A reflection of my time with UNDP in Barbados & the OECS by Mark TrapaniSep 1, 2015
I almost didn’t make it to Barbados. Despite countless searches on the Internet, I struggled to find affordable accommodations. Luckily, it all fell into place at the 11th hour. I found a cosy guesthouse not too far from the UN House in Christ Church. This kind of serendipitous moment, in which everything happened to work out against all odds, characterized my entire summer with the UNDP. My brief 11-week stint with the United Nations Development Programme was not only an amazing learning experience, but also fundamentally reshaped what I will search for in a future job. Looking back, I am incredibly grateful that I made it to Barbados and had such a challenging, thought-provoking opportunity.
Due to a mix-up in my application, the UN originally interviewed me as a website developer. Though I was familiar with website editing, I am far from a computer wizard. Still, I managed to convince my supervisor at the UNDP that on top of any simple web editing, my academic background in political science and ethics would make me a valuable asset for the summer. So, just a few days after my graduation, I moved to Christ Church to join the sub-regional Sustainable Development and Democratic Governance team in Barbados. Day to day, I helped my supervisor with web development, event coordination, and research projects.
Unlike my experience with other organizations, which were often hesitant to delegate real responsibility to their interns, my summer at the UNDP sub-regional office in Barbados & the OECS offered an authentic taste of full-time development work. In my very first week, I assisted two high-profile political conferences. One brought together leaders from Barbados’ public and private sectors to discuss the future role of STEM education and entrepreneurism in Barbados’ national development strategy. I attended as the representative for the United Nations and drafted the office’s official response. The other conference assembled regional expert statisticians and development practitioners to assay the efficacy of the UN’s regional push for Multi-dimensional Poverty Progress Indicators throughout the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean. I owe the UNDP for granting me a backstage pass to work alongside and learn from veteran policy-makers and witness political collaboration at the international level despite having just graduated from college weeks earlier.
Though summer tends to be the slowest season at the UNDP office, this proved to be a huge benefit because it added breadth to my work within the UN system. For example, I had the opportunity to spend a week of my internship working not with the UNDP, but with the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). I served as the official rapporteur for a Caribbean conference on the Universal Periodic Review organized by the OHCHR office in Geneva. The conference sought to strengthen the preparedness of Caribbean nations in their second round of reporting and to highlight the importance of the UPR as a tool to promote human rights across the globe. During another week I organized a summer academy for local high school students that introduced Barbadian youth to the work of the UN system and to different ways of getting involved in local and international development. To be honest, I thought I was the least prepared to organize such an event—I had only been involved with the UN for a month! However, this programme gave me the chance to showcase just how much I had learned in just a few weeks. Additionally, 15 UN staff members from 7 UN Agencies and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency volunteered their time to share their passion for development and present their valuable work. Those presentations gave me a glimpse into the ecosystem of work being done in the region to help improve quality of life.
However, I learned the most not from any single task, but from working in the welcoming and intellectually stimulating environment at the UNDP. The people surrounding me pushed me to look for something more in my future professional endeavours. Perhaps the most impactful moment was a short conversation with one of my supervisors early in the summer. We had been chatting about her experience within the UN system and other development agencies over the years when she said, “You’re smart, and sure, it will be easy to have the system tell you that you are good at your job. It’s another thing entirely to actually be good at your job.” She was right. Like the difference between conversational language and fluency, it takes an extra dose of care and enthusiasm to do good development work. My co-workers knew their fields inside and out, and it all stemmed from their passion. Ultimately, this conversation inspired me to re-assess future work plans and apply for a position at a non-profit whose mission I loved. Thanks to my experience at the UNDP and the support of my co-workers there, I am now working at that non-profit in New York City.
A reflection of my time in Barbados would not be complete without mentioning the wonderful people that I met at the office. Instead of mentioning each person by name, I just want to thank the entire office for every Cuz fish cutter, WOD, coffee break, or debate about US politics shared with me. I also want to thank Mr. Alejandro Pacheco, UN in Barbados & the OECS and the entire team responsible for the Yale-UNDP partnership for creating this incredible opportunity. While the tariffs may have made my food expenses in Barbados incredibly high, the experience and friendships I made were priceless.