"The Real United Nations"

Date: 
Monday, 01 May 2017

New York | PDI

Across the globe, Model UN simulations are popular ways for students to learn more about the UN. However, they tend to focus solely on the work of diplomats. That’s why the Education Outreach Section of the Department of Public Information (DPI) launched a new interactive lecture series called “The Real United Nations” – to allow UN staff to share their stories with Model UN participants and explain what they actually do to achieve UN mandates. 

The inaugural event, "The Real United Nations: The UN Secretariat in Action", took place at New York University (NYU) on 15 February. Sam Martell of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Brenden Varma of DPI, and Edem Wosornu of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), engaged in a frank discussion with 80 undergrads on how their work contributes to UN goals.

Students asked how attitudes towards the UN varied from country to country; how the UN managed to carry out humanitarian work given rising nationalism across the world; what the UN was doing to help refugees and migrants; and whether working at the UN felt different now that there was a new Secretary-General.

The series returned to NYU for its second session on 19 April, “The Real United Nations: Innovating for Development". This time, Malika Bhandarkar of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Jeremy Boy of UN Global Pulse, Alice Chen from the UN SDG Action Campaign and Antje Watermann of DPI, spoke about what they are doing to promote international development and how they are using new innovative tools to influence policy makers and ensure that no one is left behind.

All attendees got to use UN virtual reality glasses to “visit” refugee camps and natural disaster zones, and during the ensuing discussion, they asked how technology was transforming the work of the UN. Many were intrigued to learn that UN staff not only includes international relations experts, but also graphic designers, visual data specialists and technological innovators. 

The two events generated much positive feedback from the students. It was fun for the participating staff as well.

“It was so rewarding to connect with students during the ‘Real UN’ series. Fresh perspectives and candid questions re-energized my commitment to innovate for the SDGs,” said Malika Bhandarkar.

Alice Chen, who graduated from NYU, added, “Speaking at my alma mater on the work I do at the UN, showing how we are breaking silos to reach the most marginalized populations to get them actively engaged in the SDGs, was a very special experience.”

And Sam Martell said, "In DPA, we don't always get the chance to engage with young people. The students' enthusiasm was great to see and reminded me why I joined the UN in the first place."

To participate in the “Real United Nations” series, please contact Brenden Varma at: varmab@un.org.