“A Finn brings openness and expertise to the UN,” says Nina Nordström, who works for UNICEF. Three Finnish women working in high UN positions recount their experiences and motivation. They encourage their compatriots, both women and men, to reach out bravely for an international career.
Many Finns work in the United Nations, in many different tasks. Some of them serve at UN headquarters, in cities such as New York, and others in the field, for instance as Resident Representatives of development agencies supported by Finland.
The competition for interesting positions is tough and success in the selection process requires careful preparation. Many Finns, however, have the expertise and experience to offer that can help them fare well in this competition.
“Implementing children’s rights is one of UNICEF’s main priorities. It motivates me to go to work every morning,” says Nina Nordström, an experienced Finnish diplomat who heads the Secretariat of the Executive Board of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, in New York.
The work environment at the UN, according to Nordström, is stimulating. It involves the constant opportunity to learn new things.
“My colleagues are extremely well-educated and skilled specialists from all over the world. As the only truly global normative organization, the United Nations has always interested me.”
Nordstrom points out that in every part of the world, there are children and young people experiencing malaise: children and young people who are poor, discriminated against, beaten, abandoned, performing heavy work, excluded from school, forced into a child marriage.
“In all countries, even in Finland, there are children faring poorly whose rights are not realized or whose basic needs are not satisfied. That child may sometimes be a neighbour's child or a relative’s teenager. "
Nordström’s work includes the preparation and organization of UNICEF’s Executive Board meetings. During the year, more than 40 meetings are held, aside from the actual Executive Board meetings.
The head of the Secretariat of the Executive Board is also responsible for maintaining and developing relations with the organization’s member countries as well as familiarizing the Executive Board members with UNICEF’s work at the headquarters and in the field. The head of the Secretariat also assists the organization’s top management.
Nordström, who previously served in the Finnish Mission to the UN in New York, believes that a Finnish diplomat can bring to the UN, among other things, a good administrative culture, openness and credible expertise.
Heidi Schroderus-Fox, a Finn who heads the office of UN-OHRLLS, the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, located at the UN headquarters in New York, agrees with Nordström.
According to Schoderus-Fox, UN administrative culture may sometimes seem old-fashioned and heavy to a Finn. There is much good as well, but there would be endless areas for development.
“I hope that through my own management I can create a work environment that encourages people to cooperate well and to be active and open,” Schroderus-Fox says.
The task of the office run by Schroderus-Fox, located on the 32nd floor of the UN headquarters, is vast: to coordinate all UN activities pertaining to the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries or small island states classified as developing countries.
The office provides support to these countries and assists the Secretary-General in ensuring that in its actions, the United Nations system takes account of the specific problems facing these countries and seeks solutions to these problems. Key issues are poverty reduction, development of the production capacity and trade, and sustainable development.
“I travel a lot and I can see with my own eyes how the UN’s activities can affect people’s daily lives. In the face of major challenges, small concrete steps of progress in people’s lives bring motivation and joy and encourage us to continue,” Schroderus-Fox says about her work.
In her opinion, Finland does valuable work to support in the least developed countries, and our strong input is valued very much.
The office led by Schroderus-Fox employs about 30 people from 27 different countries, among them Rita Ruohonen, a Finnish funded Junior Professional Officer.
Satu Lassila, also a Finn, is employed by UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. She serves in a unique vantage point as an adviser to Lakshimi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of the organization.
Lassila, who is funded by Finland, has worked at the UN since January. She is preparing several intergovernmental processes including the post-2015 development agenda and follow-up of the large conference on gender equality held in Beijing 20 years ago.
Partners in this work are the UN Member States, other UN agencies, civil society and the private sector.
“The tasks are very interesting and I enjoy the multicultural work environment. I realized during my first week at work that I was sitting in the same 10-person meeting with the UN Secretary-General and Hillary Clinton. At the UN, one really can bump into anyone,” Lassila says.
Finland finances UN agencies together with the other Member States. Particularly strong support is given to the UN’s development activities through its programmes and funds, such as UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP and UN Women. Almost 90 million euros is channelled to them during the current year as core funding, in addition to which the organizations are supported by project funding.
Amongst UN agencies, the main channel of financing for Finland is the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA. In the past few years, financing has been increased especially strongly to UN Women, which launched its activities in 2011.
By drawing attention to Finns working in the UN and highlighting their thoughts, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs hopes that even more people become interested in the world organization’s tasks and are encouraged to apply for them.