I learnt during this internship, the importance of mentorship and urge anyone who has a mentor, to ensure that they hold on to them.
If I told 16-year-old me that by the age of 23, she would be working as a Project and Programme Assistant for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I don’t think she would have believed me. My name is Karimah Mohammed and I have just completed a six-month contract with the UNDP country office based in Trinidad and Tobago.
Academically, I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) in Spanish, Arabic along with German, and a Master of Arts (MA) in International Relations. The international sphere has always interested me, and throughout my childhood, I was always enthralled by fiction set in faraway lands. This ardour was further heightened after travelling to Germany, Spain, and Morocco for my compulsory year abroad. The year taught me that there is a stark difference between ‘living’ and ‘visiting’ a country. Whilst sojourning grants room for visiting historical sites and the chance to taste the sweetness of a country, ‘living’ in a region grants one the opportunity to really assimilate and interact with locals. Thus, it was the year spent connecting with residents and understanding social-political issues on a local level that truly sparked my interest in international development.
During my MA, still reminiscent of my time abroad, I started looking for international opportunities through online sites such as ‘inspira’ (the official portal for positions at the UN secretariat) and UN Careers. Through these platforms, I found some rather exhilarating opportunities, but I did not have enough experience to apply for the majority. I applied for a few positions with the World Food Programme (WFP) and in International Development, but I was unsuccessful. Amid the search, I was introduced to someone who had worked with the UN. When I explained my current situation and level of experience, I was advised to look for internship opportunities through individual agencies (such as UNDP/UN Women/UNICEF/UNHCR, etc). I was told that although this route would require more effort on my part, it could lead to success.
Immediately, I decided to look for opportunities in my homeland, Trinidad and Tobago. As a child of the diaspora residing in the UK, I was (and am) always eager to take any chance to return to the Caribbean. Whilst I looked at the different UN agencies in Trinidad, I was almost certain that I wanted to apply to UNDP. The application process for this particular country office consisted of a lengthy form, whereby I had to input my academic and vocational achievements. After successful completion, I was invited to a Skype interview with the Assistant Resident Representative and the Human Resources Associate. One tip that I would give, for anyone about to undertake an interview, is that you understand areas of work the office are involved in (i.e. poverty policies and strategies and climate change) and that you are also able to answer the critical question: What can you contribute?
When I finally received news that I was successful I was delighted and began planning for the trip. Upon arrival, I was introduced to my colleagues and was allocated to work within the Citizen Security and Justice portfolio. I spent the past few months focusing on Gender-Based Violence and Youth in at-risk Communities and was able to put into practice skills from my recent degree. The work itself varied from reports and research to field visits and stakeholder meetings. I was able to meet some of the inspirational youth that we worked with through projects (and in particular a project focused on supporting youth in youth rehabilitation centres) and was also given the opportunity to travel to Tobago (the sister island) to explore a Police Youth Club, as an example of best practice.
The experience was truly vast and all-encompassing and gave me a true insight into the world of International Development. Perhaps one of the greatest things that I learnt during this internship was the importance of mentorship. I was gifted with excellent mentors in the workplace who guided me through the process and urge anyone who has a mentor, to ensure that they hold on to them and to keep good relations with colleagues…as no one truly knows when the next opportunity will arise.
Karimah Mohammed is an expat Trini resident in the United Kingdom. She holds a deep-rooted interest in social justice and international development. Her career began by working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Karimah worked on projects within two portfolios: Citizen Security and Justice and Poverty Policies and Strategies, with a focus on Youth and Violence Prevention and Gender-Based Violence in the context of Trinidad and Tobago.
This piece was published in the WiFP Newsletter: 21st May 2020 under the section of WOmen in Foreign Policy. As a guest writer, Karimah reflected on her experience applying and working for the United Nations Development Programme, and shared the lessons she learned from her role with their readers…