Living a Dream – Summer Internship at UNDP
This summer I am doing my applied field experience at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) headquarters in New York. By now I’m halfway through the internship, just starting my sixth week and so far it has been a unique and amazing journey. I’ve met inspiring people, attended high-level conferences and witnessed the first-ever internationally televised live debate between UN secretary general candidates – to be honest, I feel like a kid in Disney World. I remember when I was in high school back in Uruguay and one of my classes was covering the UN System. We studied the UN creation and its history, its internal organization, its bodies and main agencies. The fact that today I am working for this organization, walking through the hallways of its headquarters and attending sessions at the General Assembly feels surreal for a moment. Then I come back to reality and I reflect about my path and how I’ve always wanted this to happen, I realize that I worked so hard to be where I am now, and that, with some help from the universe (and Rotary!), dreams do come true. I can’t help but feel thankful with life.
Working for UNDP
While looking for an internship, I knew I wanted to have the perspective provided from working in a headquarters office. My previous experience with the Inter-American Development Bank was in the Guatemala country office, so I knew well what working in the field involved. I have always admired the UN, so I applied to a few positions within the UN System. I was offered a summer internship at UNDP, in the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy (BERA), under the Partnerships Group and the Financial Institutions Team.
UNDP is one of the most important agencies of the UN, it has offices in about 170 countries and territories and offers global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. UNDP also helps countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnerships, and institutional capabilities in order to effect lasting change. I am working in a young area of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, which was created in May 2015, with the objective of establishing and strengthening partnerships with International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs).
I come into the Financial Institutions Team of UNDP under a global context where the financing mechanisms for development are changing. The world has agreed on a new development path; the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which is a ground-breaking framework for people, our planet and prosperity. This agenda sets clear priorities aimed to end poverty in all its forms, significantly reduce inequalities, and build peaceful, inclusive, and resilient societies. All in all, it is a global consensual agreement that will bring forward our world with a shared vision for the future of humanity, ensuring that no one is left behind. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set demanding targets that represent a considerable task for the UN Development System. This challenge draws special attention to UNDP, which will play a central role in helping countries to achieve the SDGs.
Implementing the SDGs will require leverage of all sources of finance – domestic and international – complementing and reinforcing each other. The development arena needs innovative approaches to complement the traditional development methods, and under the new era of global development, partnerships arise as a powerful resource to catalyze impact. In the area where I am interning, we are focused on strengthening and growing partnerships with IFIs and MDBs, working together, sharing resources, knowledge and innovation to achieve inclusive and sustainable life on earth.
In 2014, about $23.9 billion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to all developing countries was channeled through IFIs, which represents 14.5% of total ODA from all donors. The International Development Association (IDA) accounted for 58% of the ODA flows, followed by Asian Development Bank (AsDB) with 12%, African Development Bank (AfDB) 9% and Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) with 8%. Moreover, taking into consideration Other Official Flows (OOF), the IFIs have mobilized $42.6 billion to developing countries, representing 71.4% of the total OOF contributed by all donors, with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) accounting for 37% of total OOF, IADB 21%, AsDB 18% and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) 11%.
Under this scenario, UNDP is a partner of choice for both governments and IFIs in order to support grants and loans implementation in a variety of sectors where UNDP is able to offer extensive expertise and knowledge together with administrative and operational acumen for effective project execution. Recently, IFIs have announced a new strategy on scaling up financial support, technical assistance and policy advice to help achieve the SDGs. The plan sets out their intent to pursue not only traditional modes of financing, but also a more catalytic role, through partnerships, to mobilize new funding sources. This new setting opens up new opportunities for UNDP to engage much closer with IFIs and MDBs.
My tasks here at the Partnerships Group and the Financial Institutions Team in UNDP involves closely monitoring the current partnerships with the major IFIs, develop and update cooperation profiles with IFIs, develop knowledge products for country offices to better understand the partnerships models and closely liaise on the field with IFIs and governments. I am also helping to develop a UNDP publication, which will document UNDP’s experience supporting loan and large-scale grant implementation through tripartite partnerships with governments and development banks. This is intended as a marketing product for external partners, to showcase UNDP’s added value to help overcome implementation bottlenecks while building capacity and implementing national development priorities. It is also envisioned as a knowledge product for country offices to learn from UNDP’s experience across all regions in helping to improve project delivery through tripartite partnerships.
I am working in a multicultural environment, my colleagues are from Mexico, Guyana, Indonesia, Denmark, Japan, United States, Belgium and I could go on with the list…but the point is that I am exposed to a diverse setting with a plurality of traditions and it is exciting to learn from each one of them. I am taking turns going out for lunch one-on-one with most of my colleagues, so that I can hear their unique points of views and get to know them better. So far, I feel that I have learned a lot and I am excited to continue my journey through this organization until I head back to Durham for my second year of studies.
Inside the UN Headquarters in NY
In addition to my tasks within the internship I get the chance to take advantage of several events, forums and conferences that happen in the headquarters of the UN. This is a great way to network and learn about the work the UN is doing worldwide. It is also very impressive to walk through the Secretariat building, the different chambers (Security Council, General Assembly Hall, Economic and Social Council Chamber, etc.) and just appreciate the architecture and the pieces of art from all around the world.
I was able to attend some events, of which the following are worthwhile remarking:
- Session at the General Assembly Hall where the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy was discussed and examples of its implementation in different countries.
- Global Townhall with UN Secretary-General Candidates, this was a major event, where the candidates for the post of Secretary General had a debate and it was the first-ever televised live debate in the UN General Assembly Hall, which was broadcasted by Al Jazeera. In this event I was able to meet Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP and Chair of the United Nations Development Group, who was also the former prime minister of New Zealand. I was also able to meet Irina Bokova, who is currently the UNESCO director and Bulgaria’s former acting minister of foreign affairs.
- High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which is the first comprehensive and inclusive forum that takes place after the SDGs were launched. Its aim is to promote and review the implementation of sustainable development and to provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations.
Living in New York
Living in NY during the summer has been quite an experience. Coming from Durham, which is a quiet city, NY seems to be a bit overwhelming from moment to moment. During the first month, I lived in the financial district, just half a block away from the NYSE. During the mornings I walked my dog through Battery Park and it was amazing to see the Statue of Liberty every day. Although the area was nice and conveniently located to many subway lines I felt like I was living in the middle of a touristic spot and by night the area would be empty and everything was closed. I felt overwhelmed by the hordes of people walking in the street at the same time in the mornings, so I decided to move to Brooklyn, and since the beginning of July, I have been living in Williamsburg.
Living in Brooklyn completely changed my after office hours. Williamsburg is a small neighborhood with artistic and hipster people all over. There are parks with live music, open air movies and lots of restaurants and bars. It’s not uncommon that you are walking through the streets and a neighbor invites you to their backyard garden full of patio string lights, where an unknown band is playing live music on a Saturday afternoon. And, of course, this is the place where you will find in the street a Duke t-shirt guy and shout “Go duke!” and laugh with a stranger for a few seconds. You will also find the UNC t-shirt guy strolling around Williamsburg, although in this case, I restrained myself from boo-ing the guy!
 Data obtained from OECD Query Wizard for International Development Statistics
 From Billions to Trillions: Multilateral Development Bank Contributions to Financing for Development, http://www.worldbank.org/mdgs/documents/FfD-MDB-Contributions-July-13-2015.pdf
 Asian Development Bank (ADB) , European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), European Investment Bank (EIB), Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Islamic Development Bank Group (IDBG), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), KfW, World Bank (WB), African Development Bank Group (AfDB), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), New Development Bank (NDB), etc.
 This debate can be seen online in the following link: http://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2016/un-debate-secretary-general/