On 1 July 2015, Westminster Business School’s International Development Management MA course had the opportunity to travel to Geneva and visit the United Nations (UN) headquarters. They were accompanied by a few International Economic Policy and Analysis MSc/MA students.
Starting the trip at Westminster Business School, 16 students, three members of staff (Course Leader Dr Ola Sholarin, Head of Department Dr Vincent Rich and Marketing staff, Jeni Stokes) and the Westminster School banner made their way across London to Gatwick Airport in the midst of the UK heatwave. No forgotten passports, no lost luggage and a trouble free flight later we met taxi drivers and tour guides Neil and Lynn who drove us to our hotel, just across the border. Whilst our accommodation was not quite the Four Seasons Hotel Geneva, we had a great first night together as #IDMvisitsUN at the only restaurant open at 10.30pm – a Buffalo Grill.
The next morning the real work began. Arriving at the UN headquarters for 9.30am, students and staff met with a representative of the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General who had organised a tour of the Palais de Nations. Starting in a smaller conference room we were taken briefly through the history and origins of the United Nations. Following this we moved to watch the UN Human Rights Council in action and to see the main assembly hall.
To provide a little background, we learnt that the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) is considered one of the main headquarters of the global body, second in size and importance only to the UN Headquarters in New York. It is located on the site of the headquarters of the Palais de Nations which housed the League of Nations – the direct predecessor of the United Nations established to keep international peace and to settle international disputes after the First World War. The UN Security Council and UN General Assembly regularly hold sessions here. As well as being a general HQ of the UN it hosts numerous special UN programmes and funds United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and is home to several of the UN’s specialized agencies including the International Labour Organization (ILO) a body that predates the UN.
Excitingly for us we were able to meet with representatives from several of these programmes and departments. First on the agenda was a lecture with the Social Media Manager & Public Information Officer of UNOG, Gisella Lomax. Discussing the complexities of communicating the role of the UN, Giselle talked about breaking down the barriers between the public and the UN, and how to apply for the Young Professional Persons scheme.
The second lecture of the day was given by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) – who discussed the need to raise awareness about climate change. This was a particular favourite for student Joseph Courtney who argues that climate change is related to all forms of development and should be addressed seriously. He was happy to see climate change in the context of development and enjoyed getting involved with asking questions about how to engage the agricultural sector.
We also met with a delegate of the UN Economic Commission for Europe for a lively and interactive session on the role of the UNECE. Discussions ranged from livelihoods, to the environment, to transport, to housing, and both staff and students explored these issues within the context of the countries represented by the students in the room.
Day 2 then started with a meeting with a representative from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), who gave a series of lectures on how the UN facilitate trade amongst nations. We learnt more about their work with the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency who strive to promote foreign direct investment (FDI) into developing countries to improve lives through encouraging economic growth. The second lecture was given by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) about how they are helping countries to improve their capacity for dealing with issues such as poverty alleviation, gender inequality and access to credit through micro-finance schemes. This was particularly enjoyed by International Development Management MA student Salma who would like to do similar work in her future on the theme of livelihoods. The final two lectures were given by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), which provoked an exciting debate about the most applicable formula for risk quantification and with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOHA).
So the visit to the UN was sadly over, however we still had almost a full day left to explore the sights of Geneva. We had a wonderful time eating ice cream by the lake, taking a boat trip, walking underneath the iconic fountain, eating delicious Swiss chocolate and getting to know the old town. It was truly a wonderful experience full of inspiration and sunshine and one that we will never forget.
*For more photos please see our latest Facebook album
* Photo credits for photo 4: @UNGeneva; credits for photo 5: Westminster Business School student, Jacinta Powell.
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