Thirty staff and students from UNU-MERIT spent five days of the carnival break exploring Geneva; learning about the institutions based there and networking with staff and alumni. The trip itself was an impressive feat of organisation, involving 10 committee members from our Master of Science in Public Policy and Human Development (MPP), chaired by DEMOS Vice President Antoine Lemonnier, as well as various UNU staff, and dozens of contacts at the international organisations and centres we visited.
Students of public policy quickly learn that the interests and influence of different stakeholders during any policy process is vital to understand policy formulation and outcomes. Our first day in Geneva put this learning into a practical perspective. We saw clearly how the interests and perspectives of numerous actors shape the initiatives and institutions concerned with social, political and economic development.
Our first visit, to the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), proved this point. Executive Director Nikhil Seth gave a thought-provoking talk touching on the many opportunities and unforeseen challenges that are linked to the SDGs, for which we must be both prepared and flexible.
Throughout the visit we were exposed to a variety of different perspectives and types of organizations, which influenced many of our perceptions of power and diplomacy. We were able to see how intergovernmental relations could be enhanced or impeded by the institutions based in Geneva, depending on the context and point of view. After the obligatory tour of the UN’s ‘Palais des Nations’, we went to the World Trade Organization and then the South Centre, which helps developing nations navigate UN systems. On a very different topic, during our last visit that day, we were given insights into the diplomatic dimensions of health from an expert at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.
On our second day, we were given a presentation at the Advisory Centre on WTO Law, where a small but hard-working team of lawyers provide legal services to developing nations. At the UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees, we were fortunate to not only learn more about the workings of the organisation, but also about the realities of working in challenging environments to protect the most vulnerable.
Our final visit was to the World Economic Forum, which was a highlight for many. We were warmly welcomed and given a fascinating insight into the aims and initiatives of this institute in bringing together powerful stakeholders and knowledge sharing to help solve some of the most pressing global issues. Having visited many organisations concerned with implementation, as researchers ourselves it was empowering to see how research is being communicated to develop fresh approaches to address global challenges.
On our final night we held an alumni dinner, which was an excellent opportunity to reconnect with previous members of the MPP and learn from their experiences.
The trip to Geneva was memorable for many reasons. As highlighted by Nayeja Ngosi, our experiences most of all inspired us in our future careers and actions, “I was touched by the way big institutions were established and are organised to improve the well-being of humanity, especially the most vulnerable… My favourite moment was being in the chambers of the United Nations where world leaders meet. I hope to be there again in an official capacity.” Kara Norton explains, “The Geneva trip showed me that the MPP opens so many options for a career; whether it’s on-the-ground humanitarian work with UNHCR, or working for the World Economic Forum up in the mountains, I feel confident that the future will be exciting.”
We were very grateful that experienced staff at the organisations spent time talking with us in a meaningful way. Maria Palaez-Hidalgo was impressed that at the World Trade Organisation, “We were able to solve doubts openly with no restriction regarding trade-related matters and the importance of this organisation in today’s world.” Through these frank conversations we were able to understand better how these international organisations function in practice.
The trip to Geneva was also an opportunity for members of UNU-MERIT to learn more about each other. Kaillie Winston, who was part of the planning committee said, “my favourite moments of the MPP Geneva trip were at the end of each day, when I discussed the various UN institutions with my peers; these discussions sparked new ideas and taught us more about one another. As part of the Geneva Planning Committee, I felt proud to be a part of such an incredible group — both the individuals that planned and attended the trip. They helped to make it the best possible experience for me.”
A joint post by MPP students Saskia Lienert and Zoë Ogahara.
The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / A.Lemonnier; S. Ritterfeld; S.Brodin