UN Intern Reflection: Caleb Halvorson-Fried, UNA-USA Fellow

Caleb Halvorson-Fried serves as Science, Technology, and Innovation Development Research Intern at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva, Switzerland. Caleb is supported by a grant from the UNA-USA Fellowship Initiative.


Caleb Halvorson-Fried

During Summer 2023, I have been fortunate to fulfill a childhood dream and intern with the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. I am specifically working for UNCTAD, the United Nations’ trade and development body. They serve to advocate for developing countries to benefit from the global economy, by formulating policies relating to all aspects of development, including trade, aid, transport, finance, and technology. As an intern within the Science, Technology, and Innovation for Development section, I am learning how to support developing countries to implement frontier technologies and to improve their innovation ecosystem for sustained economic growth. 

My work has mainly focused on a technology assessment pilot project UNCTAD is conducting with the governments of Seychelles, South Africa, and Zambia. Technology assessment is common practice in many advanced economies such as the US and its main goal is to enable governments to take into account the economic, social, and environmental effects associated with implementing a new or emerging technology within their country. As part of the pilot project, each of the three countries has selected a technology in the energy sector to assess, specifically photovoltatic solar, green hydrogen, and biogas. UNCTAD aims to build these countries’ capacity to implement and institutionalize the technology assessment methodology, as well as learn what should be adapted for a developing country context. 

In my role, I’ve had the opportunity to attend and take official summary notes for several high level meetings with our technology assessment beneficiary countries. These meetings have given me a firsthand perspective on what it really is that the UN does best. Prior to my internship, I always assumed the UN simply advised developing countries on how they could best improve their economic growth prospects. I imagined the UN simply told these countries what policies to implement, and the countries could decide whether or not to follow their recommendations. But I have been surprised to see that rather than a one way stream of dialogue, the true role of the UN is instead that of a participatory forum for discussion between member countries, an environment where people from markedly different cultures and backgrounds can nonetheless share the same room to debate issues of global importance, to air grievances, and to work together to come to a common understanding. The UN does not tell its members what to do. Rather they support their members to settle their disputes amicably and professionally, and urge countries to collaborate to develop solutions for the benefit of all countries’ citizens. This has been my greatest takeaway from my internship experience, and an aspect that gives me renewed hope in the mission of the United Nations. 

Beyond the actual work, being an intern in the UN Geneva office has plenty of perks. The UN campus itself is beautiful, with numerous trails through verdant gardens and comfortable benches to sit and chat with colleagues. Geneva surrounds a beautiful lake, and at the end of the workday, I’ve often ridden my bike downhill to plunge into the crystal clear waters and gaze upon snow-capped Mont Blanc nearby. There is even a UN beach club along the lake where you can telework from the club restaurant, or take a break to swim or paddleboard with other interns while overhearing diplomats chat on the shore in several different languages. The Geneva summer internship experience is a special one, and I will be sure to cherish my time at the United Nations for a long time to come.