2009 - Sara Cortés was a JPO (funded by Spain) in Namibia from 2004 to 2006. Now, she is a Coordination Specialist and a Special Assistant to the Resident Coordinator in Senegal.
Leaders rely on a compass and a dream
I remember myself back in March 2004 running down the street to send at the last minute the documents to apply for a JPO post through the Spanish Cooperation. I didn’t know that the mail that I was holding in my hands was going to change my life forever. I was looking forward career development but also adventure … A 26 year old woman full of energy and hope.
Nine years later, I am still grateful for the extraordinary opportunity that the Spanish government was able to offer me.
I had studied journalism and had a master’s degree in cultural management. At the time, I was finishing my traineeship with the European Commission. Some months of recruitment process and they offered me a JPO post as Communications Officer in Namibia… I didn’t even know where the country was! As soon as I arrived to Windhoek I realized that adaption to UN bureaucratic procedures in the office were certainly THE challenges to be confronted to.
JPO experience in Namibia
I still have the image in my mind of Mr. Lebogang Motlana, now UNDP Country Director in Uganda, trying to convince me that being friends with everybody in the office was just not possible sometimes, that I needed to be patient with processes and colleagues. That was true: patience and positive thinking were my best allies during the years I spent as a JPO.
You meet some good, some bad, so many different people. You have some great examples of humility and courage. You do find people that inspire you. You do find people that discourage you. I would like to tell new JPOs that nothing is perfect. Be prepared to fight for your place in a challenging environment!
As a communication officer in Namibia, I designed and uploaded a new website, but also coordinated the UN newsletter in Namibia. Moreover I was leading a UN communications porject group, and I developed a full range of brochures and other communications products of the UN, I built up the media network… that was exhausting but was worth it.
When my contract expired, I got back to Madrid just to discover the UN virus had gone into my blood and that I missed my time in the UN system. I was addicted to international issues and global social-economic development concerns. Some months in the private sector and … the UNICEF Spain office called me to work with them as Head of Media. Of course, I said YES!
On being a SARC
Two years later in 2009…a SARC position allowed me to come back to the field. I am writing this story from the Resident Coordinator office in Senegal, where I have spent almost three years of my life with no regrets. I coordinate some UN joint groups (operations, communications), I follow up in joint programmes and projects, manage events, support the United Nations Country Team. I ensure that required actions are taken, deadlines are met and quick responses are given to headquarters and stakeholders requirements.
I have the feeling that everybody in Senegal knows me around. That’s what happens when you work for the coordination unit. It seems that UN reform has few dark corners for me now.
The Challenges are still the same and I use the same recipe: Patience and positive thinking. Mrs. Bintou Djibo, Resident Coordinator in Senegal, keeps reminding me that you prepare big changes "step by step" and that "you don’t abandon the ship in the first storm".
Sinatra and a secret
On the personal side, like in Sinatra’s song "I've laughed and cried, I’ve had my fill, my share of losing…" I do believe I have "polished" my manners and become a better group facilitator, conflict resolution professional and consensual person. I have learnt a lot but sacrificed a little bit on emotional issues. Keep the balance between a healthy family life and a United Nations career is not easy. Hard decisions need to be taken to adjust what you want from both sides.
I have a secret. I took a paper from my supervisor’s office in Namibia. It is now a yellow and old paper, but I still keep it in front of me. It says: "There is not freeway to the future. No paved highway from here to tomorrow. There is only wilderness, only uncertain terrain. So leaders rely on a compass and a dream"