My Roman “Tour for Gender Equality”

Before my trip to Rome, the country made me think of pasta, historic buildings, and a beautiful language- but not the UN, as most probably do not. However, Rome is an important city for UN agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. I had the opportunity to spend a week with the US Mission to the UN there, interviewing American women in leadership positions. It was a privilege to incorporate my passion and experience working for gender equality while highlighting the work of women abroad who are representing our country through their international contributions.

This Roman “Tour for Gender Equality”, as I referred to it, began at the US Mission to Rome, where I met with staff. I did a takeover of their Twitter (@USUNRome) and Instagram account (@USUNRome) while tweeting and snapchatting from my own accounts. This is an example of one of my posts below:

My interviews were all memorable and informative, but these are the highlights from each.

My interviews started with Mrs. Catherine Saxbe, M.D. and Staff Counselor at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). When asked what she would say to students hoping to work overseas, she said, “Follow what you love to do and what brings you joy and pleasure, because if you do that, then you will end up finding the position that is right for you.”

Mrs. Judith Thimke, Chief of the Ocean Transportation Service at the World Food Program, explained to me that she actually began in a private shipping line, thus proving that there are many different paths that lead to working for the UN system.

I then went on to interview Ms. Kimberly Sullivan, a Communication Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization. She has had experience with the New York State Assembly, the White House, and the World Bank. When asked what one of the most interesting aspects of her position was, she mentioned working with so many different players including other UN Agencies, NGO’s, and the private sector. A win for SDG 17—partnerships for development!

Later on, I met with Ms. Yelena Finegold, a Spatial Data Analyst and GIS Consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organization. I related to her in particular, as she was a young woman working in this field, so I asked how she overcame challenges around her youth in the workplace, such as not being taken seriously because of being “too young.” She said she shows that her work is valuable and good and that her passion shines through.

Ms. Cindy Holleman, the current Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Global Program Manager, chatted with me about preparing for a position within a UN organization. She said she experienced different agencies working on her issue (food security), such as NGO’s and other key international organizations. She advised that young people “try to create an experience where you can work in a country outside of the U.S. and where you fit the profile for the type of work you are interested in.”

The journey continued with Ms. Lauren Landis, Director of the Nutrition Division at the World Food Program. She emphasized the importance of learning languages, especially the UN languages and critical languages of today, since they are incredibly significant to careers within the UN system.

My interview with Ms. Cassandra Waldon, Director of the Communications Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), followed. She was an inspiration in many ways, but this advice was the most powerful for me: “When there are many different opportunities and you have to decide which path to go down on, it’s important to go where your passions lie and be okay when down the course of your career those passions change and stray from what you originally planned.” We also discussed a report she was working on for IFAD, exploring whether issues connecting climate change, food security, agriculture, and migration have made media headlines. You can find that report here: The Untold Story: Climate change sinks below the headlines.

I went on to interview Ms. Lauren Flejzor, Program Coordinator for the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization. What she wanted to impart onto American youth was:  “if you have a goal, make it happen so that you can succeed not only in the workplace, but in everything you do.” My interviews concluded with Ms. Catherine Meier, Senior Contracts Officer in the Procurement Section at the Food and Agriculture Organization. For students hoping to work overseas, she suggested the following: “reach proficiency in a language, [and] I recommend spending some time living abroad.”

These interviews were not only inspiring, but incredibly informative and insightful for American youth such as myself. While in Rome, I also had the opportunity to speak at John Cabot University, Luiss Guido Carli University, and to SIOI, the Italian Society for International Organizations. Helping the latter launch their new Italian Youth Delegate Program was exciting because I have personally learned how rewarding this position can be for an individual interested in diplomacy and the work of the UN. Youth perspectives in the international arena have proven vital (think formation of the SDG’s and how integral youth were), and the world is realizing it more and more every day. My interviews exhibited this and allowed me to see the faces of the women whose shoulders I’ve been able to stand on in order to achieve the work I’ve set out to do.

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