor of an international magazine on arts and culture and in Paris after that, she was chief editor of European Press Network. She then left the news business and worked as Middle East Director for Quaker Peace & Service, a British charity, based in Beirut for five years.

Her interest in democracy building goes back to the time when soon after leaving university, she served for several years as part-time deputy Secretary General of the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation, organizing and participating in the Euro-Arab Parliamentary Dialogue.

Born in France to an English father and a Danish mother, Neave grew up bilingual. She studied Arabic at Durham University in the UK and obtained a BA degree. She speaks seven languages, including Arabic, and is based in Paris.

  • What is the first website you visit after you get up and why?

The BBC I get an immediate snapshot of what is going on in the world from a reliable source. If something major is happening it will be there, as well as many other interesting and important facts.

  • Tell me about a book that has had an impact on your life and why.

“Creative Visualisation” by Shakti Gawain. I read this many years ago. I believe it was one the first books of its kind. There are now plenty of other books on the subject how to create your own reality. The premise is that you can achieve whatever you wish for. This book teaches you to focus your mind on what you want and how to work systematically on reaching your goal. It is an easy book to follow and is full of practical exercises. I still use some of the techniques today. The book taught me that no idea is too big, and that providing your motivations are honourable, you can accomplish incredible things. You find the courage to undertake tasks and difficult projects other think are impossible. It is essentially along the same lines as “The power of Positive Thinking” written by Norman Vincent Peale in 1952. It works.

  • Who are your favourite authors?

Raymond Carver, Michel Houellbecq, Margaret Atwood, Marguerite Yourcenar, Ian McEwan, Juno Diaz, classic literature, Booker prize winners…

  • What historical figure do you identify with?

Isabel Eberhardt, Lady Jane Digby amongst others. These were both ladies who set off to discover and fall in love with the Arab world at a time when ladies did not travel alone.

  • Who are your heroes in real life?

The brave and unsung human and civil rights activists who struggle under oppressive regimes. The White Helmets in Aleppo. Aid workers who help others in distressed parts of the world. The Pink Saris. The inventors of cheap recycling solutions. The researchers to toil to find cures for rare diseases.

  • What is your favourite occupation?

Apart from swimming long distance in a calm, clear warm sea, working on projects to further people’s understanding of their rights and responsibilities as citizens and education projects to further peace and understanding among nations.

  • What influenced your career path?

Studying Arabic and going off to live in Cairo when I was 19 years old for close to 2 years.

  • What do you like about what you do?

Meeting and working with people from all nationalities and all walks of life. Exchanging ideas, finding creative solutions.

  • What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

The Arabic Lexicon Electoral Terminology (trilingual in Arabic, French and English.) It is a project I initiated and directed with UNDP covering eight Arab countries. With close to 500 entries the lexicon provides clear and accurate explanations of key concepts and terms in the field of elections, including new terms since many words and concepts relating to elections were missing in the Arabic language. It documents the most widely accepted electoral terms in Arabic and accounts for regional language variations in the eight participating countries - Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen. Different terms are used in different countries to refer to the same roles or activities in the electoral process. This Lexicon is a first effort to record these differences so people from the region can understand each other. Over 100 people participated in creating what is the first work of reference of its kind in the field of democracy building in the Arab World.

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