University Scholars Leadership Symposium

The United Nations from the inside: Part 1

First things first, it is said that a solid introduction of yourself is also the foundation of your communication, so here is my “10 sec-elevator” pitch:

Robin Andersson, a 24-year-old guy, international student (born in Sweden) who just graduated from QUT Business School with a double Master’s degree in Applied Finance & Management.

My first time in Bangkok, Thailand, and in a developing country at all, was in August 2018 via the University Scholarship Leadership Symposium (USLS) where I participated as a QUT delegate. A great experience you can read all about in my dear conference companions blog posts: Kristine, Melody and Tegan.

The symposium was full of nice conference rooms, hotel spaces, restaurants, street food, students from all over the world and a crazy night life if you were that adventurous. One day of “community service” was scheduled, and we got a glimpse of how an everyday life could be in Bangkok. In other words, what typically is thought of a developing country, such as poverty and a lack of resources such as freshwater, electricity and even food, more or less shined with its absence.

However, after almost two months in Bangkok and at the United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia Pacific (UN ESCAP) headquarters, my previous glimpse has widened slightly, and I expect more to come. Through a series of upcoming blog posts, I thought of trying to clear up my own mind but also to share my thinking and takeaways regarding the United Nations as an organisation, the Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDG’s), internal politics and more, from a perspective of a United Nations ESCAP Intern.During the USLS in August 2018, several UN officials participated and led the workshops, and as I had a great interest for the UN and their values my plan was simple: Talk with as many UN officials as I possibly could, and so I did. Then, when back in Brisbane, I followed-up on them, applied for a bunch of internship roles and somehow landed one of them.

The fifth session of the Committee on Environment and Development (CED) took place between the 21-23 November 2018, which happened to be my very first week at the UN. In short, the CED meeting presents facts related to the regional challenges, invites experts and member states to discuss the challenges ahead for the Asia Pacific region. Even though I always have enjoyed discussing news and the hot topics of the day, I have never been politically active. Thus, the CED meeting was my very first political session to experience, and afterwards I can somehow understand why I have not been that eager to experience it earlier on.

The truth is, regardless of whether it is country statements, panel discussions or experts talking, they are not that engaging or easy to follow if they are simply reading off their script, sentence by sentence, page after page and session by session. Takeaway?

  • My first takeaway is that in this particular environment WHAT you say seems to be of much higher importance than HOW you say it. The complete opposite to what I was used to as my private business background had so far taught me to focus on one’s presence and being persuasive rather than 100% correct.

However, after 2 days of non-engaging script reading and language barriers on top of that, it suddenly happened! The CED meeting was to run its last session: submitting the guiding document for the discussions that took place during the past two days and agree upon the actions to be taken moving forwards. Obviously the critical moment, and where all the member states had the opportunity to either approve or oppose individual sentences, paragraphs, and direct proposed actions. The debate was on and even really small differences in wordings, like synonyms such as “put forward”, “submit”, “suggests”, “notes”, “recommends”, and “supports”, consumed a whole hour of intense discussions. A debate I, as an observer, simply could not see any value in, but others clearly did.

I think it is fair to say that the importance of the CED meeting was minor in comparison with the Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, December 2018. Nevertheless, the procedure was said to be the same. A process I am grateful I had the opportunity to observe at first hand. Thus, my next two takeaways are as follows:

  • How each paragraph is worded is very important for all involved, including the member states and the UN body, simply because every participating country will be held accountable for the committed actions submitted in the paper. There is also a will to avoid leaving anything open for interpretation as a too open paper will be meaningless.
  • Well worded guiding documents are also about making sure that the member state’s money is used in a responsible way as well as guided by consensus among the member states. No one want to support an organisation with an agenda of their own.

Stay tuned, next article will be up shortly!The intern crew at UN ESCAP’s Environment and Development Division.

Master of Business (Management, Applied Finance)

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