Meet Lucky Musonda, Communications and Change Management Specialist at UNDP Bureau for Management Services (BMS) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Discover the compelling story of his career and learn about his contribution to reducing inequality and responding to crises. Get inspired by his journey.
As an outsider, you normally create a picture of how the United Nations (UN) works — sometimes it is accurate, sometimes it is not. After reading about the UN, seeing reports on TV, in newspapers or online, and watching our president speak at the UN General Assembly, I started to imagine myself a part of that kind of conversation. The image I created of the UN was that it was fantastic and complex — and I wanted to be part of it and contribute to its global agenda.
This is how it started for me. I joined because I admired the UN. But before I got a chance to work for the UN, I worked with colleagues from different UN Agencies on multiple campaigns, and outreach activities.
In 2006, while studying at The University of Zambia, I started an organization of young people — the UN Youth Association of Zambia. It was made up of people from universities, colleges, and communities and our agenda was to support the UN’s mission through advocacy, outreach and campaigns. We worked closely with the UN Information Centre in Zambia to develop environmental awareness campaigns, launched tree-planting projects, and mobilized to help vulnerable communities. Our efforts paid off as more young people joined and supported our cause, we established partnerships with government ministries, agencies, and departments. It made our work easier. I still miss those days, but I love what I do now — it is a duty and a privilege.
Sometimes, the UN may seem like it is far from ordinary people; that it is that organization you just see in the news, far from you. What I learnt as a student is that regardless of your background, even if you are not directly involved with the UN, there are many ways that you can contribute to its work — it is a very powerful message I would like anyone reading this to take.
It is important to stay engaged and informed about the issues that matter to you. It means staying up to date with current affairs, following the work of organizations that align with your values, and connecting with like-minded individuals and networks. And taking action, no matter the scale.
UNDP Young Talent Programmes
I think UNDP has done incredibly well in opening doors to young people of different backgrounds. UNDP offers a wide range of global opportunities for young talented individuals from the Junior Professional Officer programme (JPO) to the recently launched Graduate Programme, the African Young Women Leaders Fellowship Programme the UNV/UNDP Young Talent Programme for Persons with Disabilities, or our Internship Programme. These are excellent entry points into the UN.
These are fantastic initiatives. In addition, it is very important to ensure that those already in the organization get the opportunity to be supported, handheld, acknowledged and rewarded. That is why the ongoing mentorship and leadership development programmes, which are part of People for 2030 Strategy initiatives are so critical. Ultimately, it is the people within the organization that will tell UNDP’s story about UNDP and through them, the organization can attract and retain the best of talents.
With work in the development space constantly evolving with complexities, it is crucial to increase workforce diversity and seek new talent to bring in fresh ideas and expertise to the table. To the younger generations that wish to participate or join UNDP “Please Apply” whenever opportunities are advertised, and you meet the requirements.
UNDP from a communication standpoint
Over the years I have been in UNDP, my primary focus has been to provide leadership in strengthening strategic corporate communication structures, developing partnerships across different stakeholders and identifying talent and innovative ideas. Strategic communications build momentum by rallying people and organizations to the causes we, as UNDP, care about. Our Administrator, Mr. Achim Steiner, has repeatedly emphasized the need for us to, not only push our boundaries in the way we think, and design and deploy innovative development solutions, but also communicate what we do and how we think to all our stakeholders who can help us make it happen.
I have been part of, witnessed and written about UNDP’s agility. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was in Nairobi, Kenya. Because of movement restrictions we had to quickly adapt and change our approach to delivering development. I negotiated strategic partnerships with two of East Africa’s largest media organizations. This effectively enhanced the visibility of UNDP’s work in supporting national efforts to respond to the crisis and our investment in strengthening Kenya’s health systems.
We live in a very complex world, with complex challenges. UNDP has been able to change with time and continues to push its own boundaries to respond to the needs of people in an ever-evolving development landscape. I am inspired by this. Additionally, the ambitious vision of the #Peoplefor2030 has influenced UNDP’s organizational culture to become more agile in the face of uncertainty. I think this ability for us to change the way we do things, to provide leadership in shaping global development agenda is very attractive for someone who wants to work in the field of development.
Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE)
I have worked in different duty stations, from Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, to Nigeria. I am now in Malaysia. I spent almost five years in Nigeria. I arrived in Nigeria at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency, which had just been declared a humanitarian crisis. I am proud to have been a part of the UNDP team that began the crisis response in the very early stages and continued to work on the issue until the UN Security Council’s visit and passing of the first UN Resolution on Boko Haram in March 2017.
Having lived and interacted with individuals who have either been victims, survivors, or witnesses to the crisis has given me a unique perspective on the issue of violent extremism. One of UNDP’s biggest mandates is on Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE), which is why our level of engagement with the issue is so high. I can safely say UNDP is the thought leader on PVE.
It is important to recognize that the impact of violent extremism extends beyond the immediate boundaries where is happens. As such, addressing its root causes, such as poverty, inequality, exclusion, lack of opportunities, and perceptions of injustice, is critical and requires collective commitment — at international level. Extremist groups exploit development gaps and failures, which is why development responses are crucial in PVE.
There is still a lot to learn about PVE. We must continue to invest in research and evidence-based analysis to gain a better understanding of the issue and develop effective solutions. Today, UNDP operates in 25 sub-Saharan African countries to address the underlying causes that have made the region a new epicenter of extremist violence.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and its biggest economy, with a rich and diverse culture and so much talent. It also has one of the continent’s most complex development landscapes. As the saying goes, “if Nigeria fails, Africa fails,” — the need to look at Nigeria with a special lens when designing development solutions need no emphasis.
While in Nigeria, I was privileged to work with both the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative. My role was to provide leadership across all communication functions. To elevate the visibility of UN(DP)’s role in responding to both the development needs across the country and the crisis in the North-East. This meant that I had to travel extensively across the country, including to the epicenter of the Boko Haram crisis. It was a very rewarding experience.
After the mission to the Lake Chad Basin, the UN Security Council went back to New York and drafted the first ever UN Resolution on Boko Haram. It is important to highlight this because, before this happened, the world did not see the crisis at that level. If UNDP, working alongside other UN Agencies and humanitarian actors, hadn’t elevated the Boko Haram crisis to this level, we could be telling a different narrative today.
Coordinating such a mission’s media engagements and ensuring that, through both local and international press, stories about the crisis highlighted the level of suffering by those affected and the urgent support needed from the international community, was a challenge, and opportunity at the same time. It was rewarding to apply my skills and knowledge to contribute to this very important process, and it was a privilege to be part of the UNDP team.
We can all contribute to making a difference. We should all pursue our dreams and not wait for the “right time” before we can engage in the things we care about. If you have a desire to make a positive impact in the world, there’s no better time to start than today.