Interns’ Blog

Ashkan

Ashkan Azizi
Subject: Social Development

Hi! My name is Ashkan Azizi and I am a recent graduate of Queen’s University in Canada with a Major in Political Studies and Minor in Religious Studies. I have been working at the BIC for six months and since October I have been focusing on the proceedings at the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, which addresses social, humanitarian, and cultural matters. I have been particularly engaged on the human rights front; however, the wide array of topics covered at the UN has piqued my interest in a number of other areas.

Rethinking the World Order

Alfred de ZavasEvery year at the United Nations, experts in various fields who have been given mandates by the General Assembly present their year’s work to all UN Member States. On 28 October 2013, Alfred de Zayas, the UN Independent Expert (since 2012) on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order presented his report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly. Central to the report and presentation was the need to question the foundation of the current world order, a task that is immense in scope and one that I believe is necessary for humanity to establish a just and equitable society. While reconceptualizing the current world order involves questioning many aspects of life that are accepted as norms, one area in which I believe there must be significant change is in the social relationships that characterize the interactions between and among people, communities, and nations.

With the establishment of nation-states came the responsibility for...

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Navid
Subject: Social Development

Hi! My name is Navid Shahidinejad and I interned at the Bahá’í International Community over the summer. I am finishing my international relations major at Tufts University and I was born and raised in El Salvador. Over the months at the BIC I focused my work on the relationship between human rights and development, a very hot topic at the UN.

During the summer, I reflected a lot about the role and importance of the United Nations for our world and engaged in wonderful conversation about it with colleagues and other friends. Is the UN still important? How useful and constructive is it? Is it having any real positive effect on the world? What are its pros and cons? Are there any other appropriate alternatives? These are some of the questions that have come up and led to interesting thoughts and conclusions.

I think I am not alone when I say that the pace and rhythm of the work at the UN can be disillusioning at times, especially for someone like me who has admired the efforts of this institution since my adolescence. On a visit to one of the permanent missions to the UN, I had the opportunity to ask one of its representatives how they personally felt about the progress of UN initiatives. Like me, she recognized the UN’s limitations. However, she also mentioned that when she looks at the bigger picture a more encouraging portrait emerges. I took this to heart and it has helped me find answers to the questions mentioned above.

After some thought, what became clear was that, although the UN does have some weaknesses, from the viewpoint of culture and the world of ideas, this unparalleled institution deserves much credit for the progress humanity has achieved in...

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Anita

Anita
Subject: Reports

Hi! My name is Anita and I'm from Denmark and working as an intern at the BIC office with a focus on peace and conflict resolution. But I'm also a videographer and I'm starting a project to interview some of my fellow BIC interns. This is my first interview. Stay tuned for others... 

Carmel is from South Africa and a graduate of the University of Cape Town. She has been interning since January, 2013 and in the video she discusses  her reasons for coming such a long distance to intern here in New York City. 

Anita

Nisha

Nisha
Subject: Social Development

My name is Nisha Patel and I consider myself a globe trekker—passionate about languages, cuisines and cultures. I started my research internship with the BIC in fall of 2012. I moved to New York City after graduating from Arizona State University in May 2012 with a B.A. in Global Studies and a certificate in Religion and Conflict Studies with an emphasis on the Middle East. Although I have not decided what my end-game is, I aspire to work in/with the United Nations and am currently in the process of applying to public policy graduate programs in NY.

Structure of CSocD

The Commission on Social Development (CSocD) is tasked to advise the Economic and Social Council as well as various governments on a wide range of social policy issues. Every two years, the Commission takes on key social development themes as part of its follow-up to the outcome of the Copenhagen Summit. The first year of this two-year cycle is a “Review Year”.  The 2nd is the “Policy Year”.  The 51st CSocD convened the “Review Year” meetings in New York City in February 2013. The priority theme was “promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all” and the emerging theme is “the social dimension in the global development agenda beyond 2015”.

BIC delegates to the Commission for Social Development.

The Priority Theme of “Empowerment”

The priority theme was unique and took...

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Nisha
Subject: Social Development

More than a month has passed since Ban Ki-moon appointed Ahmad Alhindawi as the U.N.’s Envoy on Youth, but what has been done to enable increased youth participation at the U.N. level, and what more can we realistically expect?

In the buildup to the Commission on Social Development (51st CsocD) civil society and member state statements alike mentioned the emergence of a ‘youth bulge’. Given that youth are far more likely than adults to be unemployed, this rapid growth in the global population of youth caused a great deal of worry, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The Envoy on Youth has been tasked with addressing the needs of the largest generation of youth the world has ever known. But at a Commission aimed at empowering youth and creating an ‘enabling environment’ for their participation, youth delegates felt largely sidelined and disappointed at the lack of opportunities to contribute to the discourse and voice their needs.

Empowerment activity
Empowerment activity

Some of the Commission’s side events, however, were highly interactive and an encouraging step towards increasing opportunities for youth participation. At one such event, hosted by Mr. Ravi Karkara on behalf of the Sri Lankan government, Joao Scarpellini of the Youth 21 movement noted that youth participation has always been desirable, dating back to the League of Nations considering the creation of a Youth League in 1936. So why are we still mulling over it and deciding how it should be created? Why do we keep calling youth the leaders of the future and talking about their...

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Carmel
Subject: Social Development
Representatives of the world's religions offering prayers for peace on stage in the General Assembly hall

Valentine ’s Day 2013 proved to be a historic occasion in New York as World Interfaith Harmony day was celebrated in the General Assembly hall. To people of many religions the idea of interfaith harmony is far from revolutionary, but for those religious leaders and NGO representatives whose work it is to negotiate what many see as a chasm between religion and international politics, it was an important victory. For years it was thought that prayers would never be said in the General Assembly.  ‘It’s simply too controversial’ religious representatives were told time and again.

Mrs. Masami Saoinji

Refusing to allow her imagination to be constrained by such negativities, Mrs. Masami Saionji of the World Peace Prayer Society dreamt of a day on which all of the world’s major religions would be united in prayer for world peace.  And so the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations set about to make this a reality. Indeed, on World Interfaith Harmony Day, prayers for peace were offered by representatives of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Baha’i, Sikh, Jane, Hindu, Buddhist, Humanist, and...

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Carmel
Subject: Human Rights

Moral governance -- Perhaps not such an oxymoron after all…

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay’s remarks to the forum held in South Africa

We are in the midst, it seems, of a worldwide crisis of authority, stemming largely from the lack of good governance and good leadership. Although the acknowledgement of the need for good leadership as essential to mankind’s progress is nothing new, it has become a particularly pertinent issue of late. Last week diplomats, politicians, experts form many fields and representatives of civil society alike gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa. The purpose of this forum

was to discuss concepts surrounding governance in order to establish what the current reality is, and what must be done to improve it so that the post-2015 agenda can outline a plan of action. The importance of this theme was reiterated by Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (a cross-civilization effort to counter polarization and extremism) who stated that “responsible leadership is the key in addressing all the challenges which we are now having”, adding that “the politics of division, hatred and misperceptions, particularly the language of hatred tear the fabric of our society”. The problem seems simple enough: governance needs to be improved. But how?

Various diagnoses of this societal ill have been put forward, none of which has gained more clout than the UNDP’s campaign to equate good governance with democracy. But is a commitment to regular free and fair elections alone...

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Tianshu

Tianshu
Subject: Social Development

I am a new intern at the Baha'i International Community’s United Nations Office and am pursuing my Masters Degree in Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences at Columbia University. Several weeks ago, the Baha’i International Community (BIC) brought together a group of graduate students from Columbia University to explore the vision and the values that should guide the emerging post-2015 development agenda. It was a very thought-provoking process, especially with the participation of such a diverse group of people.

(Editor’s note: This interdisciplinary group of students was invited to share their comments and perspectives on a working document drafted by the BIC, which explored some of the key themes of the post-2015 development agenda. This initiative is part of a broader process by which the Office engages with the UN and civil society on questions related to the global framework for development (e.g. breakfast dialogues on poverty, inequalities, purpose means and protagonists of the development agenda, relationship between the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals, etc. )

The opening remarks delivered by Mr. Ravi Karkara, Expert Advisor on Children and Youth from UN Habitat, were very encouraging. By introducing the “bottom-up” approach instead of the “top-down” one used in developing the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Karkara noted that the UN is doing tremendous work to invite the opinions and voices of youth about the post-2015...

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Shayda

(Part 2 of 2) Read part 1, if you have not done so.

In my research on the relationship between social rights and economic growth, I discovered that certain findings about this relationship are neither straightforward nor intuitive.

For instance, I found that there is little evidence of a positive impact of women’s secondary education on economic growth (e.g. Barro 2001 “Human Capital and Growth”). As universal compulsory education – particularly for women – is a fundamental principle of the Bahá’í Faith, my moral and intuitive understanding of the significant role of education was confronted by metrics that make the opposite case.

I sought to resolve this cognitive dissonance. I reminded myself that although economics is the current dominant language in the field of development, and although it is important that, as actors on the international stage, we learn to speak and understand it, we ought to remain critical of its assumptions, definitions, and conceptual frameworks.

In the study I mention above, the researcher’s definition of economic growth is simply the growth rate of a nation’s per capita GDP (as is often the case in economic studies).  The conclusion that might be immediately drawn from the study’s results, therefore, is that in certain parts of the world, the provision of secondary schooling for women has no direct impact on the rate of GDP growth and thus, makes no significant contribution to development.

A more thorough reflection, however, might lead to different conclusions.  For instance, these results may reflect the unfortunate reality that in many countries, women face different forms of discrimination including discrimination in the workforce, with the result that women are not effectively incorporated into the...

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Shayda

(Part 1 of 2)

With the January 2015 expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fast approaching, the United Nations and other key international actors have focused their attention on designing a succeeding set of post-2015 targets.   Discussions towards this end have provided an important opportunity to assess and evaluate the content of these development goals, and a multitude of actors have joined the global discourse. Commonly raised concerns include the MDGs’ inadequate focus on the underlying causes of poverty and social injustices, their neglect of rising inequalities, and the striking absence of human rights in the goals. Recent crises within the economic, political, and environmental arenas have only highlighted the shortcomings of the MDGs in addressing the challenges faced by humanity. Correspondingly, there appears to be a growing appreciation of the need to integrate issues of human rights, equity, and sustainability into the new goals.

As an intern, I was first assigned to collect research on current discussions about human rights in the post-2015 development agenda. As I mention above, the MDGs have been heavily criticized for ignoring the incorporation human rights standards into their framework.  While the separation of human rights and development agendas in the UN system might appear convenient, treating these agendas in isolation from one another tends to lead to a harmful bias in the development discourse. If development is to be regarded as a human-centered phenomenon rather than simply a country’s ability to produce and consume goods and services, then inclusion of the whole spectrum of human concerns is essential. Human rights – such as rights to education, housing, and freedom from discrimination – are therefore fundamental ingredients of development.

Here is a brief list of common human rights recommendations for the post-2015 development agenda:

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