2009 - Alessandra Pellizzeri, JPO funded by Italy, shares with us her experience in Mauritania with UNDP.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it...
Where are you from?
What is your background?
Coming originally from the far south of Italy (Sicily), I started my travelling career by moving to the other side of Europe, to northern Germany in 1991, where I was an exchange student at Oldenburg high school. This experience helped to shape my life, giving me the taste for travel and discovering new cultures, which is both exciting and also quite addictive.
Once back in Sicily, I decided to move to the north of Italy (Pisa) to study international law, preparing the ground for new experiences abroad. During my university studies, I inevitably came across the European students exchange programme (Erasmus) and spent a very enriching year in France (Aix en Provence), where I learned French and specialised in human rights and international relations. When I returned to Italy, I was fortunate to win a scholarship which enabled me to move to Brussels where I wrote my masters thesis on the International and European management of the Balkan Crisis at the EU institutions.
Arriving in Brussels, I had my first concrete experience of European integration, beyond my knowledge of book, and I loved it! And so, once I graduated from the University of Law in Pisa, I decided to apply for a scholarship at the College of Europe in Bruges, to study European policies, which I was very grateful to be selected for.
For two years, I was deeply immersed in studying the achievements and dilemmas of European integration, first at the College of Europe and then as a intern at the Humanitarian Office of the Commission (ECHO), until I realised that even Europe was becoming too small a horizon for me and so I obtained my first assignment oversees, in Tajikistan; a distant, foreboding land that I had never heard of before but was soon to fall in love with.
A new adventure, the most incredible of my life was starting, I definitely stepped into the world of international work!
What has been your assignment as a JPO?
Following three wonderful and challenging years in the former Soviet Union (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, the last two as a UNV), I applied and was selected to be part of the JPO programme and was assigned to UNDP Mauritania, Governance Unit. I had never heard so much about this huge, deserted country before but once again, I was quickly fascinated by its hypnotic landscape and became fully involved in the new democratic opening I had the chance to witness when I first arrived here back in 2006.
At first, I had the chance to participate in the organisation and supervision of the first free and democratic elections to be held in the country for 20 years. Later on I was working more specifically with newly elected institutions and in particular with the Parliament and the participation of women in politics.
More recently, Mauritania suffered from yet another coup d’état, and so I had the opportunity to become more closely involved with crisis management programmes and the elaboration of the first conflict prevention programme that was ever developed in the country.
Which random words come to your mind when thinking about your JPO years?
Commitment and motivation; extreme flexibility and adaptation to people and situations; constant enthusiasm; professionalism and diplomacy and compassion and understanding.
In what way do you think your JPO assignment has shaped your career?
Now entering my fourth year as a JPO, I can confirm that my assignment has for the first time given me complete responsibility in my working environment: both in my office and within the UN system. It has allowed me to specialise in the more interesting sectors of governance and to build a precious network of colleagues and friends with whom I am sure to stay in contact with in the future.
It has helped to shape a longer term perspective for my work and has confirmed me in my choice of development work. It has opened new avenues that I would like to explore in the future. And, last but not least, it has strengthened my self-confidence and encouraged me to persevere in what I am doing.
What are your major lessons learned during your JPO assignment in terms of professional growth, career planning and opportunities?
During my assignment I learned about the importance of "knowledge networks" and information sharing, and realise that they are valuable on-job tools that enable you to better perform both individually and globally. In some societies (commonly in private sector) knowledge and information are (too) valuable assets kept preciously. In that sense, it was a big change (and professional growth opportunity) to work in an "open information entity" such as UNDP, where knowledge is a global and most-valuable asset shared and used to leverage our local activities.
What is your motivation to work in the field of development?
A curiosity to discover new cultures and to encourage them to achieve their potential.
Most enriching professional achievement so far?
Successfully fighting for the continuation of my projects in the face of a steadily worsening political crisis.
What kind of advice would you give to JPOs?
By the way...
The last favourite book you read:
"Murder in Samarkand", Craig Murray. For it's reminding all of us at the very essence of our work, no matter the circumstances.
Behind the suit:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now! - Goethe
Immanuel Kant, Aung San Suu Kyi, Omar Khayyam, Isabelle Allende, Nick Cave.