In Conversation with Raya Abirached, UNHCR’s Newest Goodwill Ambassador

With great power comes great responsibility

Like many of our favourite figures from the region, Lebanese TV presenter and celebrity journalist Raya Abi Rached can easily be labelled as one of the Arab World’s most influential personalities. 

With over two decades of experience in the entertainment industry under her belt, the Beirut-born broadcaster has challenged most (only to not say all) social conventions in her area of expertise and has gathered a loyal audience she never shies away from addressing whenever it is needed.

“If you have the privilege of being a public figure and have the privilege of people listening to you through your channels or social media, it comes automatically with the responsibility of giving back to those that don’t,” she tells MILLE. “Otherwise, it would just be a one-way road which is meaningless.” 

Well aware of her duty as a revered icon, the one who is aired in almost every Arab household has always cast a brighter light onto those who have been dimmed out of the spotlight. Recently appointed UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador, the MBC producer has since supported the NGO on many fronts and will also now act as host of this year’s Nansen Refugee Award – a prestigious event honouring individuals, groups and organisations who go above and beyond to protect refugees.

Answering the global call for further recognition and awareness for refugees in the region as well as around the world, we sat down with Raya to heighten the importance of her new mission while probing the significance of the role to her.

Why did you accept a mission that is so heavy in meaning?  Why UNHCR in particular? 

“Throughout the years, my relationship with the UNHCR developed. It became quite clear that we had common goals, common aims and a similar way of seeing things. There is also the obvious urgency of what is going on in the Middle East, which is the region I am a Goodwill ambassador for, so it was a good synergy from the start although it is a responsibility that I was not happy to take on as I wish there was never a need for the UNHCR or being a Goodwill ambassador to begin with. I wish there were no refugees no matter how utopian that may sound! 

I grew up in a war and I know from experience how difficult it is for people in life, but when you meet refugees you do realise that it is a level of difficulty that you can’t even imagine. They need our help. We want to help them. We want to give them hope so this is what I hope I can do. Not only because I’m an ambassador but also because I am a person who cares.”

What does it mean to be UNHCR’s goodwill ambassador to you?

“I really hope that through my voice as a Goodwill ambassador, things will change just a little bit. Even by just putting a smile on the faces of people in dire need. It’s not enough but it is something. I don’t consider myself the only ambassador, there are a lot of public figures in the Middle East that contribute extremely to the UNHCR – they’re also high profile supporters so it’s not only me. I hope that through our public image we will be able to make any kind of positive change. This is the only thing you can hope for. 

We need to listen to the people we put a light on and help them in the ways we can, which is not always financial. Through education, information, communication or even a nice word – we can all be catalysts for change in our own manner.”

You’re notably recognised for being Arabs Got Talent’s host. Is there a link between that and the fact that you will be presenting the Nansen Refugee Award?

“I always want to champion talent. The importance in highlighting talent is huge because this is where you give people a positive future. Analysing and identifying what their strengths are, whatever they’re good at, can orient them into making their future more prosperous. It is extremely important to have our youth grow up with the ambition of talent and to express it properly. 

The Nansen Refugee Award is an extremely prestigious award that has been awarded every year for so long now. And it is not only about the monetary compensation. It recognises what we call above and beyond, which means sacrificing your own personal will for others. It is an extremely selfless thing to do and this is what the award has always identified. The winner this year is definitely in that line. Someone who has dedicated their life to helping others. It might sound cliché but if you look into what those people have done, it is truly incredible and it deserves all the awards of the world. I am so glad that the Nansen Award and the UNHCR can recognise that.”

What can we wish you in this new role and for the initiative as a whole? 

“The best we can wish for anyone being a goodwill ambassador is to be able to do as much good as possible during our ten year mandate and be the great transition and stepping stone between the public, who need to know more, and the many refugees that need their help. I wish that we can have a true impact and change and solve a real crisis that has been going on for more than six decades.”

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