ROME, JANUARY 18 – Fiorella Spizzuoco (27) and Pietro Fochi (26) were Youth Delegates of Italy to the United Nations between 2018 and 2019. Fiorella studied Foreign Languages and Cultures as a Bachelor’s degree, and subsequently a Masters in International Studies at the University of Naples, L’Orientale. She is now looking to pursue a PhD. With a degree fromPietro is co-founder and executive of the social enterprise EDUACTIVE.
What motivated you to join the Youth Delegates’ programme? Why was it valuable? Of everything that you learned, what did you end up bringing with you throughout your career?
Fiorella: I was looking for an opportunity to understand the UN from inside. I had always been interested in the organization, and took a handful of classes on it in university, which made me curious to see it in first person. What I was most looking forward to, and what I think is one of the most valuable experiences offered by the programme, is the opportunity to observe and participate in the General Assembly. It was something I had always wanted to witness: seeing all those diplomats and UN staff together, in one room, discussing some of the world’s most relevant issues.
The Programme was definitely of relevance for my personal development. I acquired skills and insights, which were then of help throughout my career. Being a Youth Delegate, however, does not directly help you to pursue a career within the United Nations. When the programme ends, you are on your own again. I don’t believe Youth Delegates should be preferred for UN internships, but I do believe more professional orientation should be given to Youth Delegates at the end of their mandate. This is a common concern among all Youth Delegates, which however has gone relatively unheard.
Pietro: I first came into contact with the world of the United Nations through the Model United Nations environment. I quickly started wondering: “What does the UN really look like?”. Because sometimes the nature of the UN is in itself rather controversial. The UN is traditionally a closed door system, it’s characterised by an internal reality which is for the most part known only to the people who work within it. This curiosity is one of the motivations that led me to apply to the Youth Delegate Programme.
Fiorella and I had the opportunity to sit at the negotiation table, behind those closed doors. That is where you start to understand that the work of the UN is a matter of balancing national interests, spoken and unspoken positions. The public outreach communication of the Member States often differs substantially from their real interests. These things come up in the negotiation rooms. Getting the opportunity to witness, and contribute to this reality, was a truly valuable and thought-provoking experience.
The program also has another, absolutely unique feature which I would like to underline: Youth Delegates have the opportunity to act in full national capacity, despite not being career diplomats, which is incredibly empowering. In addition to this, the Italian programme is still very young, which means there is no pre-fixed plan to follow throughout the year. Youth Delegates are themselves the protagonists of the program, there is a lot of room for autonomy: we can ask for meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we receive inputs from the career diplomats who mentor and support us. That is also why the program tries to select community leaders, to make sure the creative power of young people is expressed.
Our peers might look at the program as something that benefits us, the Youth Delegates, directly in our personal and professional development. However, the way Fiorella and I interpreted the mandate was rather different: we saw it as something that could benefit broader communities back home in Italy. Of course, travelling to different missions was really exciting, but the most impactful part was giving back to the community. And it has been a struggle, for real, it has been really hard to work to raise awareness.
In what direction did your professional career develop after the Youth Delegate Programme: did you continue your career in a UN-related institution? What are your tasks and responsibilities at your current work place?
Fiorella: After the program, I started an internship at the governance and external relations unit of IDLO: the International Development Law Organization. IDLO is part of the greater UN network, in that it has observer status at the UN, and works in close contact with UN agencies and diplomats. The headquarters are in Rome, but there are also smaller offices located where the UN is: one in New York, one in Geneva, and one in the Hague which works with the International Court of Justice.
Since the organization is rather small, there is always a lot of work to be done. My main task was that of supporting the Head of Office, who was always going on bilateral meetings with Ambassadors and Councils to sponsor the organization. IDLO currently has only 45 member states, so a big part of the job is lobbying to increase membership. My main task was that of preparing country profiles: why could the country in question be interested to join? What could we give them in return? IDLO has a variety of regional programs, for example in the MENA region, in Africa, in South America. Convincing countries to join IDLO also requires showing them how the programs in their region have positively impacted the livelihood and well-being of communities. Witnessing this type of lobbying was incredibly interesting for me, since it’s something you don’t see at the UN anymore, as almost all countries in the world are UN members.
My work was therefore a lot of drafting, writing and researching. IDLO also works in close partnership with governments, especially the Italian and Dutch ones, so among my responsibilities was also daily communication with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, making a variety of phone calls, and translating documents as IDLO works in three languages: French, English and Spanish.
My internship at IDLO has now come to a conclusion, and I am looking to pursue a PhD.
Pietro: I am co-founder and executive of the social enterprise EDUACTIVE which works in the field of education and training to impact. Our goal is to get both young people closer to governmental institutions, and governmental institutions closer to young people. We work predominantly with teenagers, we train their skills and help them achieve a deeper understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals, and promote action to find solutions to their achievement. We consult them on the basis of project management, and support them in developing community grassroot projects.
Some of our 3,000 beneficiaries are now implementing community projects with us. One of them is called ‘Unveil’: it aims to prevent and raise awareness of domestic violence. ‘Unveil’ was selected as a finalist at the 2020 Mediterranean Dialogues, promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and ISPI.
An important part of EDUACTIVE’s mission is to train young people on how to navigate, make sense of and interpret today’s complexity. Unfortunately, we cannot simplify issues and social paradigms, so instead we must gain deeper knowledge and greater skills. There are no simple solutions to today’s problems, because these problems are far from being easy.
Youth empowerment and opportunities: in your opinion, are Italy and the UN doing enough to include and empower young people? What important changes have occurred in the last years?
Fiorella: From an institutional perspective, Italy supports the Office of the Youth Envoy and tries to sponsor as many of its events and activities. They are very proud to do it and they are happy to do it because they believe in the power of this office. From an Italian perspective, the diplomatic mission in New York does try to increase participation and engage young people, for example through the MAECI-CRUI internship programs. During our time in New York, we met a lot of interns who truly got to do and experience many things.
I also believe that there is a need for more financial support. Establishing a structured financial support scheme would allow all students and young people to access these opportunities. If you are selected for an internship program, you need to pay most expenses by yourself. Scholarships or other types of financial relief schemes would be of great help to ensure equal opportunities.
Pietro: There is a lot of unexpressed potential when it comes to young people, but structurally, something needs to change. There is a fundamental difference between involvement and engagement. You can involve young people through internships, or by sponsoring their trips to New York as was done with the ‘green tickets’ in occasion of the 2019 Youth Climate Summit. Engaging young people, on the other hand, means adding a new seat to the table, re-defining the decision making process to accommodate young individuals and leaders. Getting ideas from young people is a great starting point, but it’s just a start. If you really want to politically and therefore socially empower them, then you need to adapt the existing decision making spaces.
What advice would you give to a young person looking to work for the United Nations?
Fiorella: The Youth Delegate Program allowed me to witness a world I had been hoping to see since I was young, but it also made me aware of the difficulties one needs to face in order to get there. Other than studying and academically preparing yourself, I would also recommend taking the time to figure out and search for all the opportunities available. There are a lot of smaller NGOs which work alongside the UN, and which have career and internship opportunities for people with all sorts of passions: human rights, development cooperation, gender equality. I would also recommend trying to participate in all kinds of events and meetings organized by institutions like ISPI, which have a strong connection to the UN and international organizations more generally. These events are important not only to discover the opportunities available, but also to establish a network.
Pietro: I think it’s absolutely vital to get field experience. It’s something which is highly valued during the admission process, because field experience is a testimony of your adaptive capacity and practical skills. This type of experience can also be acquired outside the UN system. There are many NGOs which need this type of support. Important is also to break the perception that the UN only needs political officers, since it is actually quite the opposite. Only a small percentage of individuals working within the world of the UN are diplomats, most of them are experts across all types of fields. Nowadays, I believe the UN needs more doctors and engineers than political science experts. If you are still to define your course of study and dream to work for the UN, I would definitely keep this in mind. (@ONuItalia)