2010 - Gert Danielsen is a Norwegian JPO working on Aid Effectiveness with the UNDP Regional Service Centre in Johannesburg.
Dreaming of making a difference...
A Long Time Dream?
Having arrived at the UNDP Regional Service Centre in November 2006, I am well settled in, enjoying a fascinating country and very much making the best use of this wonderful opportunity. Already in 1996, as I left secondary school, I wanted to work for the United Nations, as it symbolised the coming together of nations and citizens which I always believed in. Despite its many challenges and a need for improvement, I still believe in global solutions for humanity through multilateralism, and now I get to find out more about whether the UN truly meets my expectations from 1996...
Matrixed - and Part of a Global Team
A matrixed staff member of UNDP, I am a Programme Specialist in Aid Effectiveness with a supervisor in New York (at the Capacity Development Group (CDG) at the Bureau for Development Policy (BDP)) and one here at the Regional Service Centre (RSC). My area of work is Aid Effectiveness, and my tasks are mainly providing the country offices in Southern and Eastern Africa, and the Governments they serve, with advice and information on the implementation of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. This literally involves receiving and forwarding case studies, sharing best practices and lessons learnt in the area and networking with donors, CSOs and partner countries for Aid Effectiveness to be enhanced in each country, also those which have not signed the Paris Declaration. I belong to a project at BDP/CDG, with staff in Dakar, Ghana and New York, in addition to myself. We also have focal points in Nicaragua, Bangkok, Lebanon and in Eastern Europe, truly constituting a global team.
The Best of Two Worlds
The global connection, being part of the UN family, is truly exhilarating, both in being able to share experiences and information, and in being part of a bigger, global dream for a better world. Being matrixed (working 50 percent for Headquarters and 50 percent for the Regional Service Centre) is also very rewarding, although challenging at times, as I get the best of both worlds - policy discussions and support work taking place at HQ, and input from work with Governments at the Country Office level. The potential conflict of contradicting messages from supervisors has not at all been an issue, and I have truly enjoyed a lot freedom in my work so far. As time passes, and I learn more about my field of work, I also expect to be able to travel more to the Country Offices to support them in their work there, as most of what I do so far is not in implementation but in policy advice and technical support for implementation at the COs.
Does It Make a Difference?
At times, in a huge machinery like the UN, and especially when I am not implementing projects at a Country Office, I ask myself whether my work actually makes a difference. This may be common to many JPOs, and, I think, a reason why many young people prefer working for an NGO or a more locally based organisation. Although I understand this frustration, I think we could all think about how our role in a bigger system can actually make a difference. If we can assist Governments in learning from each other and thereby implementing policies which will increase their aid on budget, or enhance Government ownership and therefore also support national priorities, we are certainly making a difference. Often, it also becomes more sustainable, as Governments themselves, with UN's assistance in capacity development, creates and strengthens policies and instruments for change. Although I am humble about my own concrete contributions, I truly believe they will have an impact.
Past Meets Present
I had no experience in Aid Effectiveness whatsoever before starting, and had to read up on the Paris Declaration before the interview. Having more experience in Peacebuilding and Conflict Management, I was doubtful as to whether I would actually be able to contribute. My supervisor, though, chose me because of my networking skills, abilities to learn, organisational experiences, linguistic skills and general international education and experience. This has proven very useful. I have been able to network extensively for our project, use my languages in a multilingual setting (including support for Latin America and the Caribbean) and see where I can contribute in organisational matters, logistics and information sharing. Along the way I learn what I need to know about Aid Effectiveness. This has confirmed my belief that thematic knowledge often is less important than hands-on and interpersonal skills. Also, my degree in International Relations has been extremely useful as a foundation on which I more easily understand the socio-economic and political dynamics of our world and our system.
Inside and outside the office
Volunteering and Life-Work Balance
In addition to completing my tasks, I have also taken initiative in several other areas. I was one of the volunteers who organized Polling Officers' Elections for our Staff Association, and I am also standing for a post in the Staff Committee Elections. I am also organizing language courses for all the UN regional staff here in Johannesburg, linking up with a language institution, so that we can all enjoy developing our skills in French, Portuguese and Spanish. A shame only three of us wanted Arabic, as there is a minimum for viability of language classes. I have also explored my passion for Conflict Management in a working group on Conflict Sensitive Development, and I have volunteered for the Gender Team. In addition to this, I am very conscious about providing a balance between work and spare time, truly walking the talk on human development. No-one is better off with UN staff who work 12 hours a day and suffer from exhaustion...
"Dangerous South Africa"?
Part of that balance is of course enjoying the country. South Africa, with its stark contrasts, is fascinating place to be, and it was great coming back after having lived and worked in a rural area a few years back. Security in Johannesburg is a main issue, but I have not had any problems, at all, and I have even used the public combi taxis which "everyone" warns us about. What saddens me is the paranoia and the culture of fear which often is created, and people who ask you to stay away from the dangers of taxis and the like, have most likely never been on one. So, while we are precautious, no need for paranoia. Having lived in Bogota, Guatemala, Brasilia, Buenos Aires and Johannesburg, the only place where I was ever assaulted, was in my own family neighbourhood in "safe" Oslo...
As I have told most friends and colleagues, I am still in my honeymoon phase, more than six months into my assignment... While I also have frustrations related to inefficiency, I am very happy about my post, my duty station and the tasks I get to do. I have also asked for more responsibility, for instance in managing parts of our projects and monitoring finances and results, and I am given more responsibility as we move on in the project. Having a capable, reliable and communicative supervisor is the key to success for the JPO programme, I think, and this is fundamental to my work satisfaction today. With the UN Reform, moving towards the MDGs and increasing aid pledges being announced, it is truly exciting to work for the UN right now, and I hope I will be able to continue this path for many years to come, as long as I still feel passionate, happy and stimulated. Personal satisfaction is key - and I will do whatever I can to be faithful to such an important principle.
And to all JPO colleagues out there
Make the most of it. Our own attitude and efforts are key to our own empowerment and satisfaction!