Insights into the work of a Swedish-funded Programme Support Officer in North Macedonia
My journey in UNDP – Enriching Experience, Nourishing Ideas, Essence of Development
August 22, 2023
In June 2022, I successfully defended my dissertation at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, obtaining a Master’s degree in International Administration and Global Governance. As a newly graduated 26-year-old, I was eager to find out what was next and yearning for international experience...
Several months later, I found myself situated approximately 2,200 kilometers to the south. In November 2022, I embarked on a new chapter of my career path as a Swedish-funded Programme Support Officer within the Democratic Governance Unit at the UNDP Country Office in North Macedonia. The role is particularly exciting due to the significant collaboration between UNDP and Sweden. The synergy between Swedish funding and UNDP’s expertise not only enhances the impact of initiatives aimed at fostering democratic governance and sustainable development, but also highlights the positive outcomes achieved through joint efforts in the country.
The first metaphor that came to my mind while trying to describe our work here was that it is quite similar to the topography of North Macedonia, which is notably mountainous. The road to overcoming the challenges is tough, but each step of the journey is genuinely exciting.
And indeed, working with the Democratic Governance team is an enriching experience. The unit focuses on various aspects to support North Macedonia, mainly in the areas of good governance, decentralization and local development, youth engagement, public finance management, preventing corruption and promoting cross-border cooperation and security. In this context, some key areas of our work include facilitating and coordinating policy making processes between various domains, different levels of government (national and local) and multiple stakeholders (public, private and civil society organizations and development partners). As a Programme Support Officer primarily involved in project implementation, I have had the opportunity to support and participate in all ongoing projects of the unit, which includes engaging in meetings with ministries, international organizations and other relevant stakeholders, researching citizen needs and formulating concrete strategic plans.
It allowed me to familiarize myself with the local context, while also gaining experiences and skills that I will be able to leverage in my future professional challenges, regardless of which meridian my career takes.
As I strongly believe that the voice of young people is one of the pillars for sustainable development, necessary to ensure a world fit for future generations, it is with great pleasure that I have participated in activities across a number of projects where youth have been made a priority. For example, the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2) promotes involvement of youth in development of their communities through selecting and supporting youth community leaders, organizing thematic forums with youth at local level and implementing concrete youth initiatives. Within the project Empowering Municipal Councils (EMC), thematic working groups consisting of municipal council presidents have been established, including a group on youth and youth politics, which have conducted workshops to strengthen knowledge on local youth policies, prepare action plans, and collect feedback. The regional UN initiative Youth 4 inclusion, equality and trust aims to address divisive narratives and enhance social cohesion. It is in the auspices of the last that UNDP took part in the process of preparing the National Youth Strategy for the period 2023 to 2027. As a young person myself, I actively contributed to the process and provided valuable inputs, while leveraging an outsider perspective.
I was particularly thrilled that during the first year of my engagement, The Programme Framework for cooperation between the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency - Sida and UNDP was launched, framing the implementation of two significant projects related to the national development priorities of the country, focusing on the municipalities. Here, I would like to point out that within the framework of the Building Municipal Capacity for Project Implementation (BMCPI) initiative, there will be an establishment of Integrated Local Development Plans, wherein the active participation of youth from the respective municipalities will assume a pivotal and indispensable role.
Below, I would like to share some of my most prominent takeaways so far:
- An international community: Every person I have encountered within the UNDP has had a genuine will to make a positive impact, both nationally and internationally. One of the greatest perks of joining such a team has been their support in my journey of doing the same. It has allowed learning from experienced colleagues and reinforced my dream of working for the UN.
- Professional experience: My ten months journey has provided an excellent professional experience with insights into how the UNDP and other international organizations coordinate with different national, regional and local stakeholders, processes that are particularly relevant in a country like North Macedonia, on its path towards European Union accession.
- Personal involvement: Working with the Democratic Governance Unit specifically, has allowed a life experience that goes beyond what can be accommodated by my resume. Moving to another country and following the progress of all projects from a local perspective has developed my perceptions of international development. Moreover, working through a bottom-up approach has made me more aware of the true impact of our work.
- Flexibility and fast decision making: Partaking in several projects taught me the importance of being adaptive and flexible. Even more so as, within most projects, there are numerous stakeholders and implementing partners involved. With more actors, follow additional perspectives that need to be accommodated.
- Endurance: While the Democratic Governance Unit certainly represents a workplace that is both dynamic and fast-paced, I have also learned that sharing ideas, prioritizing the SDGs and bridging borders, is all a process. Sustainable change is not achieved in one day. Instead, projects are about sowing seeds and watching them grow, providing the best conditions for them to do so.
During my time with UNDP, I recognize that my work has mainly revolved around interaction: encompassing internal meetings, external workshops, and analyzing project evaluations. Through this I have realized that statistics give information, but it is the subjective nuances of a person that gives the story, and the possibility for others to relate and understand. As stated by colleagues at the UNDP Strategic Foresight Team: “No process is neutral. It is important to recognize the subjectivities of existing structures, to enable culturally and contextually relevant, locally led and inclusive development”.
Overall, my time with the Democratic Governance Unit has significantly contributed to my personal and professional growth. As I look forward to my second year with UNDP, I am excited to apply the experiences I have gained so far to continue making meaningful contributions to the work of UNDP in North Macedonia.
Yet, life here is not all about work and duties, you know! Life in Skopje offers many things. Except for the delightful weather, with its warmer climate and sunnier days, the social and friendly city atmosphere, coupled with its proximity to nature, provides a perfect balance between urban living and the charm of the outdoors.
And of course, the food here is great 😊 Whether it's the tasty meals served in the kafanas and restaurants or the nourishing ideas offered during my work, I relish every single bite of it.