5 reasons UN staff should consider working outside the “system” for learning

5 reasons UN staff should consider working outside the “system” for learning

Yes, I was born in the so-called “system” of the UN! As an idealist student of international relations, I had decided to be part of the great and noble organization that the UN is. But it was not an easy ride at all; getting a rare unpaid internship position with the UN, without any inside connections, was just a matter of luck for me. I was barely 25 when I got my first international UN assignment in Tanzania. This proved to be a big break for me leading to what I would call one-of-a-kind positions later in Sudan, New York, Bonn and Stockholm. I left the UN in July 2012 and relocated to Stockholm, Sweden. Since then I have been working for a modest, and relatively young international inter-governmental organization with a unique mandate to support democracy building worldwide. I have had no significant experience of working in a non-UN environment before and this experience in Stockholm opened up my mind as well as challenged me in ways I was not before. It turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity for professional and personal growth in an excellent team and in a genuinely conducive workplace environment.

They say, you should always stay inside the “system”. So why did I choose to leave the system and why you might also consider doing so? I remember that hardly any of my peers encouraged me to take this perceived “risk” and some even thought I was very “brave”. I knew despite all that rhetoric about building a creative, dynamic and talented workforce, a large majority of the old-school recruitment officers and hiring managers would not understand and appreciate my perspective; but I also knew that there would always be a small minority who would and they indeed did. I had an excellent recruitment experience with my new employer; and I am quite thrilled about my next UN assignment. So here is what I have learned through my experience and I am sharing this with my peers with the view of inspiring and learning from others. For me personally, working for the UN is more than just a good job – it is a noble and purposeful international public service for the whole humanity and our world.

1. You share past learning to help develop other organisations: Working in the UN system exposes one to a range of sophisticated and advance organizational systems, policies and practises. A job in a non-UN organisation can give one a meaningful opportunity to contribute to and shape the development of another organisation by using and building on the past learning and experiences.

2. You become better at building and valuing external partnerships: Working with the UN over a longer period can make one unknowingly feel self-important and special, at least from the perspective of external partners and counterparts. By experiencing an outside world, you would probable become more humble, empathetic and responsive – all key ingredients for building sound external partnerships.

3. You learn more and grow quicker than your peers: The potential for learning and using new skills is limited in a linear career path shaped over an extended period of time i.e. same kind of job, same team, same organization, and same location. Working in different organizational contexts will provide you with many opportunities to learn about new systems, policies and organizational cultures. You are better prepared for bringing in and applying new and fresh ideas, approaches and perspectives that might be needed for taking on more responsible positions in the future.

4. You feel healthier and productive: Work-life balance and flexible working arrangements are still relatively new to the UN system. It is not merely the favourable organisational policies that ensure healthy and productive workforce; it is the organisational culture that does. You would appreciate the value of work-life balance and periodic vacations more than what you probably do now because everyone around you follows the key principles of work-life balance.

5. You contribute to building a progressive and vibrant UN system: Yes, it can be extremely frightening to break the norm and pursue a non-linear career path in the system. At the same time, as young and idealist staff members of the UN, we equally have a responsibility to take chances and shape a future UN that is truly dynamic, enterprising, and forward-looking.


Celebrating 60 years of the Dutch JPO Programme: Seven pieces of advice for aspiring young professionals to clinch a highly coveted position with the UN

Celebrating 60 years of the Dutch JPO Programme: Seven pieces of advice for aspiring young professionals to clinch a highly coveted position with the UN

 Faisal Yousaf is a strategy and planning expert who has worked in various programme management, planning, and partnership building roles with international organisations including the UN in Pakistan, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan, New York, and Germany. He is currently based in Stockholm, Sweden. He holds a distinction of being a former Dutch-funded developing country JPO with UNICEF in Sudan. Faisal is currently enrolled in Future Leaders Programme for Fundraising in the UK. You may reproduce, share, or republish this article. Follow Faisal on Twitter: @Faisalswe


First, I must thank Hans van Poeteren, from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for motivating me to write this post and share my experience, as a Junior Professional Officer (JPO), with other aspiring young professionals, both from the Netherlands and from the eligible 60 plus developing countries, who can apply for Dutch-funded JPO positions within the UN system and other international organisations.  

The year 2014 will mark 60 years of the establishment of generous Associate Expert/JPO programme funded by the government of the Netherlands. As a beneficiary of one of its kind Dutch JPO programme, I think this is a true manifestation of people to people development cooperation in the international affairs arena, absolutely unparalleled by any other donor country. So thank you, the big-hearted people of the Netherlands, for your unflinching support to this programme over the last 60 years.

This post is also timely for all those who are considering applying for soon to be advertised JPO positions in 2014.

1. Talk to current and former JPOs before applying: Don’t do it alone! There are a number of JPO networks on Linkedin and Facebook. Reach out to current and former JPOs for their advice, insights and foresights. Trust me, you will never be disappointed!

2. Be open for working in hardship duty stations:  Hardship is rewarding! Apply for positions in difficult and least developed countries, if you really want to learn, develop yourself, and contribute to local development in a fulfilling way. I went to Sudan. Believe me, Khartoum was incredibly safe!

3. Communicate your passion for international development:  Yes, believing in UN ideals greatly matters! The whole basis for the Dutch JPO programme is embedded in the UN ideals of universal peace and stability, respect for human rights, gender equality, economic and social development and respect of international law etc. So make sure to genuinely express your views about the UN ideals and values.  Being a JPO will certainly make you put your ideals into actions!

4. Consider a wide range of positions: Don’t be picky!  JPO positions are at entry level and offer you an opportunity to develop your general project and fund management competencies. I did not have an academic background in education and ideally wanted to work in the area of planning or external relations. I accepted the position of Programme Officer in education team of UNICEF. But then I shaped my own job description by working as a team focal point for all planning and funding related issues.  Before finishing my JPO assignment in Sudan, I got an offer to work as a Planning Specialist in UNICEF’s donor/external relations division in New York. Being a JPO is a unique opportunity to discover your special talent and niche!

5. Highlight your report writing skills in application: Everyone loves good reports in the UN! Make sure you emphasize your writing and communication skills in your application and interview process. List down all the major documents, papers, and reports you have written in the past. A good project or donor report will earn you a lot of praise!

6. Demonstrate your multicultural exposure: UN is amazingly diverse!  You are likely to be asked to share your experience of working or living in multicultural and diverse settings. You will be lucky to have a beautiful team with wonderful colleagues from the US, the Gambia, Japan, India, Vietnam, Malawi, and Nepal. Welcome to international civil service!

7.  Make UNICEF your top target for landing a JPO position:   An employer of choice, undoubtedly! UNICEF has a remarkably distinctive corporate culture characterized by a clear vision, mission driven leaders and staff, and focus on achieving results for children. I don’t want to compliment excessively but managers and leaders in UNICEF nurture young talent like JPOs and give them sincere career advice and opportunities to grow and develop. Imagine your team leader selflessly sends you to Darfur for six months to have a real first-hand experience of UNICEF’s work; imagine as a JPO you are given a co-lead role for working with external partners; imagine you are sent to present at the UN Country Team meetings; and imagine you are allowed to go to UNICEF office in Mozambique for six weeks on a JPO learning mission. Yes, UNICEF is AWESOME!



Top 2013 Fundraising Lessons for 2014


Top 2013 Fundraising Lessons for 2014

Faisal Yousaf is a strategy and planning expert who has worked in various programme and fundraising roles with international organisations including the UN in Pakistan, Tanzania, Sudan, New York, and Bonn. He is currently based in Stockholm, Sweden. Faisal is enrolled in Future Leaders Programme for Fundraising in the UK. You may reproduce, share, or republish this article. Follow Faisal on Twitter: @Faisalswe

1: Promote diversity in your international fundraising team

This is a known fact that the least diverse team in international organisations including the UN is likely to be found in donor relations and fundraising section/division. A recent survey of the Institute of Fundraising in London, although conducted in a national context, found that 87 per cent of fundraisers among its 1,500 member organizations are white. A similar survey in an international context may also show very similar findings with comparative lack of diversity in fundraising teams in international organizations and the UN system.  Diversity in fundraising teams will potentially result in attracting top talent, more creativity and ideas, enhanced efficiency and productivity as well as stronger donor and stakeholder relations. A more diverse fundraising team composed of highly talented team members will contribute to achieving stellar fundraising results.

2: Foster a fundraising and partnership “culture” across the whole organisation

Fundraising and partnership building is not about individual job or position, it is about a well-established culture that characterizes the whole organisation. So we should involve, sensitize and engage every relevant person in the organisation and provide them with platforms for sharing of fundraising knowledge, skills, and resources.

3: Attention on private sector fundraising is overrated

There is a no single quick fix for diversifying funding base by emphasizing the need for increased fundraising from the private sector in 2013. First, educate and engage your potential private sector, and then make an ask for a contribution only few years later.

4: Donor reporting is the most important step in fundraising cycle

One might have submitted a good funding proposal at the beginning of a project/programme but nothing is more important in a fundraising cycle than a quality donor report submitted duly before an agreed deadline. A progress, annual or final report to a donor offers a critical opportunity to capture the results achieved, demonstrate value for donor investment in your organisation, and build a case for continued donor support in years ahead – especially when your focal point in the donor institution has moved on to another job.

5: Focus on building internal strengths and external support will follow

There will always be funding and donor support for organisations, which are inherently stronger than other competitor organisations in terms of our comparative advantage, human talent, transparent system, and cost effectiveness. This cannot be work-in-progress forever!

6: Nurture individual relationships in donor institutions 

Donor institutions tend to be large, multifaceted, and complex. Your focal point in donor institution is your key to building an understating of the internal dynamics and working of a donor institution.  The quality of a donor relation at individual/personal level is a key factor in determining the success of your fundraising efforts. So prioritize continued relationship building at individual and personal level – though it might seem repetitive, tedious, and time-consuming.

7: Communicate about not communicating

While many international organisations would normally dedicate significant amount of resources for elaborate external communication and donor visibility campaigns, not every organisation need to follow the growing trend of pursuing a forceful communication strategy including through social media. However, we must communicate to donors why we do not want to communicate in the way other organisation would normally do. So communicate strategically about not communicating due to organisation specific imperatives such as lack of budget, the nature of work, etc.

8: Invest in staff education, new learning and training opportunities 

Investing in staff education and development – for example, focusing on donor relation and grant management – should not be left out of your annual planning and budget allocation process. Investment in staff development and education will produce several pay-offs such as building of widespread fundraising culture, better donor satisfaction, as well as raising of staff morale and retention.

9: Travel internally within your organisation first

As fundraising and external relations professional, it is equally important to travel internally within your organisation first and later to external parties. With field support missions one could have meaningful interactions and exchange of ideas with colleagues, partners and donors in order to learn and develop a better understanding of the local context for programming, operations, and fundraising.

10: Small things are all that matters in the end

It is through the small things that can help us not only build and strengthen existing relationships but also open doors for new opportunities for fundraising and partnerships. For example, writing a formal letter to a donor focal point may seem old-fashioned and cumbersome but it could also prove to be really impactful in triggering the desired outcome and response.

Fundraising Leadership – Made Not Born

Today, I am starting to prepare for my participation in a unqiue 18-month training programme. It is called Future Leaders Programme for Fund-raising and will focus entirely on funding and resource mobilization issues from a leadership perspective. Coincidently, I came across this article today “Fundraising Leadership – Made Not Born”. It offers interesting insights into the challenge of leadership during challenging fundraising environment – both internally and externally. According to the article, 40% of professionals working in the funding area are planning to leave this field of work due to economic uncertainty, increasing external competitiveness and internal organisational challenges etc.

Read more here: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2013/05/fundraising-leadership-made-not-born#