Andrés Alonso, who is a Dutch-Funded Colombian JPO with UNDP, shares with us his experience and insights on his assignment in Guatemala.
What is your background (professional and/or private)?
I was interested in studying economics at school because I found mathematics fascinating. Its thoroughness and accuracy of the answers always attracted me. Similarly, the social area seemed interesting, influenced by the social sensitivity of my mother and my upbringing as a child. That's why I studied economics, seeking a career that had something of both themes. Later, I did my Masters in Environmental Economics and Natural Resources, seeking to complement the social part with and environmental approach.
What in your career set/path that allowed you to join the JPO programme?
My four years of experience as a research technician on the agenda of UNHABITAT Colombia, gave me the tools and knowledge to apply. I used to know some of the work of the UN, but it was my time working on UNHABITAT that allowed me to learn more and ended attracted by the development agenda promoted by the system.
What made you apply to the JPO programme?
I did not know the program. Working in the office once a Spanish colleague told me about it, but he said that was exclusive to young nationals of the countries that fund the JPOs. By sheer coincidence, I received an email from another friend to apply for the position of JPO in Guatemala and to my surprise, there was no restriction on nationality. The terms of reference were in line with my interests and, moreover, the position was in a country that, from what I knew, had a level of development similar to that of Colombia (middle income country, high level of poverty and inequality, insecurity issues). I saw an excellent opportunity to develop my career but also try to bring my knowledge to a developing country with very similar conditions to those of mine.
What are the main activities of your office/organisation in your duty station?
The office supports Guatemala in all strategic areas of UNDP Democratic Governance, Energy and Environment, Poverty and Crisis Prevention.
Specifically, it is bound to give technical assistance on various issues, such as transitional justice, implementation of environmental policies, support for social programs and state modernization.
Similarly, the country office performs work of coordination with other agencies of the system by means of joint and interagency thematic groups on poverty, environment, security, justice and governance.
What are the main activities/tasks you work on?
I worked for the poverty area, but also I supported the other strategic areas of the office in Guatemala due that the country office is looking to have an integral approach.
I was in charge, as program officer, of the following projects: Maya Program, Formation of the National Network of Trans people in Guatemala, Implementation of the National Policy of Climate Change, Support National Initiatives to improve the National Response of HIV and Support the National Cadastral Registry Office.
In these projects, I was responsible for monitoring the results and ensure that met the administrative and financial procedures of UNDP. Additionally, attending all technical and coordination meetings, to formulate work and action plans to achieve the expected results. I also participated in the formulation of projects, specifically the ones on Climate Change, trans population and the new phase to support the cadastre office.
Inter Agency Group on HIV
On the other hand, I supported the development of interagency thematic groups led by UNDP in the country, specifically the Poverty and Sustainable Development groups. I performed presentations and coordinated under the leadership of the Country Director, and a group within the office, the agenda and operational plans. Similarly, I participated actively in other Interagency Theme Groups, especially the HIV and Youth groups, assisting in the formulation of operational plans and presenting project progress.
Finally, I was president of the Staff Association for two years and a half, which is the association for the following agencies: UNDP, UNFPA, UNAIDS, ONU MUJERES, UNV and UNDSS. It was a rewarding experience. During the period I sponsored, with the support of the board, the issue of regularization of hours worked, which were damaging the local salary survey, which is the basis for wage increases. I also coordinated the message of all the Associations of the System for the visit of Ban Ki-Moon in Guatemala, being responsible to read to him on behalf of all the staff. Finally, as president, I was also responsible of coordinating social activities for the staff, helping me to meet a lot of people.
What is the most enriching and/or challenging project that you are working on?
Two projects are the most interesting. First, the program Maya, is a joint program between the UNDP, UNICEF and OHCHR, which has the expected result that indigenous people in Guatemala to exercise their collective and individual rights, especially the Mayan people. It is a vision that consists of three components: Strategic Litigation Justice, which leads OHCHR; Intercultural Bilingual Education, led by UNICEF, and Political Participation, which coordinates UNDP.
The component of UNDP has achieved through training and technical assistance to increase awareness of the beneficiaries of citizenship and participation. In addition, legislative changes are being promoted for political rights of the Maya population. Finally, it is strengthening 23 civil society organizations of the Mayan people, since they will do future advocacy and activities necessary to further improve their political participation.
The second, the establishment of the Trans National Network of Women in Guatemala, which already exists through the support of UNDP. The project empowered Trans Guatemalan women through training and formation of organized groups nationwide. Through this network, is expected to perform advocacy actions, resulting in long-term development and adoption of the Law of Gender Identity for Trans women in Guatemala, so they can exercise their rights to education, health, labor, and citizen participation.
In both, I learned about persistent inequality and discrimination in the country, but also got to know firsthand that from the most discriminated groups the solutions are readily available to reduce these scourges that slow the process of development.
Can you give a personal impression of your duty station?
The country office staff is very skilled and capable, in administrative, financial and political terms. In Guatemala, during these three years of experience as a JPO, the office has always been known for its great capacity to convene different actors from the public, private and civil society, establishing links and bridges between them to promote potentialities or to seek agreements and transform conflicts.
It was very gratifying to be part of a team with such conditions, even more so when the country recognizes the work that UNDP does.
What was most challenging/difficult to adapt to?
Administrative and financial processes. There are so many rules and procedures, and so many changes that arise in the end many of these processes are open to personal interpretation. It was not easy, but I learned that as long as there is communication between the implementers and the different areas of UNDP, things can get done.
However, I recognize that it was not easy to tell our partners that because of certain bureaucratic processes we could not do some activities.
Which random words come to your mind when thinking about your JPO assignment?
Professional and personal growth. Knowledge of the world.
What kind of advice would you give to new JPOs?
Always see the big and not dwell on small things. Sometimes the administrative or minor issues with colleagues can make life very difficult job, being that there is always a solution to any conflict that may arise when things are spoken to find it.
What are your future career plans, if it is not too early to say?
I would like to continue my career inside UN, in areas linked to social and environmental policy. To complement my knowledge, I would like to do another master, probably in public-private partnerships.
How do you feel your JPO assignment will influence your career choices/opportunities within the UN?
The JPO was a big step for me to get inside the UN System, I learn a lot from it, and the development agenda, at local and international level. From now on, I will use my gain knowledge to advance in positions of greater responsibility. I hope to grow inside the system and I have to thank the JPO Program for the opportunity to get to know and love the job of an UN staff member.
By the way...
What is your favourite quote?
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. To which it now must be added, invent a better method of fishing, or of farming fish, selling fish, changing fish, or preventing overfishing in the sea, and you feed a great many people.
David Warsh. Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: a Story of Economic Development. Pag xv. 14.
What/who inspires you?
Science, Economic Development, Technological change, Friendship, Family.