Tell us about your work for the Nathan Ebanks Foundation.
I am currently acting as a Social Media Specialist for the Nathan Ebanks Foundation, a Jamaican NGO that works for the participation, inclusion, and empowerment of children with disabilities and special needs, and as a Consultant for the Sustainable Development Goals Crowdfunding Program, an initiative of the Ingénieurs Sans Frontières office in Cameroon.
You just wrapped an internship at the United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs (UNDESA). What did you do there?
I just wrapped up a four-month internship at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where I worked within the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Social Policy and Development. I worked particularly closely with the UN Focal Point on Youth, focusing on issues like youth unemployment, gender inequality, and several projects related to social policy and development. I worked on media and communications campaigns, initiatives, and materials, for instance producing a promotional film for the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development.
Additionally, I assisted with the development of a project brought to us by our Dutch Youth Ambassador called Building Bridges, which sees him cycling from Amsterdam to Cape Town in a bid to raise awareness for the post-2015 development agenda. I also had the opportunity to assist and attend a number of events held at headquarters, including the Commission for Social Development 2015, the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum 2015, and UN Social Media Day.
Tell us about getting this internship. Any tip for readers who would like to apply for one?
First and foremost, I would encourage readers to keep applying even if they don’t hear back on the first go. It’s a really competitive process and your application is sitting among hundreds from all over the world. Not getting an interview doesn’t necessarily mean your application isn’t strong, and shouldn’t stop you from applying to other internships or different UN agencies.
Before I even considered applying to the UN, I started from the bottom and built my CV from the ground up. I did a lot of research on LinkedIn, and mapped out commonalities according to the models I had found of others working in international affairs and foreign policy. I reached out to people at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, and to people working at Canadian embassies; everybody I contacted was extremely helpful and went out of their way to give me support and advice. This is the best tip I can give: take full advantage of social media, don’t be shy, and use it wisely.
To feel confident in your application, I highly recommend learning a new language, building your experience by working with local NGOs or non-profits, taking advantage of the United Nations Volunteers program, where you can gain experience without moving from your couch, and working in the field. Writing papers and articles and publishing them online or in print media is another great way to add weight to your resume. Finally, create a professional Twitter account and get involved: follow people who work in your specific area of interest, and tweet regularly, using common hashtags. This is a critical tool in creating a strong and helpful network, and getting your name out there.
What is a typical day like?
A typical day at the UN consisted of getting a coffee at the Vienna Café downstairs, greeting my amazing colleagues, checking my emails and getting to work! In the afternoon I would usually attend 1-2 meetings. I had a lot of independence in handling my assignments, which I really appreciated about working at the UN. We had regular team meetings, and my supervisors went out of their way to bring me with them to many interesting meetings, discussions, and events.
You are also the director of programming for the New York chapter of Young People in Foreign Policy. Can you tell us about this role and the responsibilities that go with it?
I wanted to get involved in as much as I could while I was in New York, and was happy to be named Director of Programming for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. I was only able to have this role for the short time that I was in the city, but it was a great experience.
YPFP hosts regular networking events for young people working in international affairs and foreign policy. The events range from weekly Happy Hours and Trivia Nights to talks given by ambassadors, professors, analysts, experts and others. For instance, this week YPFP and the Foreign Policy Association welcomed the Honorable Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, President of Asia Society Policy Institute, and Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, to discuss Alternative Futures for US-China Relations.
You’ve also been an associate editor and contributor to Fair Observer. What does that role entail?
Fair Observer is the brilliant work of Atul Singh, currently a prof at Berkeley, who founded it to counter Western bias in conventional news outlets. It is a non-profit media organisation based in California, and is an incredibly innovative digital news platform. Atul has been an exceptionally helpful mentor.
As Associate Editor, I ran the Latin America desk. This meant I was responsible for all content related to South and Central America, and especially for recruiting contributors on the ground in those areas. The idea is not to have white, middle-class Westerners who have never stepped foot in, say, Nicaragua or Bolivia covering its culture, economy, and politics, but rather locals who have a direct and intimate knowledge of their country and region. I also contributed my own pieces, as I am very interested in Latin America, and had the opportunity to interview journalists, academics, and activists from the region.
What did you do as an intern for Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP)?
The bulk of my work at PHAP, involved digital communications, web management, and the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit. Convened by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Summit is to take place in Istanbul in 2016. In the lead-up to the Summit, PHAP launched a series of live online events covering the regional consultations. I assisted with the organisation and execution of online events such as Humanitarian Engagement with Political and Military Actors in Eastern and Southern Africa, consultations on the State of the Humanitarian System, the IASC Humanitarian Programme Cycle and Transformative Agenda, Global Participation with Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, and a number of other events related to humanitarian aid.
You are at the early stages of your career. What would you like to do next?
I am also working on a start-up that I believe has the potential to be an extremely important resource for youth mobilisation and social innovation. I’m very interested in the intersection between entrepreneurship and socioeconomic development, between technological advancement and social responsibility, and I hope to contribute to that with this start-up.
I’m fascinated by the work of UNHCR Innovation in particular. I believe it is critical to engage the private sector and encourage the idea of corporate social responsibility to solve the myriad issues created by poor foreign policy: the mismanagement of natural resources, sustainable development, and disaster relief, conflict zones that have produced brutal humanitarian crises, and the exodus of migrants and refugees facing incredibly treacherous routes to peace, food, and safety.
Other than that, I hope to soon work at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, near the Syrian border, later at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, and eventually at Canadian embassies abroad.
What was your first job and what did you learn doing it that you still use nowadays?
My first job was as a camp counsellor at an equestrian camp in Portola Valley, California. I had scores of small children to keep safe, happy, and entertained for long, hot summer days, and it taught me many valuable lessons about problem solving and patience!
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
The least rewarding aspect has easily been working full-time as an unpaid intern. This is a massive problem in the field of international affairs, as many NGOs, non-profits, and government agencies rely on young, full-time interns that they cannot or will not pay for their labour. Not only is it an exploitative process, but it disqualifies candidates from this field based on their familial income. Young people coming from lower-income families simply cannot afford to accept a three-month unpaid internship – let alone two or three of them. It’s difficult to afford many of the things that will put you ahead in this field: language classes, volunteer experience, travelling abroad for organisations like Habitat for Humanity. It creates a large bias in favour of those who can afford to do these things for little to no pay. Ultimately, the practice eliminates an entire class of people from the table, and silences voices that deserve to be heard.
The most rewarding aspect of my career so far is most definitely the people I have had the opportunity to meet and work with. These are people with selfless goals and ambitions, curious, inquisitive people, highly intelligent people who have educated themselves about the world, who ask questions and seek to solve problems that reach far beyond the individual. I have so much respect for the people I have had the chance to work with and learn from. They have all challenged me to open my own mind and explore new thoughts and ideas. International affairs is an invigorating field to work in for those interested not in material goods and personal wealth but in discovering the richness that exists in travel, in culture, in language, in the history and complexities of foreign affairs.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
My strongest skill is my writing ability, and I gained that through being a voracious reader. Read everything you can, read as much as you can, and make the effort to read news sources from all over the world. Writing is an extremely important skill to have in any field, as it allows you to communicate your thoughts and ideas freely, clearly and concisely.
Another key skill in this field is training your mind to be open and flexible. There is an Aristotle quote I love: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In international affairs and foreign policy, there is rarely if ever an objective truth; it is necessary and important to be able to recognise and dismantle your own biases in order to seriously consider all angles of a situation.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
Foreign affairs is an interesting field because the information you need to know is literally infinite. At any given moment, conflict might erupt in any of the 196 countries in the world; new evidence might come to light; a technological advancement might alter some facet of warfare and foreign policy. There will always be someone who knows more than you about a specific policy, a certain region, a particular international issue. It can be tough to feel confident when faced with intricate and overwhelming amounts of information, and it relates to what I mentioned above about keeping an open mind. Somebody will always know more than you; it’s important to embrace ignorance rather than resenting it, and learn from everyone you meet.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
I would say my biggest challenge has been trying to find a set career path. This isn’t something like law or medicine where there is a steady, prescribed path to becoming a lawyer or doctor. There are so many options that it often feels like a labyrinth of trying to figure out what 'x' will take you to 'y' and how to get where you want to go. It was initially a challenge for me to just sit back and enjoy the ride instead of worrying and stressing about the next step. Sometimes you just have to learn to relax and go with the flow.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am proud of myself for taking risks. This year I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone, and I left the country, alone, for eight months. This wasn’t a two-week vacation with friends; long-term travel means leaving your family, friends, relationship, and job behind for the unknown. Even with social media, it means missing holidays, birthdays, seasons, weddings, and important milestones in the lives of people you love. People talk about moving to another country as this incredible, exciting experience – which it absolutely is – but often neglect to mention the cost of loneliness, fear, and anxiety that can sometimes accompany that. I’m proud that I pushed myself and took a leap of faith. I’m proud that I chased my goals and learned to flourish and thrive in the opportunities that have come my way.
Why the interest in foreign policy?
I think my interest in foreign policy was a natural product of my love for travel. I was raised in an adventurous family that travelled often, and by two parents who introduced me to books and films and music and people from all over the world. That exposure to other cultures, languages, and histories led to twin desires to understand and improve the world.
Do you have a role model and if so, who and why?
My nana. Unrelated to foreign policy, but she is strong and kind and witty and interesting. That is everything I aspire to be.
Geneviève Zingg | International Affairs Analyst, Journalist and Communications Strategist
Three years' experience
CV in brief
Studied BA in Political Science from the University of Toronto
Previously worked at Ingénieurs sans Frontières | UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and Division for Social Policy and Development | Young Professionals in Foreign Policy | Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP) | Fair Observer | Right to Play | TED Conferences
Inspired by Geneviève's interview? Take a look at these career opportunities: employment and internships with UN DESA | Young Professionals in Foreign Policy membership | jobs, internships and volunteering opportunities at PHAP | Fair Observer (mostly unpaid) | at Right to Play
"Read everything you can, read as much as you can, and make the effort to read news sources from all over the world. Writing is an extremely important skill to have in any field, as it allows you to communicate your thoughts and ideas freely, clearly and concisely."
"Many NGOs, non-profits, and government agencies rely on young, full-time interns that they cannot or will not pay for their labour. Not only is it an exploitative process, but it disqualifies candidates from this field based on their familial income."
"I did a lot of research on LinkedIn, and mapped out commonalities according to the models I had found of others working in international affairs and foreign policy."
"People talk about moving to another country as this incredible, exciting experience – which it absolutely is – but often neglect to mention the cost of loneliness, fear, and anxiety that can sometimes accompany that."
"It can be tough to feel confident when faced with intricate and overwhelming amounts of information, and it relates to... keeping an open mind. Somebody will always know more than you; it’s important to embrace ignorance rather than resenting it, and learn from everyone you meet."
Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
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