When you think about working as an intern with the United Nations (UN), you may first picture the grandeur and glamour of Geneva or New York City, but my internship in a New Delhi regional office was a unique and highly rewarding experience. As the UN increasingly de-centralises, more and more internships are being offered to graduate students in regional locations. In September 2012, I joined this cohort of regional interns by moving to New Delhi to work with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) sub-regional office for south and southwest Asia.
The ESCAP has an active internship program. The UN Secretariat careers portal publishes all UN intern opportunities and the ESCAP publishes some on its employment vacancies website. I applied through the UN careers portal and also submitted a version of my CV directly to the local Director’s Office. Applying through the formal channel and expressing my interest directly to the regional office helped ensure my application was considered by the hiring manager. Before I knew it, I was moving to Delhi as an Economic and Social Affairs Intern.
As the political hub for the South Asia region, New Delhi is a unique place to work for young Australians interested in international relations, politics, development and even the private sector. The action in the city is electrifying, and the people that you meet are a constant source of inspiration.
My role with the ESCAP was varied but was research-intensive. On arrival, I was thrown into contributing to the inaugural development report for the office. I edited, fact checked and assisted with the publishing process. The report was a focus of a four-day, high-level policy dialogue where politicians, academics and international civil servants gathered from across the region. It was exciting to know that the report I contributed to was rigorously discussed at a forum that considered the report’s relevance to countries’ domestic and foreign policies along side other challenges within the region.
The second major component of my time with ESCAP focused on working with an external consultant to produce a research paper in collaboration with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative. This project gave me valuable experience in the management and oversight of joint research reports and how to effectively work with the private sector.
Working in the UN system in New Delhi illustrated to me just how critical regional operations are to the UN’s work. South Asia is home to 40 per cent of the worlds poor; diverse energy resources; the largest working age population; and critically unstable states of geopolitical importance. Governments are increasingly looking to increase relations within their own region and opportunities for south-south cooperation. If you wish to engage with contemporary governance and development policy challenges then gaining experience in India or across South Asia is invaluable.
In addition to the work, I took the opportunity to soak up as much of what Delhi has to offer. In Delhi, you could attend an OECD dialogue; visit the new Australia India Institute @ Delhi; drink chai with a Regional Director of a UN agency; or discuss regional politics with fellow students. I believe there are few places in the world that offer this kind of experience.
I spent the time finding the right accommodation and planning my transport options. India is not always an easy place to live when you first arrive, especially for women. However, the challenges are overcome by planning ahead. Trip Advisor was my friend for travel logistics and accommodation, as it includes peer-to-peer reviews. I stayed at Grace Home in Saket, which offers a safe, homely environment and extremely competitive monthly rates.
I also took time to consider how I would get to and from work each day. In Delhi, this task can be incredibly challenging. I preferred using auto-rickshaws and the metro (I travelled in the ladies only carriage during peak hour). Like most places, it’s wise to avoid travelling alone at night.
My experience in India was so impactful that, on return, I changed my Ph.D. thesis to focus on South Asia studies and launched my business Generate Worldwide. I conceived the business from the mismatch between the India I experienced and how I saw others at home perceived the country. Generate Worldwide works in collaboration with other organisations to deliver educational study tours and philanthropic adventures.
I strongly encourage other young Australians to explore an internship with the United Nations in India. There are a range of opportunities available across various agencies.
If you are not sure about committing to an extended period in India, why not join me on a Generate Worldwide short-term study tour for a teaser of what ‘Incredible India’ has to offer? Keep your eyes peeled for up-coming study tours.