My JPO experience has provided me with the greatest opportunity to grow both professionally and personally.
Meet Sara Hamano, Programme Analyst at UNDP RBA Headquarters in New York, who shares with us in this interview some insights of her career from working as a UN Volunteer in Serbia to her current role supporting UNDP country offices in Africa.
What made you apply to the JPO programme/what is your motivation to work with your UN agency?
I started my UN journey as a UN Volunteer with the Resident Coordinator Office in the Republic of Serbia, where I was first exposed to the UN’s work at the country level in playing a crucial role in helping achieve the country’s development plans and SDGs, as well as coordinating among different UN agencies to deliver as “one UN”. My experience as a UNV motivated me to apply to the JPO programme to gain further experience in directly working on projects to alleviate the development challenges of the country through research on socioeconomic issues that could assist project formulation. I decided to apply for UNDP, being the UN’s specialized agency for development where I wanted to work directly on projects to alleviate poverty and inequality, which is one of UNDP’s six signature solutions. I started my JPO assignment in the South Africa country office before transferring to HQ.
What are the main activities/tasks you are working on? What is a day at the office/in the field like?
In my current role in the TICAD Unit RBA, a typical day starts early, having meetings with the UNDP COs in Africa to discuss various issues ranging from project implementation and finances to partnerships and advocacy. I usually spend the mornings responding to inquiries from COs, as well as meetings with partners to go over issues such as resource mobilization and coordination of stakeholder meetings. In the afternoon, I will typically work on tasks such as reporting, documentation, preparing briefing notes, and overseeing the work of consultants. At times our unit is involved with high-level stakeholder meetings concerning African development and the Japanese donor. For instance, this year UNDP is the co-host of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), and we are busy preparing for UNDP’s intervention to ensure relevant issues are reflected in the conference agenda.
In your day-to-day work, what SDG(s) are you helping to implement
SDG 17: Partnerships for the goals.
Indirectly, I support the UNDP Country Offices in Africa to implement various projects funded by the Government of Japan, which can include focus areas such as peace and stability (SDG 16), health (SDG 3) and climate change (SDG 13) among others.
What is the most challenging project that you have worked on/are working on?
While I was working on a project about providing vocational training to youth and capacitating Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET colleges) in South Africa, one challenge I faced was the short implementation timeframe and limited resources of the project compared to the vast needs faced by the beneficiaries. It was a challenge to select activities that could ensure impact and sustainability. One of the ways in which we addressed this challenge was through working with local partners who have already successfully trained youth to ensure further continuity and the possibility of scaling the project.
What has been the most rewarding experience to date for you at your duty station? (work and/or non-work related)
The most rewarding experience has been when the project I have been conceptualizing in the midst of the COVID pandemic with extensive discussion was awarded resources to start implementation last year. The conceptualization phase took months and many discussions with the donor, line Ministry, beneficiaries and partners. To see the project kickstart was a great career highlight.
What set of skills have you developed most throughout your assignment?
In terms of technical skills, one of the most valuable skills I have learned is how to critically analyze effective development projects in the field. In South Africa, I have been involved in the analysis of development issues which allowed me to interpret the needs of the vulnerable population through a dedicated study on the socioeconomic impact of COVID19 in the country. I have also learned the importance of listening to the needs of the stakeholders and government, which UNDP ensures throughout the implementation of the project cycle. Finally, I learned the importance of forging effective partnerships in any development project. For instance, I have successfully engaged an international automotive company to sign a MOU with UNDP South Africa office to jointly work towards upskilling youth through vocational training.
What piece of advice would you give to those who are considering applying to the JPO Programme?
Consider your background and what your unique skills are when applying to the position, and also what you would like to achieve throughout the JPO programme both on a professional and personal level. Consider whether you would like to gain experience at HQ or in the field, and what specific skills you would like to gain from the assignment. These questions will guide you in selecting the most suitable position, as well as provide a strong basis for your application and interview.
How do you feel your JPO assignment will influence your career choices/opportunities within the UN?
The JPO assignment has exposed me to various technical aspects from programming to operations which have improved my confidence to further my career in the organization. It has also greatly improved my professional competencies in terms of communicating with stakeholders, coordination, and at times creative thinking in increasing effectiveness and productivity in my assignment area. I have also been fortunate to have been exposed to exciting areas of work such as private sector partnerships, innovative financing and supporting youth entrepreneurship which have influenced potential pathways I see myself being involved with within the UN.
Do you feel that you are part of a community of purpose?
I feel strongly that the UNDP community is striving to make a difference and have witnessed great solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic which started shortly after I started my assignment. I am proud to have been able to work together with colleagues during the need for rapid response after the COVID-19.
What’s the biggest motivator for you when it comes to your work?
The biggest motivator has been seeing positive results from my efforts, both on the ground and within the organization. Recently, there has been a handover ceremony of IT equipment to a TVET college in South Africa which is one of the activities of the project I have worked to conceptualize together with implementation partners while I was stationed there. To hear the voices of appreciation from stakeholders is incredibly motivating and the best part of my work.
In what ways do you feel you part of an organization that fosters people’s development?
I believe UNDP as an organization places great emphasis in supporting staff’s development both formally through training and informally through mentoring. As staff, we have access to various trainings and webinars to improve our understanding of timely developmental issues, and JPOs have access to DTTA allowance which can be used to take courses of your choice to improve professional competency and knowledge. Furthermore, I have learned immensely from on-the-job training, supervisors and tapping into the knowledge and experience of my teammates.
If you had to summarize your JPO experience into a couple of brief sentences or less, what you would say?
The two and a half years I have experienced as a JPO have provided me with the greatest opportunity for growth both professionally and personally.
Could you tell us about a funny anecdote or a curious tradition that you have experienced in your duty station?
As one of my supervisors used to say, “The price of good work is more work!”. It is not uncommon that your job role may evolve from the start of the assignment as your career progresses.
In your opinion, what makes UNDP a good employer?
Because of the wide range of focus areas UNDP has, I always find colleagues engaged with exciting projects, new ideas, and innovative partnerships. The opportunity to learn is immense, and the impact UNDP creates at the global and local levels is truly inspiring.