HOW DID YOU GET TO THE UN?
I am currently completing my masters in Gender, Development, and Globalization at the London School of Economics. My undergraduate degree was in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Fordham University. I have spent most of my academic and professional trajectory immersed in international gender issues. While I’ve followed the work of the UN since my high school days as a Model U.N. competitor, I started seriously thinking about the UN Women internship while visiting Rwanda in June 2013 on a student study trip. My academic background in gender and development and work experience in women’s organizations seemed to be a perfect fit for the agency. I applied, was accepted, and now I’m here, pinching myself a little bit even after all these months, because it still feels unreal that I get to intern with the UN in Rwanda.
WHAT DOES YOUR POSITION ENTAIL?
One of the great things about a UN internship is the amount of flexibility at this office to pursue the initiatives you are really interested in. Since I’ve been here, it has been a whirlwind of projects and assignments! Some areas I work in are in fostering public-private partnerships, resource mobilization, project monitoring and evaluation, and communications work for both UN Women and the inter-agency UN Communications Group. I have also gotten the chance to help out with the 2013 Social Good Summit and UN Day activities. The work here is both individually motivated and team-oriented. If you have initiative, you will be given space to exercise it, but equally if you need support, colleagues are always there to help. What is great about an internship at the UN in Rwanda is that it really is what you make of it.
WHAT DOES YOUR AVERAGE DAY LOOK LIKE?
My responsibilities are varied, so it can be a toss-up. I’m often in the process of researching or writing at least one communications piece, whether it is a news story for the website or a fact-sheet on our work distributed in the national press. In the office, we are also currently working on drafting a social media campaign on gender-based violence. My long-term focus here has been about public-private partnerships, so I research and connect with potential partners for the office. Sometimes travel is involved—I have been all over Rwanda thanks to this internship, whether it is to do field interviews for a story on refugee camps or participating in a planning retreat with the government. I have also gotten to attend high-level meetings and planning sessions with our government and development partners, where even minute-taking manages to be extremely interesting. I am usually liaising with several different UN agencies in a day on communications work, as we all work together under the One UN initiative. My average day has a lot of research, writing, editing, and critical thinking on how we can work innovatively and effectively, interspersed with last-minute requests from the office to draft speeches, attend project showcases, or film a human rights video in our studio.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT WORKING FOR THE UN?
My favorite thing about working at the UN is two-fold: I love being able to see firsthand the work of UN in the field and I love being able to directly contribute to it. The hands-on experience of this internship has been incredible and unparalleled. Not only am I developing important skills-sets for my career, I am also learning how to work in a different cultural environment. Everyone is extremely supportive and coming from such a mix of backgrounds that you inevitably learn almost as much from lunch with a colleague as an hour reading through the UN library. You might not realize this about the UN, because it is the intergovernmental organization that works on the world’s most pressing problems, but it is really fun to be the midst of it all. It is challenging work but there isn’t a moment where you aren’t learning or growing.
WHAT IS THE KEY PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO SOMEONE INTERESTED IN WORKING AT THE UN?
Do your research thoroughly and keep applying if you don’t have any luck at first. It is about really understanding not just the mandate and activities of the UN or the specific agency, but overall culture as well. As a result, some field offices or positions might be perfectly suited to your background and you might be a match for them in your interests. Some might not. I applied to another UN Women office for this same internship but didn’t hear anything back. I sent out a few more applications and ended up with two offers on opposite sides of the world. Now that I’ve interned at UN Women in Rwanda, I can’t imagine having done it anywhere else.
Stephanie, following her internship with UN Women Rwanda, secured a position as Manager with the Girl Declaration Joint Advocacy Group at the UN Foundation in New York.