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30 July 2020
Careers in the UN Panel: Highlights and Takeaways


On Friday, July 24th, UNA-NCA collaborated with the Fund for American Studies (TFAS) to host a virtual panel discussion on “Careers in the United Nations.” The event was a great success with a very engaged audience and interesting questions for the speakers. Laura Blyler, UNA-NCA Vice Chair of Young Professionals, moderated the panel of our four speakers representing two different UN agencies and the UN Association of the USA. Farah Eck joined us from UNA-USA, bringing her experience as the Senior Director and a lifelong dedication to UN goals through volunteering and other international organizations. Sarah Jackson-Han, United Nations Development Programme, contributed the perspective of a Senior Adviser for Communications, Partnerships, and Policy with valuable lessons in transnational outreach and breaking down barriers that separate us. Stefania Piffanelli is the Deputy Director of the UN Information Center of Washington and brought expertise in global peacebuilding and communications among organizations. Finally, Kristi Pelzel joined us as an alumna of the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows Program and a current Rostered UN Public Information Officer.

Colin Parks, the Director of International Affairs and Legal Studies Program for TFAS, presented opening remarks on the critical work of the organization and how the international field is adapting to the current state of affairs. Andrew Doll, the Managing Director of Programs and Membership for UNA-NCA, followed Parks with introductory comments on the work of UNA-NCA and its current highlights. The collaboration of TFAS and UNA-NCA on this webinar allowed the audience to learn about two distinct entities in the non-profit sector working towards goals that closely align with those of the United Nations. The opportunity to include panelists with diverse experiences in addition to the hosting organizations created a robust range of perspectives in addressing audience questions and comments.

After opening remarks from each panelist, the webinar transitioned to involve the audience members. Attendants were asked to submit questions along with their registrations and Laura Blyler posed some of the best ones to the panelists at the beginning of the Q&A segment of the event. The speakers discussed advice on standing out in applying for positions with the United Nations, including strategies to showcase personal determination and patience. They emphasized networking and volunteering in addition to directly pursuing careers in the organization, as advocacy for UN ideals is very valuable whether officially hired or not. In reaching their positions today, the panelists pointed to distinct and numerous cultures within the UN depending on the branch and agency; global goals and ideals, however, provide an overarching unifier for all employees. “It’s difficult to generalize,” Sarah Jackson-Han explained. “Because the UN is so decentralized, every agency has its own culture, its own hiring policies and its own metabolism.” Professionals and volunteers around the world share this set of values and, as Laura Blyler advised during the webinar, “if you aren’t doing what you love, find a volunteer position that helps you build skills that you can move into something that you truly value.”

Another highlight from the webinar was supporting the UN on a grassroots level, including the opportunity to join UNA-USA and find your local chapter. In discussing volunteering opportunities, especially with UNA-USA, Farah Eck commented that roles like these can “help develop compassion areas” and that caring about the field of international development and seeking out opportunities related to it, rather than solely focusing on the UN as an employer, is critical for youth leaders looking to join the cause. Kristi Pelzel added, “the odds of you needing to apply to multiple positions is very, very high.” Securing a helpful mentorship through these passions for international peacebuilding and goal setting can be very beneficial for young people, as well. Both UNA-NCA and TFAS provide avenues for students to join and engage with their missions, including internship programs, special events, and even coordinated professional opportunities in Washington. Stefania Piffanelli discussed the importance of language abilities when pursuing a career with the United Nations and how global dynamics constantly change the demand; thus, it boils down to skills in communication broadly.


Thank you to everyone who tuned in for our Careers in the UN Panel Event! There will be a recording posted of the webinar for those of you who missed it or want to revisit any piece of advice, information, or insight into joining and supporting the United Nations.