An Introduction to Geneva, the United Nations, and Capacity Building for Sustainable Development by Vladimir Proaño (A'20)

by tuftsigl
Jun 25

Following a semester studying abroad in Madrid, a large city known for its lively people and atmosphere, I knew Geneva would be different. First, and as I could see from the moment my plane circled over Lake Geneva, it is significantly smaller, though not less beautiful, in the middle of snow-peaked mountain ranges. Additionally, the agglomeration of international institutions, as well as banking and consulting companies, attracts a very unique blend of people, as I have found out in these first three weeks. This city of important diplomats and old wealth, my home for the next three months, has much to offer beyond initial appearances and I have come to like it.  As the summer sets in and its rather serious and formal people embrace the warmer weather, the streets and public squares fill up with the same energy I remember from Madrid.

I came to Geneva to intern at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the UN’s official branch in charge of research and capacity-building with the aim of disseminating knowledge to government officials, diplomats, and other stakeholders in member countries. Founded in the 1960s, UNITAR is one of the newer agencies in the UN system and as such, operates in a slightly different way than other larger ones, though this is also due in part to its project-based nature. The agency conducts research and produces in-person and online trainings on a wide array of topics, ranging from basic training for all peacekeepers (UN police, ‘blue helmets’, and civilians) to trainings on road safety for public officials in developing countries. UNITAR does this by dividing the work among seven divisions: peace, people, planet, prosperity, multilateral diplomacy, accelerating Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) implementation, and satellite analysis and applied research. As a trainee in the Division for People and Social Development, I will be working on several projects. One focuses on capacity-building pertaining to health and the provision of global surgery and another aims to build a digital training platform  on anticorruption, targeting officials in the public sector.  I will also take part in coordinating events for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which will  take place on July 15th in the UN Headquarters in New York.

While this was the official description I received, the past weeks have shown me this internship includes much more than that, as it is also a direct introduction to the UN system and the work that happens beyond the member states’ permanent representations. Working in a project-based manner, UNITAR works with many levels of government, ranging from international organizations to national and local governments, making its task a difficult one to coordinate but also one from which much can be learned. To navigate the intricacies of collaborating with so many layers, UNITAR draws from people with truly diverse backgrounds. My division has talented psychologists, surgeons, mechanical engineers, economists and linguists.  These individuals work with ambassadors, mayors, and other stakeholders to produce training materials that will reach the right people and deliver the intended material in the best way possible.

As an IR student aiming to work in international development, this feels like the right place to be. Though my aim is to eventually work in some capacity implementing projects in the field, understanding the decision-making processes and the planning that takes place in headquarters is also key.  As the initial period of introductions ends and I ease into the regular pace of work at UNITAR, I can say that I look forward to the rest of my summer here.