UN and NGO Workers Prepare Pace NYC MUN Students for Global Careers

Rigorous training in theory, strong writing skills and practical experience are crucial for international vocations in peacebuilding, humanitarianism, development and social justice.

Students hoping to pursue a vocation in international peacebuilding, humanitarianism, development and social justice must gain a firm grounding in peace and conflict theory, develop strong writing skills and gain practical experience, say practitioners working for the UN, non-governmental organizations, think-tanks, and social enterprises.

“I look for people with a strong background in the theory of conflict and peace,” said Ashok Panikkar, board member of Mediators Beyond Borders and founder of Meta-Culture, India’s first conflict management consulting firm.

“You also need to get as much practical experience as possible,” he added, urging students to get involved in internships and community programs. He instructed students to “be extraordinarily conscious of the conflicts you are involved in – treat your life as a conflict laboratory.”

Panikkar was one of five practitioners that spoke to over 50 students and six faculty at a Pace University New York City event on international careers Monday evening. The practitioners spoke about their experiences working in diplomacy, advocacy, mediation and non-profit communications. The event was co-sponsored by the Pace University New York City Peace and Justice Studies, Model United Nations, Political Science and Honors programs.

Anuraj Jha, Child Protection Advisor in the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and a former Fulbright Scholar, reinforced Panikkar’s message.

“You need to be really aware of the issues,” said Jha, “and theory is very helpful for putting issues in perspective.” Jha also urged students to develop writing and speaking skills, saying they will “take you a long way.” Much of his work involves drafting policy reports, letters to diplomats and press releases for the media.

Jha suggested prospective peacebuilders and aid workers get “field experience” in impoverished or conflicted communities: “you need at least three or four years in the field to understand the culture, situation and issues.” He believes that working as a volunteer or an intern can help students and recent graduates “build a network and learn how organizations work.”

Working in the communications and public relations department is a good entry point for recent graduates interested in the field of international humanitarianism and development, said Timothy Shenk, communications officer at Church World Service. Non-profit organizations look for people with skills in writing and social media to get out their message, offering a way for young people to get their foot in the door.

A former newspaper reporter with a Master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Shenk said that his job enabled him to travel widely and observe many humanitarian programs: “I learned about the many different ways NGOs try to help people.”

Though careers in diplomacy, global campaigns and foreign assistance can be emotionally and intellectually challenging, they are also “extremely engaging” said Dr. Sofia Sebastian, a former political advisor in Bosnia for the Spanish Foreign Ministry and an adjunct faculty member in Pace’s New York City Political Science department.

“It is very rewarding as long as you are committed, have your feet on the ground and know what you cannot control.” Dr. Sebastian, who has a Master’s in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a PhD in Government from the London School of Economics is also an associate researcher for the European international relations think-tank FRIDE.

Another Mediators Beyond Borders board member, Alan Gross, talked to students about his experiences mediating and training in Sierra Leone and Iraq. Gross also mediates disputes at Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street protests began, just a few blocks from Pace University’s New York City campus.

“Pace’s strategic focus on training thinking professionals for global citizenship offers an ideal climate for students to gain the foundational skills, wisdom and knowledge needed for careers as advocates, aid workers, mediators, diplomats and campaigners,” said Dr. Emily Welty, director of Peace and Justice Studies at Pace University’s New York City campus.

Pace’s minor in Peace and Justice Studies and major in Political Science provides grounding in the theory of conflict and its transformation. Composition and Writing Enhanced classes in the university’s Core Curriculum, as well community-based learning assignments and classes on world traditions and cultures in the Areas of Knowledge, offer further opportunities for relevant training. The Model United Nations program also provides students an opportunity to engage in simulations of international diplomacy.

The new minor in Peace and Justice Studies offered on the New York City Campus specifically aims to prepare students for careers in non-profits, humanitarian and international aid work, international law, negotiation, diplomacy, mediation, economic development, poverty reduction, restorative justice and more. www.pace.edu/dyson/pjs

For further guidance on global careers, read the page on Vocation on this website.

About Matthew Bolton

I am assistant professor of Political Science at Pace University and author of Foreign Aid and Landmine Clearance.
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