Megan Pera – Global Health Fellow – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Bachelors in Public Health, Nutrition Graduate 2014 – Global Social Observatory Intern
As a nutrition major, I decided that an internship with the Global Social Observatory (GSO) would be a good fit for the summer, as they are participating in an ongoing project with the Scale Up Nutrition movement. I had no idea of range of activities that I would be participating in, or how much I would learn about international dynamics.
On my first day, Katherine Hagen, my supervisor, took me to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations (UN) to give me a tour and introduce me to the world of international collaboration. The ILO conference was going on at the time, and for the next two weeks, I went to a plethora of meetings on topics that I had never before studied. The Human Rights Council followed the ILO conference, and at the end of June UNCTAD sponsored a week-long event for their 50th anniversary. I went to meetings and events that I never dreamed I would have access to: from plenary sessions for the ILO conference, to panels on the economic empowerment of women, to consultation meetings on human rights resolutions. I have been to meetings in almost every single room of the UN Palais, the main conference rooms in the ILO and WTO, and even a meeting in the UN Environmental House sponsored by GSO itself. Through all of these meetings, I took notes and kept track of questions (so many questions!) that I had. Every morning before I went to meetings, Katherine and I would debrief about the meetings I had gone to the day before, and she would answer all of my questions. The wonderful thing about Katherine is that she sees the dynamics behind the meetings in a way that only a seasoned Geneva-ite can. For every question I had, she would explain the history and the context behind the issue, and by the end of June, I had learned more from listening to Katherine than I ever could have in a classroom.
After June, things in Geneva get pretty quiet, and I transitioned into writing a report on food security. The report is on the role of the private sector in ensuring a stable and healthy food supply. If I have learned one thing from working at GSO, it is that “multistakeholder involvement” (one of those UN-organization buzzwords) really means getting everyone who has a role to play involved in making things happen. Food security is something that I have studied in the past, but thinking about how to involve the private sector (comprised of companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, who are often villain-ized instead of included) gave me an important new perspective on how to provide all people with healthy food. As a nutrition major, ensuring that all people have access to enough food for an active and healthy lifestyle is something that I care very deeply about, and GSO allowed me to expand my thinking about how to ensure food security beyond the role of government and civil society.
I only have two regrets about my internship this summer: one is that I did not come early enough in May to attend the World Health Assembly, which would have been an amazing learning opportunity, especially with Katherine’s guidance and perspective. My second regret is that I cannot stay here longer to continue working on facilitating a neutral forum for multistakeholder involvement. Through this internship I have come to believe in the importance of dialogue, and I commend GSO for its work to create a neutral space in which governments, the private sector, and civil society can come together to solve the problems of the world today.
Congming Jiang – Humanitarian Action Fellow – Duke Master of Public Policy Candidate 2015 (Sanford School of Public Policy) – International Labour Organization (Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work) Intern
This summer, I interned with the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) branch at the International Labour Organization (ILO). Specifically, I was a part of the Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining (FA&CB) and Forced Labour teams. During my time at the ILO I was responsible for several assignments. As the ILO is implementing a new project in China, I was assigned to research collective bargaining rights in China. This research formed the bulk of my internship. Before my internship, the term “collective bargaining” was a vague concept to me. My own understanding of this term came from the notorious garment sweatshops in China. This internship provided me with an in-depth look into different aspects of collective bargaining. It also eradicated many stereotypes that I held with respect to labor rights issues in China.
In addition to researching collective bargaining rights, I was also involved in editing progress reports from ILO field offices. Due to different cultural backgrounds, the reports were all written in different format and styles. My task involved reviewing and editing such reports to meet the standards set by donor countries.
I am delighted to have worked with the Forced Labour teams in my branch. This team is currently responsible for gathering information on forced labor, and trafficking issues on a national level. Due to language barriers, the database on forced labor lacks information in Chinese. I was able to expand this database by translating and summarizing Chinese documents into English. Although the task was only one week long, I gained abundant knowledge in this area, particularly the legal framework surrounding forced labor. I firmly believe that this internship with the ILO will help my career development. This has truly been an intriguing and beneficial experience.
Sam Young – Environment, Energy and Economics Fellow – Master of Environmental Science and Management, University of California – Santa Barbara – Earthmind Intern
I was extremely nervous on the first day of my internship at Earthmind. My previous experience was in the science portion of natural resources, and here I was stepping foot into the business, economics, and policy of the matter. I wore a brand new suit I had recently purchased for the position – the first thing my supervisor said to me was “you’re overdressed – this is a conservation organization”. Business causal for the rest of the summer – noted.
My first assignment was to get myself up to speed on the relevant portions of the Convention on Biological Diversity, IFC Performance Standard 6, The Equator Principles, and the OECD Common Approaches. With that information in mind, I was instructed to review all of our web pages and edit them as I saw fit. I had never done anything with web pages let alone the mountains of reading I had just been assigned. Very quickly these were set aside as there were numerous events and conferences I was to attend and report back to the office on. Perhaps the first thing I was shocked at was the ridiculous scrutinizing of semantics. The next was that, unlike every American Academic conference I have attended where the audience ruthlessly questions the presenter, there was more etiquette and procedure to audience participation. Every criticism was gentle and preceded by a complement. I fear I came off a bit harsh at the first presentation I had attended as this only became clear to me after I had spoken. And finally the lack of concrete outcomes initially frustrated me. We would sit in a 9 hour meeting with delegates from 30 nations and the secretary-generals of numerous prestigious international organizations, and the outcome was to agree to facilitate initiation of talks to set an agenda for another meeting in 6 months. Presenters would speak their piece completely ignoring the contradictory statements of the previous speaker – it was maddening (at least acknowledge the discrepancy!).
I slowly began to understand the underlying politics of these meetings, at least superficially. The presentations themselves are often ceremonial – real decisions get made on the sidelines during coffee breaks and behind closed doors in the working groups. The degree to which this is true seemed to vary between organizations, but was present in all the conferences I attended. Following conferences I edited several versions of our business proposal and recorded the minutes in meetings with our prospective investors. I observed much of the same politics being played in this setting – a total aversion to negative statements. This seems to be a common theme at such gatherings: garnering verbal interest in support is easy due to the pressure of the setting, but securing follow through can be rather challenging. Again the problem of semantics arose, as each organization we met with had a similar goals to stop and reverse global loss of biodiversity and natural resource degradation, but fiercely disagreed on the language used in our strategy to achieve these goals. Sometimes this was as trivial as the inclusion of a single word. Our challenge was to work in desired language without obscuring and diluting our proposal into a collection of buzzwords and popular slogans.
Often I was the only person in our office, as my supervisor was frequently away and the other interns preferred to work from home. To tell the truth, I only came in on most days to network at lunch in the cafeteria. This was particularly challenging as I had to position myself at a table where the conversation was in English. Despite all my practice using duolingo.com, my French ability was still quite limited and I did not feel able to have a technical discussion in another language. My strategy was to walk around one side of the room to get water and then sweep to the other side to get food, so as to nonchalantly (or maybe it was obvious, I don’t know) survey the room. Next I would listen to folks in line. If I spotted someone I wanted to talk to, I would try to casually follow them and sit nearby to strike up conversation.
I am currently in the final days of my internship in Geneva. I will travel some, and continue working part time for Earthmind remotely in Santa Barbara. The lessons I learned in Geneva will supplement my experiences in the laboratory and field locations. There is a desperate need to coordinate efforts between organizations and sectors. Integrated management and strategies is the buzzword, but it is very real and very necessary. I had ideas that the future of conservation was tied to sustainable development, but the research I performed in my internship really illustrated how inextricable the two goals really are. With a better understanding of the business, politics, and economics of conservation I hope to help bridge the communication gap between science and policy in private and public sectors, between industry, and between organizations. It is very clear that we have got as far as we can independently – independent action today often has major unintended consequences.
Magdalena (Magda) Anchondo – Global Health Fellow – Princeton Masters of Public Affairs Candidate 2015 (Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) – UNHCR Intern – Writing at UNHCR Headquarters: “UNese and Compromise”
Upon coming to Geneva I realized that it was a somewhat uncommon occurrence amongst interns to have long-term field experience. I can say that I’ve really lived abroad, and lived as a villager does, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Benin. That, and a summer working in a refugee camp on adolescent sexual and reproductive health, gave me 3 years of mostly fieldwork experience.
So, when it came to decide which internship I would do for my summer between my first and second year of graduate school, I had a tough decision. My work experience isn’t extensive but nor was it spent primarily in an office setting. As anyone in the development field knows, one of the keys to securing a good job, is to have field experience. I had that, but I worried that I needed more. I also remember thinking: would having mostly field experience preclude me from stateside jobs that I haven’t yet decided whether I want to pursue post-graduation?
Ultimately I decided that headquarters experience would be a good idea. Miraculously, UNHCR believed my experience with adolescent sexual and reproductive health qualified me to support the Public Health section write a practical guide to launching sexual and reproductive health programmes for adolescents in refugee situations. When I accepted the position I was a little concerned that it was the only task I’d be working on the entire summer but it was an opportunity with a great deal of responsibility, where my ideas on a subject I’m passionate about, would be heard.
I had heard prior to working at the UN, that the organizations within it have their own language. Once I got into the nitty gritty of writing the guide, I realized how right the statement was. First, it’s important to stick to the language that UNHCR uses to describe certain initiatives. A project is different than a programme, strategies require lots of work plans and different partners, whereas actions don’t imply a lot of extra bureaucracy and that simple is always better, even if you repeat the same word a lot. I don’t the like the word increase anymore, or at least I won’t for the next month or so. Finally, because any UN organization is supported by member states, it’s important to have broad suggestions within a document to incorporate all possible cultural contexts but not make any country or regional specific recommendations.
I’d never written anything for the UN before, so it was a steep learning curve. I only hope that my supervisor didn’t find it too taxing to constantly correct my writing. While writing, and receiving feedback through my colleagues’ edits, I learned a good deal about how to stand behind your ideas but that compromise is an essential tool in any work environment, be it in an office or in the field. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the best position between being assertive and allowing yourself to understand your colleagues’ perspectives. It’s also about being humble enough to realize that they probably have more expertise and knowledge than you do, and it’s a good idea to acquiesce to their views. Although, if you feel strongly about a topic or an idea, speak up and talk it out in a diplomatic manner, so that both parties understand one another. Creating the best product to serve adolescent refugees was the final goal. With that goal in mind, my supervisor and I were able to compromise so the product reached the appropriate parties by the end of my internship and our combined ideas now have a greater chance of being accepted.
I’m extremely grateful that my field guide will be published sometime this fall. Sometimes, I still doubt that I will be a primary author of a document that will be used by UN field staff. That’s pretty incredible! Hopefully, this publication and experience will help me in my job search next spring. If nothing else, I’ve definitely learned a lot, not only about writing for the UN, but the fact that the relationships that you build with your co-workers can be more important than the location of where you worked.
Heejin “Jeenie” Yoon – Humanitarian Action Fellow – Master of Social Work – Columbia University School of Social Work – WHO, Gender, Reproductive Rights and Gender based Violence Intern
I was thrilled the day I was offered an internship with the WHO’s Reproductive Health and Research Department, working with the Violence Against Women team. I have a strong background in clinical work with survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence, so this seemed like a perfect fit. I knew it would be research-based, which was different from my normal clinical work, but that was part of what drew me to it. I knew that it would be best to gather as many skills as possible, research being one of them. I wrapped up my first year of my Master of Social Work (MSW), and headed off towards Geneva the day before my first day at work. I walked in, got my badge, met the administrator, and I was so excited to be working with such an important and large organization. They gave me my own office, and while there was no computer yet, they promised they were working on it.
At the end of my first day, I had only one thought: “That was underwhelming.” I was bored! My direct supervisor was actually on mission for my first two weeks, so I did not have much contact with her, meaning I had to work with another woman on the team for those first few weeks. Upon my arrival, I couldn’t help but feel as if maybe they weren’t really ready for me to be there yet. Overall, the reaction I received seemed to be along the lines of, “Oh… you’re here already.” They put me in an office of someone who had just retired, but there was no computer or access to the WHO network. So I had to work off of my laptop. My tasks were menial, boring, and tedious. I couldn’t help but think, “THIS is what I signed up for?? What am I doing here?” When my supervisor finally came back, it was the week of some very important meetings and conferences. I attended some of these, but when I was not in a meeting, my supervisor was and I was unable to really communicate with her about my duties and tasks. Then she went away again for a couple of days.
It wasn’t really until the 4th week or so that I really got to sit down with my supervisor, get some serious direction, and prove to her that I was capable of doing more than what she had me doing originally. Looking back, I now realize that those first few weeks are sort of like a test. The supervisors and the team you are working with have no idea who you are, how you work, how much supervision you need, or how much you can multi-task. So they give you smaller, simpler jobs to see how quickly you do them, how efficiently they get done, and to see how hard you work. Taking advice from a friend, I decided to power through my boring tasks, get them done quickly, and prove to them that I was able to handle more responsibility. It worked. Soon, I was getting more complicated and interesting projects like writing papers or providing feedback on clinical handbooks. I was editing fact sheets, papers that were going to be published, and doing literary reviews and annotated bibliographies. I became very close to my team and really became comfortable asking them questions and learning how they got to where they were.
If there was one thing I learned about my time at WHO, it was that assertiveness is key. You get what you put in. As cliche as that is, there is a strong ring of truth in it. WHO staff are insanely busy all the time, especially if the team you are working with is pretty small. They don’t mean to, but they will forget there is an intern until you make yourself visible to them. Ask for more work, ask for clarification, and tell them exactly what kind of work and experience you are hoping to gain. It may not be the perfect fit, but they will notice you if you make them. As soon as I learned this lesson, my internship became increasingly interesting and enjoyable, and was truly a defining point in what made my summer in Geneva wonderful.
Megan McCaroll – Global Health Fellow -Duke University – IOM (International Organization for Migration) Migrant Health Intern
I interned for the International Organization for Migration in the Migration Health Division. This was my first ever internship, and my first week was bumpy as I adjusted to working alone in an office. Luckily, a fellow Duke intern joined me the next week to fill up the lonely space, and the internship picked up.
One great thing about my first week was the opportunity to attend a retreat for the department of migration management. It was fascinating to listen to each division’s presentation on their work and talk openly about major obstacles, such as lack of human resources, the need for more visibility, and their intricate relationship with the UN.
My main project was to write a position paper on migration and HIV. It was a short paper but took a surprisingly long time. Part of the paper included case studies featuring various HIV projects that IOM is conducting around the world. I was communicating with several regional and local offices in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Europe, who would review and edit their sections. Interestingly, a couple offices were very relaxed about the editing process, while the majority reviewed each sentence very meticulously. It was fascinating to detect cultural differences between offices.
I have never taken a class specifically on migration issues, so this summer was a great learning experience. Migration is a stigmatizing word in much of the world, and so if HIV. I had to take great care in my writing not to make migrants sound as if they are the “carriers” of HIV. I spent many hours pouring over wordings of paragraphs explaining why migrants are vulnerable to HIV, and I often shared them with my supervisor and emailed them to other HIV experts in regional offices for input. I learned that the writing process in the “real” world is much more of a team effort than in academia.
In addition, I had the opportunity to attend some meetings at the UN during the Human Rights Council. My favorite meeting was on Migration Health and Human rights, where it was fascinating to watch the dynamics between the Mexican ambassador leading the meeting and the American, Canadian, British, and Australian ambassadors. It was clear that the latter four were a sort of team, always following up on each other’s questions and supporting each other’s points.
My last little tidbit is the recommendation to get coffee with people who are interesting to you, and don’t give up when they don’t respond to your emails. As an undergraduate, I wanted to learn more about people’s career paths, their opinions of different organizations and masters programs, and to get advice. As an aspiring teacher interested in international education policy, I really wanted to talk to someone from UNICEF or Save the Children. I met a person from UNICEF at the Duke Program reception, and after talking for awhile, she gave me her card and told me to drop her a note. I dropped her a note the next day and got no response. The next week I heard from a fellow Duke intern that she was on mission until the next week, so I waited and sent her another email once she returned. No response. I almost gave up, but another Duke intern told me to keep trying, even if I had to call her! I ended up getting in touch with her, but she was leaving Geneva again and got me in touch with someone else. That person was also away, but she connected me with two other people. Of those two people, one responded and met with me. We had a great conversation; her path is a similar one I’d like to take, and she gave me awesome advice that I would not have gotten anywhere else. I wanted to share this story to encourage people to not be shy and not to think that they shouldn’t reach out to people or that they are monopolizing someone’s time. People like to talk about themselves, and we have so much to learn from their stories. If I could do anything different, I would have started reaching out to different interesting people earlier in the summer. People are also more available earlier in the summer—May and June is better than July or August. Take and chance and reach out to people; the worst thing that can happen is that they say no. And then you are no worse off then before.