1. Tell us about yourself.
I have been internationally focused since I was born. My father is from India and my mother is a UK-born American. I currently am a second year student at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and will graduate in the spring of 2010. I am studying international policy with a focus on international development. My language of study is Spanish. This is what brings me to Brazil to study urbanization in Latin America. I love learning about our world: experiencing it, meeting different people, eating different foods, cheering for different sports, hearing new ideas. I also feel as though I still have a bit of idealism in me and that I can do my part, whatever that may be, to make things just a bit better.
2. What is your DPMI Plus assignment?
I am working at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is their Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, or, because the UN loves acronyms so much, UN-HABITAT/ROLAC. I am doing work related to the UN-HABITAT program, Safer Cities, which deals with Urban Safety. I am developing a case study and body of information about a new program that the state is implementing in the favelas (urban slums) here in Rio. The state program places Peaceful Policing Units in the favelas to bring the security of these informal settlements back under state control, instead of under narco-trafficker or militia control. It is a very new program and brings the new perspective to the city of providing permanent security to the favelas. Once permanent security is provided, the program seeks to implement development programs to improve peoples’ livelihoods.
3. Why did you decide to do DPMI Plus? How did you choose UN-HABITAT?
I chose DPMI PLUS because, first of all, it was a natural extension of my valuable training experience in DPMI. I knew that DPMI Plus would allow me to make the most of my internship abroad while also giving me credits. When I applied for the internship with UN-HABITAT, my supervisor mentioned that a summer internship was not a long enough time to be a valuable member of the organization, and he recommended staying longer. This made DPMI Plus even more attractive.
I chose UN-HABITAT because it was really the one organization that fit perfectly with what I was interested in and pursuing in my studies. I had always been interested in studying urbanization and urban planning, and my Spanish focus lent itself to Latin American studies. UN-HABITAT, focusing on sustainable urbanization in Latin America and the Caribbean was a natural fit. Also, even though the office is located in Brazil, where Portuguese is the local language, at the office we only speak UN Languages, meaning primarily Spanish and English.
4. How did your DPMI training affect your work?
The training I received in DPMI has really impacted my work. It has focused my approach to development programs, policies, and projects, and even made some tasks much easier. I always remember the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder!” DPMI has made me aware of key things to look out for, such as remembering that a change in knowledge does not equal a change in behavior. Also, I remember constantly to think contextually. We often fall into the trap of seeing something that works somewhere else and wanting to apply everywhere. However, I always remember to take into account the local situation and include the participation of local residents. Even in a city like Rio, there are so many realities that something that has been successful in one area of the city is a failure in another.
5. What skills that you gained during DPMI do you use in your work?
When I first arrived, I was told to take a week and just get settled, read, and see in what area I want to work. So after a week of reading, I had so many notes written down and so many ideas in my head, I needed a way to sort them out. Lesson #1 from DPMI: CMAP (concept mapping) tools. This was hugely useful in sorting through my ideas and developing a work plan for my time here.
A few weeks later, I was working with a co-worker, helping to evaluate a stack of grant proposals we had received. We had to read through them and choose 5 out of the 80 that would receive grant money. In this process, the ideas from Logical Frameworks and Results Frameworks guided me in evaluating the proposals. I thought about problem identification, the goals and objectives, the proposed activities, and methods for monitoring. I didn’t use these tools directly, but they provided me with a conceptual framework for understanding the way programs and projects are created, and what ultimately makes an effective, targeted intervention.
In my research, when thinking about solutions to the problem, I again used the problem tree to map and sort, looking for the roots of the problems I was dealing with. I remembered that you cannot come up with a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. From there, I developed a Results Framework. I have found that these tools are great for making your ideas visual and easy to read through and understand. I also created a Core Competence Map for UN-HABITAT at the beginning of my stay here so I could understand my organization better: how we work, who we work with or who we should be working with, and what we do best.
One last set of skills from DPMI includes communicating ideas, listening to and evaluating ideas, and not letting technology control you. Sometimes the best way to learn and be effective in your work is to get out be on the ground and see the situation for yourself and talk to the people who are being affected by your work. You have an affect on them and they should have an affect you.
6. What sort of response have you gotten for having training in these particular skills?
So far, the response has been very positive. My supervisor here seems to be thoroughly impressed with my work thus far. My first paper on the problem and new state policy in Rio has been sent to the Director of an organization called Cities Alliance and to someone at the World Bank. Also a colleague is traveling to Rio from Nairobi and I have been invited to a meeting with him to discuss how my ideas can be inserted into future plans for the Safer Cities Programme of UN-HABITAT. The office seems particularly keen to use me for help on evaluating and revising project proposals they receive or are developing themselves.
7. What is it like working for the UN? What has been the best or most inspiring part of working there?
Working with the UN is quite an experience. I am definitely learning a lot about the inner workings of the UN. It is amazing working for an organization with such a noble mission and global reach. It is also frustrating at times, given that our particular program is short on funding and there is a lot of bureaucracy in such a large organization. However, my co-workers here are fantastic and are really knowledgeable people who truly care about the work they do. It is really impressive listening to the phone calls coming and going out all day to places around the world: Costa Rica, the United States, South Korea, Kenya, Mexico, Spain, etc. Our office has staff from Brazil of course, but also Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Peru, Bolivia, and me from the United States. Yesterday we had a delegation visiting us from Madrid and Nairobi, so it’s very global. I think the most inspiring has been meeting with people from all walks of life, from UN officials to state officials, to favelados (slum dwellers), and learning about the local situation from local people.
8. What is it like living in Rio?
Living in Rio is quite an experience. They call it the Cidade Maravilhosa or the Marvelous City for a reason. The people are amazingly friendly, the beaches are phenomenal, the city is always full of life; and it’s massive. Rio is, without a doubt, the most beautiful city I have been too. It’s a city built between numerous mountains and the ocean and there is always a good view. It’s a busy, bustling city, but people know how to enjoy life.
Rio is one of the most unequal cities in the world. The rich people are extremely rich, and due to the topography of the city, live very close to the favelas. No matter where you are in the city, you are always very close to a favela. So you are always aware of the poverty. But in a way, it’s not an oppressive poverty; it has become part of Rio’s culture and is part of life in this chaotic city.
Rio has the most amazing hot dogs in the world: hot dogs with tomatoes, onions, peas, corn, potatoes, mayo, parmesan cheese, and mayo. Delicious. I have two favorite activities here in Rio: going to the beaches on the weekend, and going to the world-famous Maracana stadium to watch the Flamengo soccer team try to win the Campeonato Brasileiro.
9. How did you decide on your current career path?
It just kind of came to me. There was never a moment where I sat down and said, ‘This is what I want do.’ I just kept following what seemed right for me, and that has led me to this point. And to be honest, this is exactly what I want to be doing.
10. What are your plans after you graduate in May 2010?
I have no idea what I want to do after I graduate. I am just going to keep my eyes, ears and mind open to all the opportunities that present themselves, and do what seems right. I know for sure that I want to be doing something on the ground, working with people. I hope to be working either in the USA or in Latin America doing some sort of development work. I think MIIS and DPMI are training me for just this.