A diverse, international, and empowering career

Meet Orria Goñi, Finance and South-South Cooperation Advisor at the Africa Sustainable Finance Hub. From Spain to South Africa, passing through the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Senegal, Turkey, USA, Slovakia, and Ethiopia-with more than 16 years in UNDP, Orria continues to bring a contagious laugh, radiant energy, and a tireless commitment to fighting injustice and protecting human rights.

Orria Goñi, Finance and South-South Cooperation Advisor at the Africa Sustainable Finance Hub

From the start, my aspiration was always to work for UNDP, as this was the agency that represented all my development related professional goals. I still remember attending a presentation about the UNDP Junior Professional Officer (JPO) programme during my master's. I knew it was a competitive position, and I remember thinking to myself “it´s my professional dream”!

I remained focused, I finished my master’s in international development and flew to the Dominican Republic to start my career with Lawyers without Borders. I then moved to Bolivia with the Spanish Agency for Development (AECID), and then The Philippines and Vietnam.

I am a lawyer by education and training, and people with this kind of background usually look for employers that can offer exposure to human rights, governance, and the rule of law. My goal, though, was broader. Human rights were just the starting point for connecting with different development areas, from a Human Development centered approach, where I wanted to contribute. UNDP was and is the “dream experience” for me because it´s an organization that works on democratic governance, but with a comprehensive lens- fighting other global issues such as poverty, climate change, and inequalities created by the global financial system.

Although it was 16 years ago, I remember the joy, fulfilment, and excitement I felt when I was called and offered the JPO position in Senegal which eventually became my first job with UNDP in 2006.

A truly diverse, international, and empowering career

My whole career so far has been about stepping outside my comfort zone. At UNDP I strongly value being able to work with a diverse group of colleagues who contribute with different approaches, perspectives and expertise to the work we deliver.

I started in the Country Office in Dakar, Senegal promoting human rights, including through the mainstreaming of human rights in strategic planning processes. After a year I moved to Turkey, where I was able to expand my contribution to other cross-cutting issues such as gender equality (for example fostering women’s participation in politics through national and local elections), and building the South-South cooperation portfolio of Turkey as an emerging donor. After my JPO assignment, my time came to work at UNDP headquarters in New York as human rights community of practice coordinator, and later as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Specialist working on strategic planning and monitoring of the MDGs implementation.

Orria at the INFF and Open Budget Africa Workshop organized in September 2022 in Abuja, Nigeria.

The experience I got in New York was different compared to my previous country offices experiences. I viewed those four years in New York as a time to better understand UNDP and the broader UN system, its policies, procedures, and structures, so that I could go back to the field and apply that knowledge. I jumped on the opportunity to go back to work “in the field” and moved to Ethiopia, as Team Leader of the Regional Service Center for Africa. There I supported the agenda of development effectiveness and South-South cooperation for SDGs implementation. In 2019 I moved to South Africa, where I provided my expertise and supported the roll-out of the SDG financing agenda in Sub-Saharan countries from the Africa Sustainable Finance Hub created in 2019. My work is to put the SDGs (and the LNOB principle) around the Financing Systems and aim at promoting a fair, transparent, accountable, and pro-equal economic governance system — where human rights principles are promoted and respected.

Working and interacting with multiple UNDP African country offices, governments, and other stakeholders, I appreciate the heterogeneity of this continent. Specifically, the immense untapped treasures that young women and men, and their innovative ideas, represent: solutions that should drive us towards the achievement of The Africa We Want and SDGs.

Orria and a few of her team members within the Africa Sustainable Finance Hub

A space where people can flourish, and each can contribute

The longest duty station in which I stayed was Addis Ababa, and what I consider to be some of my best memories are from there. I created a family, both in a personal and professional way. That “space” for me was home. The challenges we were facing in our day-to-day life brought us together, we bonded over the smallest things, and we built resilience by leaning on each other- we were truly a team.

We, as a capacity development organization, have a commitment to continuous learning. Creating a space where people can truly express themselves is the only way to keep developing. This is precisely the space I felt we had in Addis Ababa and the one I am promoting with my team here in Pretoria, within the Africa Finance Hub.

What shaped my career, together with the colleagues and the many cultures I have embraced, is working with awesome colleagues that are development leaders and innovators in their own right. In my many years at UNDP, I have had different kinds of supervisors. Every one of these relationships, as well as my interaction with my colleagues, together with my Basque origin and personality, shaped the kind of manager I am today. Managing is not an easy task, but I think of it from a different perspective- for me, it is about sharing common goals and jointly realizing them in our shared life path. I demand a lot from my team, I am straightforward and direct, but I also encourage recognition, self-reflection on strengths and passions, and connections between people. In my view, dedication can go hand in hand with fun, accountability with empowerment, and planning with creativity.

When you have a multicultural team with a clear shared goal and a strong sense of unity and solidarity, everyone plays their part. When that happens, as my first great women boss in UNDP used to say, and I fully agree, “the sky is the limit”!

Orria with some members of her team at the Africa Sustainable Finance Hub in Pretoria, South Africa.

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