Doing Well by Doing Good:

Former JPOs Talk About What Made their Experiences Extraordinary

Renato's JPO experience

Ask Renato Fornocaldo when he felt he had made the biggest impact as a Junior Professional Officer (JPO), and without hesitation he will recall his work in Burkina Faso, helping people in rural areas gain improved access to water.

 “There was a big water crisis at the time,” says Fornocaldo, who worked as a JPO for the UN Development Programme between 1984 and 1986. He monitored a project to install pumps that rural inhabitants could operate and maintain on their own.

“It was quite a big success because people were empowered to manage things with very few resources,” he recounts. The initiative ended up benefitting 10,000 people. “With little money in terms of investment, we achieved a lot.”

Renato, a citizen of Italy, went on to take a number of senior positions with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) – as Managing Director in its headquarter and as Special Representative to Iraq. He considers his time as a JPO to have been ‘fantastic’ and a highlight of his career.

Learning about development on the ground

For many people, being a Junior Professional Officers enables you to make a difference in the world. More than that, it gives you the chance to join a diverse, dynamic and multilingual network of individuals, as well as learn how development cooperation works ‘on the ground’.

The assignment as a JPO or a SARC (Special Assistant to the UN Resident Coordinator) begins with an induction meeting in New York. The event brings together JPOs and SARCs from all around the world for training and the opportunity to meet one another.

“This is very important,” says Annegret Al-Janabi, who was a JPO in the Africa section of UN Volunteers (UNV) in Bonn, in her native Germany. “Too build up a network, to get to know other JPOs, this is something that really helps you, because you are all in the same situation.”

In her JPO assignment, Al-Janabi visited several countries in Africa to monitor the UNV Programme – an experience that would benefit her in her current position as Counsellor for Development Cooperation at the German Embassy in Windhoek.  “As a JPO I had my first experience of getting into contact with partners, my first experience of learning by doing, and you never lose it.”

This ‘on-the-ground’ experience also benefitted Pekka Puustinen, currently Director General in the Department for Development Policy in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

Earlier in his career at the Ministry, he took a JPO assignment in Costa Rica to work on UN coordination issues. He says that his assignment broadened his perspective to see beyond that of a bilateral organization.

“I could get much deeper into the development problems and the development thinking,” said Puustinen. “I really felt I was working for a multilateral organization that was neutral. It was an exciting time for me.”

What advice do former JPOs have for prospective ones? According to Fornocaldo, “Think about how much you can give. You need to be willing to give a lot, but if you are in the right place with the right management, you can get a lot, too, in return.”