For the last month, from the 23rd of May till the 18th of June, I have worked as an intern, with Kevin Dance CP, to learn the ropes of what it means to be a Non-Government Organization (NGO), actively engaged in the United Nations set up. I discovered there are so many issues one could dedicate one’s time and energy to, that, wisely, Kevin and Mary Ann Strain (a Sister of the Cross and Passion), as Passionists International, have rationalized their energies into a number of specific issues: Financing for Development; HIV/AIDS; Protection of Women and girls from exploitation and discrimination; the Palestinian situation; and Indigenous issues. As their intern, I went along to committee meetings, attended special briefings, and spent a lot of time reading and writing reports in an effort to understand how the UN works, get a good background on each of these particular issues, and understand how Kevin and Mary Ann work with other NGOs to try to bring about some change for the better. It was a sharp learning curve, especially in the area of macroeconomics, which I must confess I knew nothing about before I came.
In terms of the UN itself, I discovered it is an organization with many flaws and limitations, mostly due to the way it was set up and who set it up in the first place, but also due to limited funding, which doesn’t allow it to fully complete its mandate. Some systems are archaic such as their ‘interactive’ sessions, where respondents do not actually interact with panels but read out prepared speeches just like panel members do. Even the ear pieces for listening to presentations in the General Assembly Hall have not been updated to what we would use today, are terribly uncomfortable, and in the ‘public’ gallery don’t even work!
Yet despite all of this, not only is it all we’ve got as a forum where all the world can meet and discuss issues, it actually does do some good. The Millennium Development Goals would be a case in point. Not only was this agenda accepted by the nation states, but it has been incorporated into the development policies and programs of many developing countries. Another example of its effectiveness is, following the Global Financial Crisis, the UN proved an effective forum to call for reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, reform that is actually taking place.
The success of the work of NGOs at the UN is seen in the fact that, whereas in the past when they were just about treated with contempt from what Kevin has told me, they are now acknowledged and recognized as partners in ensuring that development takes place and human rights are defended. They are formally connected to the UN through one of its structures called UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and so have a way of influencing the member states and calling them to accountability. This does have a long way to go, however, and I applaud the work of people like Kevin and Mary Ann for doing what, in my opinion, is often a very frustrating and thankless job.
I think that to work in the UN as a representative for your NGO you would need to be an extrovert, for a start, because a lot of the work relies on networking and committee meetings. You also need the virtue of patience as change takes place very slowly and usually only in small increments. These are virtues I do not have. I have learned that the best way I can help Kevin and Mary Ann’s work at the UN, is to work harder for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation back home. The more we get noticed for advocacy work as an NGO back home, the more NGOs will be taken seriously at the UN.
My time as an intern has also given me a good grounding in the issues that Kevin and Mary Ann are involved in, which better arms me to understand and respond to these issues back home. Like I said, it has been an education.