“If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.”
- Kofi Annan former secretary-general of the United Nations
Volunteer, a wide range of activities undertaken of free will, for the general public good, for which monetary reward is not the principal motivating factor. (UNGA 2002) If it is not about monetary reward, what makes people motivated?
UN Volunteer Stefan Roesch (Switzerland) has been serving with the UNDP Mongolia since August 2019. For International volunteer day this year, Stefan shares his experience supporting the Strengthening Representative Bodies in Mongolia (SRBM) project as a knowledge management officer.
Since childhood I was extremely curious about foreign countries and while I listened to my father’s and grandfather’s stories of faraway lands the seed for the future quest of exploring the world was sown. Growing up during the Yugoslav Wars in 1990s and experiencing the resulting influx of refugees to Switzerland I found amidst a bitter often brutal clash of cultures at my primary school. But instead of rejecting the foreigners my curiosity urged me to seek to understand their history, their mentality and ultimately their culture. Soon I thrived in the role of mediating between different cultures.
From the moment I first learned about the United Nations in the media I was attracted to its mandate and internationalism. I saw it as the perfect platform for my desire to explore the world and my passion to mediate cultural differences. A dream was born.
Fast forward more than a decade I have worked or studied in 15 countries on all inhabited continents. I have tried with varying success to start a career in diplomacy, entrepreneurship, humanitarian aid, management consulting, fundraising and marketing management. While none of my work experiences were a perfect fit, it became more and more apparent that the United Nations might be the optimal employer where I can leverage my academic background in international management and business administration as well as my rich intercultural experience.
For two years I have applied nonstop to UN positions, especially JPO positions. In my very last JPO application before reaching the age limit for eligibility I made it to the very last round of interviews. After having been in that recruitment process for almost a year, the UNDP recruiter understood my frustration and gave me the very valuable advice that there is technically no age limit for UNVs, and I should try my luck there. The rest is history.
I do confess that I have applied to many different UNV positions mainly to the ones where I had a matching skill set or I found thematically interesting rather than a specific geographical location. Nevertheless, I was full of joy when I was selected for a UNV position in Mongolia. Firstly, it was one of the last few countries I have not visited in Asia and considered an adventure tourism destination. Moreover, it is also very rich in history and culture and many Asian nations trace their origin back to Mongolia. To sum it up, it is a dream destination for a globe trotter and hobby anthropologist like me.
Now the question, what does it mean to be a volunteer for me?
First and foremost, it is a mindset. I am here on my free will, not by managerial decree or because I am lavishly compensated. I am driven by an intrinsic motivation to contribute to society especially within the framework of the Social Development Goals. I have a worked in development projects before but what is extremely motivating in this case is the scale and you feel truly humbled to be part of that. But that volunteer mindset is not only relevant on the macro level. It should also guide us UNVs in our day-to-day actions. Our contract duration is limited therefore we should try to volunteer as much as possible within the UN but also seize volunteering opportunities externally.
How does my contribution concretely look like?
Since the adoption of the new constitution in 1992 Mongolia’s political system is based on the combination of both self-governance through so called Citizens’ Representative Hurals (CRHs) and state administration. To strengthen local governance in Mongolia the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have been collaborating in projects to support the capacity-building of CRHs as well as the participatory legislative process since 2013. I was hired for the current joint project “Strengthening of Representative Bodies in Mongolia” (SRBM, 2017-2020).
My work is extremely diverse. I engage in the development of knowledge products and systems, M&E and reporting but I am also responsible for the communication of the project in close collaboration with the Communication team as well as liaising with SDC our major donor. In addition, I have been involved in procurement, recruitment and ad hoc administration tasks. On top of that as mentioned before I volunteered for the organization committee for the UN internal staff day, the UN tree planting event and the UN Sports Day.
Finally, my advice for young people with the aspiration to join the UN is threefold. Firstly, try as much as possible to get clarity on your interests and start to develop a thematic or functional expertise in a relevant field. For example, specialists in Climate Change, results-based M&E and Gender Mainstreaming are highly sought after. Secondly, very few people start with the UN right after graduation, therefore it is pivotal to accumulate some work experience especially working outside of your home country such as field work in least developed countries (LDCs). And finally, be persistent and patient. It is very competitive, and the recruitment process is highly bureaucratic and lengthy especially compared to the private sector but that should not deter you. As mentioned before, I have tried many different industries and organizations/companies but working for the UN has been by far the most meaningful and fulfilling job I have ever had.
by Stefan Roesh, Knowledge management officer and Leehyoung Yang, Communications officer