Chiara Bologna: from UNODC intern to UNICRI Associate Programme Management Officer

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TURIN (ITALY), MAY 6 – Chiara Bologna was raised in Kenya. Born in 1988, her experience at the United Nations began at 18, with an internship at the UNODC Human Trafficking Unit in Pretoria, South Africa. In 2012 she returned to the UN, this time for an internship at UNICRI, the Turin-based UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute. In 2016 she became Associate Programme Manager Officer, working to develop, coordinate and manage a wide variety of projects and programmes.

What interests and professional experiences brought you to pursue a career at the UN?

Working at the UN was always my my ‘dream job’. Growing up in Kenya from 1992 to 2006, I was very aware of, and sensitive to, the inequalities facing local populations, and from a young age I knew I wanted to do my part to improve the quality of life of my fellow citizens. While studying at the University of Birmingham for my Baccalaureate, I regularly spent time in South Africa, where my family lived from 2006 to 2011. In Pretoria I interned at the UNODC Southern Africa Regional Office, working on human trafficking. I learned to speak Spanish, having spent a year on the Erasmus Programme in Spain, and French fluently (two of the six official languages of the UN). I went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in International Relations from King’s College, London.

Beyond the UN, there are many NGOs and organisations working to improve the quality of life in Sub-Saharan Africa: why did you choose the UN?

The UN is a truly all-encompassing organisation that can bring together all countries to reach consensus on the adoption of universal tools, such as the Conventions or the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I had the opportunity to work at a think tank in the UK and an NGO in Kenya, and I firmly believe that their work is vital and extremely valuable. At the UN, I interact with a variety of stakeholders, involved in different phases of the projects and programmes. I have worked closely with civil society and NGOs, Government Ministries, academia and the private sector. I however chose the UN for its holistic approach: the UN has a central role in bringing all stakeholders and actors together and coordinating their efforts to bring about the most change.

Another valuable aspect of a UN career is to have the opportunity to work in the field. With UNICRI, for example, I went to Thailand where I spoke to violent extremist prisoners for one project, and for another held interviews with a variety of law enforcement and other stakeholders across the country. I also worked alongside civil society organisations in the Philippines to prevent and disengage vulnerable groups, including juveniles, from coming into contact with violent extremist groups.

What is your role within UNICRI? 

My role in UNICRI consists in developing and managing programmes and projects from their inception through to the implementation phase, which entails a wide range of tasks and duties. Some of these include writing project proposals and presenting them through fundraising efforts to possible donors, like Embassy representatives. I am also responsible for leading a team in ensuring that the activities within a project are carried out successfully, for example, with the organization of conferences or training activities. An important part of my role is liaising and working closely with project partners and other stakeholders in the field and writing documents or reports which analyse and summarise data gathered. I am also called upon to represent my organization during certain events: I prepare and deliver presentations about UNICRI and its mandate, the programmes and projects I am currently leading, as well as other initiatives being undertaken by UNICRI.

Can you give us some examples of projects and programmes that you have managed during your time at UNICRI?

The first project I managed was in 2013-2014, on  Maritime Piracy. In Thailand, I managed a research project on Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) and how it has impacted the country during the ASEAN economic integration (which increased the mobility of goods and persons in the region). For this I worked closely with the Thailand Institute of Justice, a local NGO, which is also linked to the Ministry of Justice of Thailand. Furthermore, I was the coordinator for another project in the country aimed at rehabilitating and reintegrating violent extremist prisoners.

Workshop on rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist prisoners
Bangkok,Thailand

Between 2016-2020 I managed the programme on the links/nexus between terrorism and TOC, which had a focus on the West Africa and Sahel region, the Horn of Africa and East Africa region, the Balkans and South and Southeast Asia. Today, I manage a project aimed at improving detainee classification in the Central African Republic, which I work on with MINUSCA.

          Working with Judges on Juvenile Justice, Jakarta, Indonesia

What does one of your work days look like?

One reason I much enjoy my work is that it is difficult to describe a ‘typical’ work day, because it varies significantly depending on the projects and programmes I am currently working on. Before Covid-19, my work days were extremely varied as I was travelling on a regular basis. With the pandemic, the usual dynamism of my work has been reduced with regards to travelling. Although online, I continue to communicate with internal UNICRI teams and external partners, such as other UN agencies, Interpol and other regional organisations, as well as donors, such as Embassy representatives. I also continue to present my projects virtually at different meetings, conferences and training sessions around the world.

   Meeting in Tokyo with Correctional Officers from Southeast Asia,Tokyo

How did your work as an intern at UNODC compare to your work at UNICRI?

My internship experiences at UNODC and UNICRI differed in terms of scope and geographical focus. At UNODC I supported with the organization of an inter-faith conference in Cape Town. Attended by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, and other high-level religious leaders, the Conference aimed at raising awareness on the issue of human trafficking and for this event I worked with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. At UNICRI I worked in the Communications Office, supporting with the editing of reports, the drafting of press releases, and helped the organization of events such as the ‘International Forum of Mayors on Security and Crime Prevention in Urban Settings’, and the ‘Invisible Flower Sellers of Turin’, where I interviewed flower-sellers from Bangladesh focusing on potential forms of exploitation linked to the flower-selling business.

Has COVID-19 impacted the work of UNICRI?

Fundraising opportunities were reduced during the pandemic, since we could not meet directly with the donor community and discuss with them the way we can expand our action. At the same time, our work has doubled, because we must address new threats and emerging crimes that the pandemic is generating globally. UNICRI has helped to raise awareness on the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable populations. We have also implemented training and research on organized crime and violent extremism, and on the malicious use of social media by non-state actors during the pandemic.

What advice would you give to a young person looking to work for UNICRI, or the UN more generally?

My advice during this challenging phase is to make the most of being able to work remotely, which cuts expenses and can provide more flexibility. Also, be sure to carefully target what you want to do, ensure you tailor a well-thought-out application, showing your strong motivation, and never be scared to reach out for advice. (SB)