UN: Not a Goodbye but a See You Later

The last two weeks of my internship I covered the UN Summit for the Adoption of the post-2015 Development Agenda: Intergovernmental Negotiations on the post-2015 Development Agenda. This particular meeting was a continuation of negotiations from the same meeting I covered my third week. Only this time the Zero Draft had been updated according to all the civil society, Member States, and the private sector inputs.  Throughout these meetings, you could sense the tension and urgency to finish the final outcome document before the beginning of August. There were meetings that were cancelled, rescheduled, and some time starting from 6:00 P.M. and not ending till almost 10:00 P.M. The Co-Facilitators and Member States were determined to stay up late at night working in order to accomplish an agreed language for the outcome of these negotiations. It felt amazing being able to be a witness of the historic United Nations moment.

I also found the Intergovernmental Negotiations entertaining because I was able to pick up on the controversies of the various drafts presented to the delegates.One of the main controversies with finalizing the post-15 agenda document was the title itself. Some countries wanted to add a reference to sustainable developments, others wanted a title that was more catchy while others were satisfied with the existing title. Other Member States expressed concern with whether or not the Preamble was even needed in the outcome document while other thought it was crucial to leave it as is. Other debates included the references to the Addis Ababa Agenda from the Financing for Development Conference in Ethiopia earlier in July in conjunction to financial and non- financial resources as well roles of culture identity and families as a part of sustainable development. Last but not least, most Member States tried to push for as much streamlining as possible for the outcome document that way it would not be redundant and too long that readers would lose interest. I dont think I have ever seen so much nitpicking over the simplest sentences. This made me realize that in order to produce a document with “agreed language”, there needs to be this much meticulous criticism and overview.

In these last weeks, I continued working on the data collection projects assigned by the UNWTO supervisors. I am grateful for these projects because it is giving more insight to the whole United Nations systems and how they conduct their own arrangements and policies.For example, I have been reading different agreements between UNDP and UNWTO as well as UNESCO agreements between both UNDP, UNEP, and UNWTO. I am hoping that once I have the necessary background information and general understanding of the legal language, together with the other UNWTO intern, Yumna, we will begin drafting a whole new agreement for UNDP and UNWTO in the near future. The other benefits of these assigned projects is that it will keep me busy throughout the fall semester and help me maintain the work relationships I have made over the summer.

While my time in New York City has finally come to an end, I have a lot more clarity in where I want to take my career and personal life. I am strong believer that everything happens for a reason, while I initially planned my internship for the UNWTO headquarters in Madrid, I think New York City was a blessing in disguise. I feel more passionate about my capabilities and my choice of studies after working in the United Nations for two months. I plan to return to New York City every month to maintain work relationships, network, and conduct interviews so that I can solidify a job for myself in the winter. While I am saying goodbye to New York City for now to finish my internship research project and one more class to get the second concentration of Renewable Energy, I know that I will return with even more determination to achieve my goals. I am more ambitious than ever due to my experiences at the United Nations.

 View from the UN East Lounge of Long Island City
View from the UN East Lounge of Long Island City
UN East Lounge
UN East Lounge
Intergovernmental Negotiations
Security Council
Picasso at the UN
Picasso at the UN
“The Quiet Room” – This is where non-Member States of the Security Council can meet and exchange information with Council Members

 Security Council

Intergovernmental Negotiations

United Nations Week 3,4 and 5

Hello again! It has been three weeks since my last blog, but here I am. These past weeks have been very exciting and I would like to share the highlights of the United Nation meetings I attended.

Internship Week 3

My third week started off by attending the United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post-2015 Agenda in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. The purpose of this week long meeting was to gather civil society, Member States, and the private sector for inputs of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda through the editing of the Zero Draft. The Zero Draft elaborates on the moral call for global action of all stakeholders, which will launch at their Summit in September 2015 once the Millennium Development Goals expire. It was interesting to sit in this meeting particularly because of the contrasting opinions, especially when it came to Planetary Boundaries reference since I am including this term in my final research paper for graduation. Several NGO’s asked for a reference to the term Planetary Boundaries in the Draft which some countries opposed as the term is not widely understood and accepted. The Facilitators also regarded the Planetary Boundaries term to be problematic due to the general public’s lack of understanding and it’s stance on climate change and economic development.

Another highlight of this meeting was the consensus of the Blue Planet Project Organization, Christian Aid Alliance, representative of the Maldives, and Small Island Developing States (SIDs) for proposing the inclusion of an explicit reference to human water rights for potable water and sanitation, without unfair privatization of resources for the Zero Draft. This reminded me greatly of the Patel College of Global Sustainability class Economies and Finance for Sustainability because our final project was on the history of the  unfair privatization of water in Cochabamba, Bolivia which resulted in the Water War.

The last but not least highlight for me were the multiple statements made throughout the discussion on the sustainable use of the oceans and tourism for the Zero Draft, more so that one of my concentrations is in Sustainable Tourism. The Association of Pacific Island States and SIDs both stated their concern as well as demanded urgency in dealing with coastal erosion and sea level rise as it poses existential threats to their countries. Tonga and Pacific Island States also wanted inclusion of a reference to coastal tourism to support the sustainable development of their ocean based economies.

This week I also attended the United Nations Task Team Habitat III for the development of their new interactive social media platform called Urban Dialogues which will facilitate all stakeholders to discuss sustainable infrastructure and urbanization. The meeting addressed the collaboration of UN-Habitat and UNDP to work on the Urban Dialogues of accessibility, inclusivity, technicality, quality, and the moderator’s role in overseeing the online discussions. For me, I found it intriguing to be in an intimate meeting seeing what goes on behind the scenes of the United Nations work from a social media perspective of achieving inclusivity and communication engagement from all sectors.

Internship Week 4

Every four years the United Nations holds the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), so for my fourth week, I was assigned to cover such a monumental set of meetings. In this series of meetings, the Heads of State and Government, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council as well as the civil society and private sector representatives are present. This year the HLPF addressed the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the new Sustainable Development Goals from a multi-faceted viewpoint. The meetings ran for a little over a week and included some very important topics such as:

  • Changing Approaches to Policy Making: the Role of the Sustainable Development Goals

  • Keeping Science Involved in Sustainable Development Goals Implementation

  • Our HLPF on Sustainable Development in the Next 15 Years

  • Reaching Out to the World:Communicating the Agenda

  • Reviewing and Monitoring Progress: What Have We Learned and How Can it Advance Implementation?

  • Shaping the World for 2030: From Vision to Transformative Action

  • Sustainable Consumption and Production

  • A Transformative Integrate Agenda: How can Governments, Societies, and the UN Rise to the Challenge

The HLPF was a fantastic experience for me because I absorbed a wealth of knowledge, acquired information for my thesis, and was in the presence of one of my biggest influencers, Jeffrey Sachs, Economist and Director of Earth Institute in Columbia University. Jeffrey Sachs is also part of the Special Advisory team for the United Nations. I felt starstrucked when I saw him as a panelist for one of the meetings because I had only seen him on youtube videos and documentaries. I believe he made one of the best statements of all the panelists in the meetings when he elaborated in a humble and candid manner the shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals and the mental shift society has to make in order for the Sustainable Development Goals to succeed. Mr. Sachs stated:

“The world is incredibly rich with a lot of poor people in it. There is nothing we can’t do if we try. The Millennium Development Goals was never about resource limit or poverty – it is only about attention and what we care to do. When we try to do things such as delivering bed nets and vaccines for vulnerable people it can get done. The problem is that we are not trying too much. We are overtaken by self interest, greed, lack of attention span, and profits. The fundamental challenge of the Millennium Development Goals was a moral problem not economics or capacity. We are heading into a new era because we have a full fledge environmental problem on top of poverty. Humanity has always faced poverty but now we will face an existential threat to us: climate change. But it has to be whether we care about it or not.”

Usually, in these meetings you can hear people having their own conversations or they are a little distracted by their computers and iphones, but when Jeffrey Sachs gave his statement, you could hear a pin drop. The demeanor of the room shifted in seconds because of the weight of his words and his call for a frank dialogue on our moral obligation to address climate change.

Another fantastic panelist was Edie Lederer,  a world renown journalist. She made an impactful statement during the HLPF as she brought up the communication aspect. How was the United Nations supposed to use journalists to sell to the general public the Sustainable Development Goals, which are 17 goals and 169 targets, if most people don’t read something if it is not within a 400-500 word story? This question was thought-provoking for me because it is absolutely true! I, myself have trouble conveying the importance of sustainable initiatives to those in my age group who never put thought into their carbon footprints before! She was on to something!

The HLPF meeting also had the Advertising Executive and Founder of the PR and Advertising company Droga5, David Droga, who gave an excellent presentation on how to reach out to the world about the Sustainable Development goals by using an emotional connection that the general public can grasp. As he stated, “We need the civil society to be able to talk about the Sustainable Development Goals at the dinner table and be interested.” He also gave tactics on how the United Nations and Member States could sell the Sustainable Development Goals using the tactics from the PR and Advertising Industry which were very insightful.

During the HLPF sessions, I was delighted to see my supervisors and Dr. Randle, my Sustainable Tourism professor, all in the same room here in NYC. I remembered how it was back in September, for the United Nations Day Sustainable Tourism Consultation held in the Patel College of Global Sustainability, when I first talked to DPI/NGO Chairman, Mr. Richard Jordan and Senior Counselor of the UNWTO, Mr.Sarbuland Khan about the United Nations opportunities. I remember all the months of waiting with Dr. Randle about the finalization of my internship, and then finally being in the Trusteeship Council Chamber with everyone was such a humbling experience for me. I was overjoyed from the amount of encouragement and support I received from my supervisors and professor. After the HLPF meeting, we all attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the International Development Law Organization Reception at the United Nations headquarters to catch up.

Towards the end of the week, I was assigned to the Annual Ministerial Review meeting of the Economic and Social Council. I always enjoy the Economic and Social Council meetings because I get to be in the presence of former presidents and prime ministers, most who are members of Club de Madrid.  For example in this meeting Abdurrahim El-Keib of Libya, Damira Niyazalieva of Kyrgyzstan, and Zlatko Lagumdzija of Bosnia and Herzegovina were all panelists. The goal of the Annual Ministerial Review was to emphasize the importance of building on the existing momentum for the new sustainable development agenda that will be adopted in September 2015.

A highlight for me was learning about the state of the global economy in trade since I did not have much background in this field. I learned that the global economy continues to grow at a modest pace, with a gradual improvement expected in 2016. In many countries, growth is too weak to improve gains in employment creation and poverty reduction. Keeping in mind the centrality of balanced growth to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, Min Zhu of IMF stated that Member States need to formulate policies that will push capital growth, demand, and productivity as well as implement regulatory systems for the banking system in order to establish macroeconomic stability for sustainable development.

Another highlight that stuck with me was how the Annual Ministerial Review gave special attention about communicating the new development agenda in order to gain citizens’ buy-in. In particular, young people like me, who are growing in population yet lack resources and opportunities. The youth can be a vital asset to the economy as human capital for the Sustainable Development Goals as Vivian Onano of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group stated “The youth should be empowered to own the development agenda and be part of the change that is urgently required.”

Internship Week 5

There were no assigned meetings, but there was still research work to be completed. I feel incredibly honored to say that even though I will leave NYC August 1st, my internship will extend throughout the Fall semester. I got assigned four major projects, two of these projects I will be working on with the other UNWTO intern, Yumna. Our projects will deal with data collection, policies, and sustainable development as well as preparing a draft for a delegate statement. My projects include:

  1. Data collection on how each of the United Nations entities conducts their consultancy, contracts, and studies and then propose a new methodology to improve efficiency and lower costs. This project is not associated with UNWTO but will be supervised by Mr. Sarbuland Khan.

  2. Assistant for the CEO4Green platform under the Talah – Abu Ghazaleh Organization. This project is not associated with UNWTO, but will also be supervised by Mr. Sarbuland Khan.

  3. Data analysis on the UNDP/UNWTO Agreement then propose a new draft agreement.

  4. Data collection on each of the G77 & China tourism strategies for their development agenda which will be sent to the Madrid UNWTO headquarters for review.

These past few weeks have been a humbling experience because I have been able to absorb a wealth of information from my supervisors and in the United Nations meetings. Also, I am beginning to feel like the big city of New York City is shrinking because every day I have been able to network or make a new friend. I’m building a sense of community here whenever I visit my usual spots like coffee shops, lunch restaurants, and even the bodegas. New York City has facilitated the environment to pursue a career here after graduation and to live life at its full potential. It has been an incredible experience learning not only academic and career knowledge, but having the city teach me life lessons every single day. As my time in New York City winds down, I am doing my best to savor every single moment of this summer, knowing that I will return as soon as possible.

AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting
AMR meeting

Week One and Two

Hello all!

These past two weeks have been very busy as an intern at the United Nations World Tourism Organization in New York City! I spend my time attending meetings at the United Nations (about 6-7 hours/day), networking with new colleagues, and of course enjoying the city as much as possible. Since I moved to New York City, I have felt an overwhelming sense of liberation and optimism. The city has also helped me grow more independent and concrete about my future plans. While it did take me some time to get adjusted, especially after losing hours of sleep due to the traffic noises and getting lost every other day, it has been a beautiful experience throughout. The city definitely has its ups and downs, but as Le Corbusier puts it, “a hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: It is a beautiful catastrophe”.

The first day of my internship at the UNWTO felt surreal. It really did not hit me I was an intern at the UN until I swiped my ground pass at the security checkpoint to allow access inside the United Nations Headquarters. That first day was a mix of emotions and thoughts – from being confused as to where to go, excited to learn about the UN system and the UNWTO, and even anxious for the unknowns of the next two months.


My First Day of Work in the News Building where the UN Women and UNWTO offices are located

I found relief and sense of peace after my first assignment which was to attend and write a summary report for the UNWTO on the Coordination and Management Meetings for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Everything that I have studied and read about sustainable development and my research of the Sustainable Development Goals, was finally right in front of me.


ECOSOC Coordination and Management Meeting

This meeting opened up with the first panelist, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Eliasson, which stated how the present global society has seen improvements in longevity due to advances in medical science, economic growth, and healthier lifestyles. Yet, some countries have not progressed in these areas, but continue to worsen. For example, women in many countries still face extreme limitations in their socio-economic environments. These limitations in conjunction to the new challenge of climate change will affect not only the poor but the rich and future generations to come.

The second panelist, former president of Chile Eduardo Frei, brought up similar statements in his speech while also explaining how Latin American countries have reduced poverty to the greatest extent,  yet continues to fail  to fix the structural and economic inequality in comparison to other nations. At the same time, there is also a great need globally for public policy to address the failing markets, social stability, and sustainable development.

Throughout the meetings, various panelist discussed the limitations of the Millennium Development Goals such as not achieving progress in gender and income equality issues. As one of the panelist stated, the Millennium Development Goals goals and targets only cured symptoms rather than the actual problems. Lastly, how the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations will need to address these shortcomings.

My second task of the first week was to attend the 8th Session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Throughout the three days of the conference, there was a consensus by the NGOs, panelists, and State Parties on the shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals for persons with disabilities. Based on the general debate, it seemed that these goals overlooked disability which ultimately continued to leave this vulnerable group invisible from policy decisions.


8th Session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

There was also an overall consensus that the new Sustainable Development Goals will need to reflect the perspectives of persons with disabilities by incorporating the vision of social inclusion, economic growth, and environmental systems. The last consensus of the conference was that each State Party needed to conduct proper data collection to understand the needs of persons with disabilities correctly in order to produce results. Especially,  for research that links to dollar amount lost and societal costs for leaving persons with disabilities without their human rights and fair opportunities, then policy makers will be more inclined to create public-private partnerships and policies.

I found this conference to be extremely eye opening for me because I had never critically thought out the economic impact on society when persons with disabilities are ignored. It also encouraged me to network with various NGOs that were in the conference who work to implement strategies such as accessibility, built environment, communication, and transportation for persons with disabilities. This got me thinking about my concentration and hospitality background, “How many tourist resorts have I been to that accommodated a blind or deaf person in their activities and facilities?” Sustainable tourism does take into account the social aspect of the local community and its guests, but is it still leaving out the most invisible vulnerable community group?

For my second week, I attended and reported on the Third International Conference Financing for Development drafting meetings which included delegates giving proposals on the document while the facilitators tried to compromise with all the suggestions made. The real conference will take place on July 13-16 of this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but it is prepared through these informal consultations at the United Nations Headquarters. The purpose of the conference will be to gather high-level political representatives such as the Heads of State and Government, Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation as well as other key stakeholders that include business sector entities and NGOs. The conference should end in an intergovernmental agreed outcome for the support of the post-2015 development and Sustainable Development Goals.


Financing for Development 

As for life in New York City, it has been blissful. I have found it very easy to meet new and interesting people while strengthening bonds with old friends. I even feel spoiled that I’m able to enjoy life in Manhattan and the occasional Brooklyn trips to the fullest.  It has also felt like a luxury not having to rely on a car as my only source of transportation. Instead, I get to explore the city by  walking to destinations. Even my workouts have taken me to fun spots! Fortunately, I live very close to the Brooklyn Bridge, so I jog across the bridge, all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge Parks. Hopefully,  this weekend I will take the metro to Central Park to go running there. New York City has even made me a little more spontaneous in the sense that I can’t really plan what each day will bring because each day is full of new experiences. For example, one day I watched how a film crew shot a scene for the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Two while on the way to dinner.


Filming of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Soho 

There are jazz bands playing in the metro. People-watching never gets boring here; there is always someone that stands out from the crowd! Also, going out in New York is the best. The two weekends here have been quite eventful. So far my favorite area to go out in is the meatpacking district because of the High Line Park and bars. I really enjoy the view of Manhattan from The Standard Hotel Rooftop Lounge Le Bain. Another highlight of the weekend was bonding with one of my roommates. Last Sunday we walked the Brooklyn Bridge to attend a food tent festival called Smorgasboard, where over a 100 food vendors from all over the city sell food by the Brooklyn Bridge Park. New York City has a lot to offer and I’m eager to keep exploring new spots and events!


Brooklyn Bridge


Midtown, Manhattan


Lunch with Colleagues. Mr. Sarbulan Khan, Senior Counsellor of the UNWTO. Yumna Khan, Intern at UNWTO. Mr. Rafeeuddin Ahmed, Special Representative of the UNWTO


Brooklyn Bridge Park

Well, that concludes my first two weeks here. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here. Ciao!