Thursday, April 17, 2014

WHERE LIFE TAKES YOU




Two months ago I was planning a trip to New York to interview as an intern for the Kenya Mission to the United Nations. I thought I wanted this opportunity because it would have been an honor to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather and become the only other family member working in government. I was also after all going to school for a degree with a concentration in Foreign policy. I had begun my internship search two months before the interview and this was the only opportunity that seemed promising. It was exciting being in New York and getting to see where my fellow countrymen were serving the nation in distinguished public positions. However, that is as far as the excitement went. The manner in which the permanent mission and consulate offices were presented and business was conducted left me with an unsettling feeling. I did well enough in my first interview to be invited back for a second interview but I decided I would not be coming back even before I had exited the building thus I walked back to my hotel room taking in the sights and sounds of Manhattan. Later in the day I got an email from an internship that I had applied for during my internship search, it was with the New Economy Coalition (NEC) as an operations intern. I called the NEC back and had my first interview a day later and well you can say the rest is history. 


The NEC is an organization that seeks to convene and support all those who are working towards a New Economy Movement (http://www.thenation.com/article/160949/new-economy-movement#). This begs the question what is a New Economy? A New Economy is one that is restorative to people and planet in a sharing and solidarity manner. It is operates on the principles of justice an appropriate scale. It seeks to give people an active role in their political and economic determination with shared prosperity, sustainable and equitable resources as well as systemic and institutional structural changes to the current economy and politics. The more I read up on the NEC the more excited I became partly because it was a 180 degree shift from the bureaucracy that I would have encountered at the KMUN and mostly because I am personally restorative in nature and like to come up with innovative ideas on how to fix societal problems. I learn and engage different scenarios when it comes to solving a problem and I believe that we should solve problems with a different mindset and perspective than that with which we created the problems.


The NEC used to be the NEI (New Economics Institute), which came about as a merger of the New Economy Foundation (NEF) and E.F. Schumacher Society which has been in existence for over 34 years. The NEC is a new offshoot of the NEI and NEN (New Economy Network) and is in its formation and transition phase. It currently has 16 staff members including 3 interns who work from various parts of the country (http://neweconomy.net/new-economy-coalition). I began my internship with the NEC at the Non Profit Center in Boston on April 1st and so far I have my assignments laid out for me during my time here, in no particular order.
  • ·        Coalition mapping: I will be working with Mike Sandmel, Manager for Coalition Organizing, on putting together all the information we currently have on and about the coalition members, into a database, that is necessary to bring together and engage them and share the work that they are doing towards building a New Economy.
  • ·         Operations support: I will also be working with Filippo Ravalico, Operations, on any necessary logistics required to run the organization such as financing/accounting, archiving and the legal aspects.
  • ·         Conference planning: I will be working with Emma Puka-Beal, Manager 2014 Conference, and Emily Hardt, Program Coordinator, on assisting to plan the annual upcoming conference, Commonbound on June 6th-8th, (http://neweconomy.net/content/join-us-commonbound-june) which I would urge anyone who is able to attend.
  • ·        My final assignment is assisting the amazing organization president Bob Massie on special projects mostly associated with development in a Salesforce.
I am very happy to be at the NEC because of all the new and informative things I am learning. I have been able to tie in a lot of my SPIA education in understanding the type of work we are doing. Last week one of the Board members raised the question of where, as a society, we hope to be in the next 40 years. This reminded me of having taken the Next 30 year’s course with Professor Singleton and I started to question why no one in the classroom discussions mentioned or (I think) even knew of a movement such as the New Economy Movement as a viable option for a game changer in the world, I certainly did not. Professor Howard's Global Justice class was really fascinating to me because it introduced me to concepts on international distributive justice, equality, sovereignty, human rights, poverty, fair trade and environmental justice that are being expounded on by my experience here at the NEC with information on federated funding, participatory budgeting, a culture of mutual generosity, social, political and economic justice through human rights.


Before coming to NEC I knew I should care about climate change but I thought of it as someone else’s problem. Coming from a developing nation I figured that the environment was a sacrifice I would be willing to make in order to see the country industrialize but seeing the work being done in regards to building a sustainable environment for businesses and people I am now convinced that we cannot continue to degrade our societies and that we need to start living the change we want to see. It has only been three weeks but so far I am beginning to live a more conscious life by where and who I choose to support and inform my life decisions such as businesses and world leaders. I have also started interacting with people on how to create grassroots movements in their communities towards a New Economy. This is something I would like to take back with me to Africa and begin the restructuring process of a continent that has been robbed of a chance to determine for itself what it should be. 


This experience was expected to just shape my professional life but it has taken root into all other facets of my life and I am grateful for it because I would never have been able to get it anywhere else. At NEC we also have a staff book group to read and deliberate on the New Economy which will be facilitated as a seminar discussion. I think that the work of a New Economy can transform the world and I am glad to be a part of it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nations United - Leaders' society

Working in the UN is nothing close to what I have anticipated. Although, it is a tightly connected organization, with very complicated bureaucracy, it is a flexible and task-driven organization. Staff members have the freedom to go in and out whenever they want, as long as they get things DONE. It is a very different working environment, but when you start receiving tasks and assignments, you will get a clear picture that it is in this way, and only this way, that you are able to handle a big workload efficiently, and in a timely manner. Further, the UN compound is open to staff member all day and all night; Monday to Sunday. If your work is not done and the deadline is approaching, you can always come on the weekend at anytime, or stay at work till late hours of the night. Moreover, it is truly a culturally rich and diverse environment in every sense of the word. There is always an art piece in almost every corner of the UN. Each piece sends a message if not messages, and represents a history, a culture, and a civilization. In addition to that, in every organ of the UN, every department, branch, and office, there is a unique atmosphere and culture that is distinct and different from any other place.
 In my first month, and exactly as CAPT Settele anticipated, I have received numerous tasks - most of them given with a deadline that is due yesterday. I am writing this paper on the weekend at my office. It has been a hectic and very busy week; still, nonetheless, it was not without enjoyment and complete satisfaction. I am learning by the day, not only about the UN, its different bodies, branches, and divisions, but also about different member states; specifically those participating in the UN Public Service award.
Our branch brings together different staff members, with different backgrounds. They are very professional, bring so many different ideas and perspectives, and from day one we were introduced to and welcomed by each and every one of them as members of the crew. The nature of my work with such a group and in such an inter-cultural working environment can be summed up in the following: think differently and act as one.
Now, the UN Public Administration Network (UNPAN); sponsored by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA); executed and managed by the Division for Public Administration and Development Management (DPADM), our department, and in partnership with a group of international, regional, and sub-regional institutions devoted to public administration and finance, held last week the 13th session of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) at the United Nations Headquarters. Established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), CEPA is comprised of 24 members who meet annually at the UN Headquarters. It is a body responsible for supporting the work of ECOSOC concerning the promotion and development of public administration and governance among Member States - in connection with the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Committee also provides guidance and advices to the Division of Public Administration and Development Management (DPADM), including the annual review of its work program, specifically in reviewing nominations and projects of the UN Public Service Award (UNPSA), and particularly focusing on the themes of human capital development, participatory governance, capacity development in crisis and post-conflict countries, and innovations in public administration and governance. CEPA gathers high rank officials, mission delegates, academics, practitioners and policy-makers. In a week of intensive deliberations they give recommendations, reach out to partnerships, provide guidance, and give advice to determine UNPSA winners of this year. In addition they guide and monitor the actual event, which will take place this year in Seoul, S. Korea. This group has at hand all the materials that our entire branch has put together. All of our summaries, evaluations, presentations, and translations will be the main source of information that will determine whether or not a certain country’s initiative will be a winner of UNPSA. It was a very busy week, and we were instructed to be highly prepared mentally, psychologically, and physically. We were at the UN headquarters from 7am to 6pm, and in our offices till late hours of the night. Moreover, each day we had to submit a detailed report about the entire day before the start of the next day. I was assigned the task of writing the long and short version of reports and submitting those before the next day. My supervisor also proposed that I continue and cover the entire event as a reporter. I also helped out with organization, administration, and preparation during the multiple workshops that gathered more than 80 participants representing different countries, organizations, and universities.
These meetings were valuable due to the various contacts I made, great presentations that reflected the weight of knowledge present in our branch and amongst the participants, and the interactions with participants when I got a chance. During these encounters, I realized that being part of the UN gave me the opportunity to do my work and, at the same time, engage in matters that relate to my interests and to my field. I have realized that it is with no doubt that I want to be a member of the UN community, to be surrounded with this type of people at my workplace, and to be in the midst of world affairs.
Now, to the fun part, I have been very lucky to shake hands with the number one person in this global body, Mr. Ban-Ki Mon. My three fellow interns and I have attended the International Women’s Day events. Mrs. Hilary Clinton and the Secretary General were there along with the other factions that the UN blends together at such events: intellectuals, practitioners, and policy makers. Although, it was by mere luck that I was standing in his way out of the conference room, while searching for my friends (who were, as I discovered later, looking for the Secretary General for a hand shake), it means a lot to me to be in that spot at that specific time. I realized that he is not as short as he looks on TV and that I must take advantage of this chance occurrence, and strive to also leave a legacy of mine in this world.
I applied a lot of aspects that I learned from SPIA to my internship, but there are so many things to learn outside of the classroom. I have never been exposed to administration tasks before and this internship definitely taught me how to effectively handle such tasks. I have also learned how to efficiently work under pressure, provide valuable contributions in a timely-manner, and do the work according to my own approaches.  I am truly enjoying every day of the internship. This experience did throw me into the profound workings of the United Nations - in a pool of deals and ideas made by contributions from a diversified group of prominent intellectuals, practitioners, and policy-makers of our times.
I end this post with one more fun meeting. I met the Deputy Ambassador of the Algerian Mission to the United Nations. It was a very pleasant meeting and turned to be very fruitful. His words of wisdom were much needed. It was also gratifying to learn from him about the different ways to develop a broad range of skills to be prepared for any number of subsequent career paths not only with the UN but also with a wide range of organizations worldwide. He, so generously, shared his time with me, and our conversation was both informative and encouraging.

As this experience continue to be as rewarding, I cannot help but to say that credit must be given to SPIA, to its faculty, staff, professors and students, and to its board. And credit, too, to the Erensel and the Churchill Family for their generosity and support.