March 2009: Basil Comnas ’65

Basil Comnas ’65 is Deputy Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme for Iraq, directing a team of 100 experts with a $350 million Reconstruction & Recovery portfolio. He also leads the UN Country Team in Iraq for Economic Reform & Diversification, which recently organized the Private Sector Development Program for Iraq with the office of Prime Minister Maliki.

Comnas began his undergraduate studies at Wesleyan University and completed his B.S. at San Francisco State. He undertook postgraduate studies at the University of London’s Wye College and completed his master’s in international studies at Almeda University. Though English is his native tongue, Comnas is fluent in French and Greek, speaks conversational Afghan Dari, and has a basic vocabulary in Russian.

After working for a time in marketing, consulting, and rural development, Comnas began what would become a far-reaching and extensive career with the United Nations. He has managed the flagship United Nations Development Programme recovery programs in several crisis countries, with senior responsibilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Tajikistan, Kosovo, and Sudan. In 2008, he spearheaded the expansion of the United Nations Country Team footprint in Iraq, overseeing the opening of offices in Basra, Ramadi, and Najaf and fortifying the UNDP presence in Erbil and Baghdad.

With extensive experience in building and coordinating partnerships amongst donor countries, the United Nations Country Team, and Government Ministries, Comnas has mobilized funding from the U.S. State Department, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the European Commission, Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and Italy for UNDP programs together with United Nations entities, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Labour Organization, World Food Programme, and UNICEF. In 1999, Comnas journeyed to Manila to negotiate with the Asian Development Bank and secured the first ever ADB loan to be managed by a UN agency. In 2007, he was credited with securing the first ever UN partnership with Japan Bank for International Cooperation. He also arranged multiple partnerships between UNDP and the World Bank.

In 2008, Comnas was invited by the UN Organization of the U.S. to participate in The UN’s Expanding Role in Iraq, a symposium with Michel Gabaudan, Regional Representative, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and The Honorable Carlos Pascual, Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Comnas has shouldered large and multidimensional responsibilities and has identified best entry points in crisis countries for strategic interventions, which in turn have promoted recovery and development while fostering peace and stability in these regions. He has led multi-disciplinary, multi-national teams to successful program delivery in complex and emergency environments. In 2002, he contributed an essay on conflict experience in Somalia for the book Sharing the Front Line and the Back Hills: International Protectors and Providers: Peacekeepers, Humanitarian Aid Workers and the Media in the Midst of Crisis. The foreword was written by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, Comnas organized international conferences for electricity master planning between public/private partnerships and independent power producers with the Iraq Ministry of Electricity. He also organized donor and stakeholder conferences for the pressing needs of water and sanitation in the Kurdistan regional government, while emphasizing capacity building for master planning and budget execution.

In reflection, Comnas says that he found Hotchkiss to be an incredible experience, noting that this formed him more than any other life experience. “There were many fine Hotchkiss masters and gentlefolk during my school years 1962-65. Our Headmaster was A. William Olsen, whose strong leadership was respected by all. Faculty members Alan Haas and Blair Torrey were quintessential role models for me. There were the iconic older masters: George Milmine, Butch Stearns, and Dick Gurney, and we were privileged to be instructed and mentored by such giants.”

Comnas is married with five children.

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