A story of UN Volunteer: Seven steps and lessons (so far) that made me closer to becoming a development professional

April 11, 2024
Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

All journeys begin with the first (and usually small) steps, and so it is in my case. As a nine-year-old girl, I participated in a contest of asphalt drawings where we chalked our vision of the green Earth. My jubilance knew no bounds when the jury announced that my picture took the first place, and I was presented with a gift - a UN brochure written for children about saving our planet. I consider that moment to be a turning point in my life. Reading that small book about ecology was a mind-blowing experience for a little girl like me. It laid the foundation of my profound awareness of environmental issues and shaped my commitment to sustainability.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Here comes my first lesson: This episode in my life showed me that small changes can impact things on a global scale (like making our planet cleaner and sustainable). Likewise, little kids and young people can have their place in movements towards global goals by joining forces and by igniting effects of greater magnitude with their activities.

Since that day, I started thinking more about environmental sustainability issues. Also, I began thinking about other global issues, such as gender equality, equal access to education, and raising the standard of living. During my university years, I tried myself in different fields. After gaining some volunteering experience, I wanted to do something more that may have a bigger impact. I wanted to work for the prosperity of our society and our planet. The best option would be to work in the United Nations.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

My second lesson: Don’t waste time! Look for your destiny, expand your horizon, and learn more about your dream job. Always ask yourself, “What should I learn, and what can I do now to achieve my goal sooner? Always remember that your future work should bring you a sense of happiness.

I started seeking options for joining the UN family; it is a challenge for an undergraduate student with only volunteering experience to get into an international organization. I have applied for almost every announced internship vacancy. I had such a huge desire to work that I even applied for positions in remote regions of Uzbekistan. I failed my first interview due to overexcitement - I was confused and couldn't organize my thoughts. Nevertheless, I did not give up and kept trying. After many attempts, I succeeded, and a long-awaited dream of joining the UN came true; I was lucky to be selected by the UNDP to work in the Strategic Planning and Integration Unit as an intern.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Lesson three: Never give up; try again; your failure does not mean you are not worthy. You have yet to find your place and time. It means you need to try persistently and gain more experience and knowledge along the way. If you have a mission, follow it, and the results will show.

As a newcomer at UNDP, I could not imagine what a brilliant team and supervisors awaited me. During my internship at UNDP, I have learned a lot, from small and ordinary things like collecting data and doing translations to challenging assignments related to analyzing programmatic and financial reporting. II also learned a lot by assisting my supervisor in collecting data, creating online surveys, and using digital tools like KoboToolbox for analysis and evaluations.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

My fourth lesson after two years at UNDP: Do not fear the tasks which may seem overwhelming at first. A good supervisor never gives you impossible tasks. An internship is a learning opportunity, so use it wisely. Never be too shy to ask questions.

I am lucky to work for and learn from different departments of UNDP. These units have different functions and capacities but work in synergy. In Strategic Planning and Integration Unit, we plan, monitor, and evaluate project implementation. I also had the privilege of helping my colleagues in the Accelerator Lab design amazing experiments and integrate new tools and approaches in the organization.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Lesson Five: Convert challenges into opportunities for growth. I used every chance to expand the horizons of my knowledge and seize new opportunities, working for different teams. Utilizing social skills is critical. View networking as a powerful tool capable of unlocking doors to future career prospects.

At UNDP, I have a unique chance to learn about new tools and approaches in development programming. For example, I saw firsthand how the organization explored integrating foresight and portfolio approach tools. I work alongside the most passionate and skilled experts in this field - who inspire me tremendously. By performing day to day tasks with great dedication, I was able to demonstrate my capacity and abilities and by the end of my internship period, I was hired as a Research and Development Associate. This is how I became a UN Volunteer, which is a great opportunity for young professionals as a first career step in the UN system.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Lesson Six - One should always work on improving skills and knowledge. Keep learning if you want to become an outstanding specialist and grow professionally. Working hard should always go hand in hand with being hungry for new knowledge and skills.

During my time at UNDP, there were also many significant changes in my personal life. I felt the need to learn to balance my professional aspirations with my personal commitments and well-being. My supervisors were very supportive, so despite the workload, I applied for a master’s degree  programme. But I also tried to do my best not to compromise my personal life, well-being, and relationships with my family and close people. 

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Lesson Seven: I don’t think I am in a position to advise women in their early careers like myself, but my final and probably most important advice would be to learn and keep the right work-life balance, plan your time, manage stress, and never compromise your personal life.

My experiences have shown me the potential for creating sustainable change on a global scale. I am a little closer to understanding myself and my role in this world. For years of working, I realized that it is crucial to keep life-work balance and not to forget about personal life.  I am employed full-time, I have my classes in the evenings as I am still pursuing my Master’s degree, and I try to maintain a good work-life balance. In the mornings before my working day starts, I regularly go to the gym, on my weekends I spend quality time with my family, all this helps me to manage stress and devote some time to the people I love. 

 I hope my story will encourage my peers, especially young women, who share my interests, fears, and ... dreams. 

Always ask yourself, “What should I learn, and what can I do now to achieve my goal sooner? Always remember that your future work should bring you a sense of happiness
Mubina, UN Volunteer