A Journey of Purpose and Impact

Maria’s UNDP Graduate Programme Experience

UNDP People for 2030
4 min readAug 10, 2023

Maria De Fatima Achopa joined UNDP through the Graduate Programme and works as a Research Analyst with the Regional Bureau for Africa. In this article she tells us about her inspiring journey of purpose, personal growth, and her unwavering commitment to shaping a brighter future for the continent she holds dear.

On March 14, 2019, Cyclone Idai wreaked havoc in Maria’s hometown of Beira in central Mozambique. As she watched her community rebuild amidst the devastation, Maria’s lifelong dream to work for the United Nations would see her embark on a path that would lead her to New York and the beginning of her remarkable journey to UNDP.

“The experience of the cyclone gave me a renewed sense of purpose — a drive to contribute to the well-being of people and actively participate in the development of the Africa that I want to see,” she said.

With a master’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in the bag and an unwavering determination, Maria kept a vigilant eye on open vacancies at the United Nations. “I was scrolling through Google one day when I stumbled upon an advertisement for UNDP’s Graduate Programme,” she recalled. “It was like a sign from heaven I just couldn’t ignore. So, I took the leap and applied.”

Since its launch in 2021, UNDP’s Graduate Programme has provided a gateway to a UN career for many exceptional young graduates from diverse and less privileged backgrounds. As a key part of the People for 2030 Strategy, the two-year programme aims to promote workforce diversity and build a pipeline of dedicated professionals for the #NextGenUNDP to support the 2030 Agenda while empowering young minds to shape a brighter future.

The assessment and selection process demanded resilience and perseverance from Maria. Waiting periods between stages only added to the anxiety that built up within her. However, driven by her passion to make a meaningful impact, Maria forged ahead, overcoming each challenge that came her way. “There were multiple steps in the selection process which included two nerve-wracking interviews,” she revealed.

“But I never lost sight of where I wanted to be and the impact I wanted to make.”

A few months after, Maria’s unwavering bore fruit when she received her acceptance letter. In her role, Maria employs her vast array of skills to support strategic analysis and upstream policy advice to the Bureau management and program countries, working with different frameworks for the design of national policies and strategies for the implementation of the UNDP-Africa strategic offer. Her other tasks include conducting evidence-based research, analyzing data, preparing concept notes, and coordinating high-level events to support UNDP’s efforts in advancing sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For Maria, the Graduate Programme has been a transformative experience, both professionally and personally. “I love what I do and the person I am becoming,” she disclosed. “My work delves into Africa’s challenges, especially those relating to food insecurity. It has been a journey of purpose and empowerment as I feel I am playing a role in advancing Africa’s development. Last year, I worked on an analysis of Africa’s fertilizer production capacity and one of challenges I faced was finding reliable data required for our economic simulation model. In the end, we successfully produced a policy brief that was presented during the UNGA Food Security side-event conveying the message about the importance of enhancing Africa’s food security and sovereignty in light of recent global shocks.”

The Graduate Programme at UNDP is also fostering continuous learning for Maria.

“I have received invaluable exposure to intellectual leadership and key development issues in the region. Through interactions with talented individuals from other Bureaus, I have significantly enhanced my knowledge and analytical skills. Collaborating with high-level personalities, young change-makers, and private sector partners has nurtured my innovative thinking. I also owe a great deal to my supervisor who has challenged me with daring tasks, inspiring self-confidence and expanding my abilities. It is fascinating to see that efforts are being made by the organization to connect people to resources, knowledge, and platforms to meet their career needs. This journey has broadened my understanding of my own potential to create positive change and contribute to global development.”

A delightful moment with President Felipe Jacinto Nyusi of Mozambique (left) during a recent visit to UNDP.

UNDP’s inaugural Graduate Programme cohort is a pool of 32 recent graduates with a diversity profile that reflects a global representation. The pool encompasses 28 nationalities, 22 women, two persons living with disabilities, 16 trailblazers as the first university graduates in their families, and seven proudly identifying as members of indigenous communities.

The programme has enjoyed several external recognition including an award for its innovation in recruitment at the UN Career Development Roundtable and another for Best Talent Management Initiative from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) in the UK. It also received the prestigious Recruiters’ Award and recently got shortlisted for the Graduate Employer of Choice by the South African Graduate Employers Association.

As Maria reflects on her experience, she shares a message with potential candidates for the Graduate Programme: “Believe in yourself and take action. If I am here, so can you!”