Karis has just finished his 3-year assignment as a UNDP JPO in Algeria, working on interagency coordination issues and project management. Karis is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and his assignment was funded by Belgium. Here is his story:
What was your motivation in becoming a JPO?
I have always wanted to work with the UN. I had the opportunity to do an internship with UNDP as part of my Master’s degree. Later on I worked as a national staff for almost two years with UNDP in the DR Congo. Both experiences were very enriching and it was therefore the next logical step to continue my career at the UN. The best way for me to join the UN at an international level was to enter the JPO Programme.
The JPO programme was not only an unique opportunity to join a UN agency at the international level but allowed me as well to benefit from the accompanying services of the JPO Service Centre and to be part of a community of other young professionals.
What were your activities/responsibilities as a JPO?
I had a wide range of activities/responsibilities since I worked both with UNDP and the Office of the Resident Coordinator. My main focus was on the interagency coordination work which basically consisted in assisting the UN Resident Coordinator in his/her day-to-day tasks.
This could mean to accompany her when she visited Government officials and Ambassadors or other external partners, taking part in and facilitating interagency coordination meetings and activities or making sure that visits from high level guests to Algeria went smoothly. The work with the RC was very diverse and required a lot of facilitation, diplomacy and a high level of organizational capacities.
Working with UNDP was more about direct project management. I supported the Social Development cluster in managing capacity development projects. It required working closely with national partners and helping them to strengthen their capacities through joint activities or trainings.
What was most challenging?
The beginnings were relatively challenging since I was confronted to a new environment and especially a new practice area. I had to find my way and could not always rely on my supervisor, who as an RC was quite busy, to provide me with personalized coaching. It meant to look for the information and to ask lots of questions to colleagues.
Coming from UNDP where I had to manage projects, it required also some adaptation to work in the coordination field where I was more in a facilitator position and had no direct project to manage.
What was most fulfilling?
The most fulfilling was to be able to see the results of our work. In the development work space you don’t get to see results very often since we are generally working on processes which take time. It is therefore particularly fulfilling to be able to see the results of the activities one has contributed to achieve and which improved the life of people.
I was particularly pleased to have been able to contribute to the completion of Algeria’s national consultations on the Post 2015 development agenda. Over a period of around 6 months the RC Office in collaboration with specialized UN agencies conducted consultations with different groups of society on what their development priorities were. It meant reaching out to civil society organizations, government representatives and academia and collect their opinions through focus group discussions.
The main objective of the consultations was to capture the voices of those whose voice in normally not heard. It allowed us to get a very interesting pictures of how a new development agenda could look like and the simple fact to be asked their opinions meant a lot to certain marginalized groups.
What advice would you give to a future JPO?
Every situation is unique and has its own challenges. But future JPOs will very likely work in a new environment and the first months of adaptation period can be very important. Depending on the support you get from your supervisor, it is important to proactively reach out to your supervisor or colleagues and ask question in case things are not clear for you.
Sometimes JPOs can also be confronted with Terms of References (ToRs) that are not clear or find themselves doing things that are not stated in their ToRs. It requires a certain level of flexibility from the JPO and the ability to adapt to changing demands. It can however also be an opportunity to define for oneself what you want to do. The JPO could for instance make suggestions on what he would like to do and discuss it with his supervisor. A good level of communication is crucial and making positive and constructive suggestions is always appreciated by supervisors.
I would also recommend to reach out to other JPOs who are in a similar situation than you. It can be very helpful to exchange experiences with peers. Also the JPO Service Centre can be very helpful when needing answers to all sorts of questions.
But above all a future JPO should try to enjoy as much as possible the opportunity given to be part of the programme. Look for things you are interested in and like doing in your workplace but also outside of it. Try to discover the country and the people, travel as much as possible and enjoy the time in this foreign country.
What is your plan in terms of career prospects now?
I am currently looking for interesting positions preferably within the UN System but also outside. I am confident to find something interesting but I’m not in a hurry since I would like to take some time off with my family and pursue some private projects in my home country.