Broadening my Horizon: How my time at UNDP Has Helped Me Become a Better Global Citizen
By Sohaila Hassan
Disclaimer: The views are those of the author's alone and do not represent the views of UNA-Canada.
Image 1: JPC Sohaila Hassan
My name is Sohaila Hassan, I am based in Toronto, Ontario, and I graduated from the University of Toronto. My academic background in International Develpment Studies and Public Policy inspired my interest in the interaction between structures of governance and the natural environment. As a Public Policy student, I am interested in investigating the competing interests that vie for policy making power and the discourses through which political interests are justified and advanced. My background in International Development, however, encourages me to remain critical of discourse as a reflection of power and to remain vigilant in uncovering the various dimensions of political issues.
In line with my interests, I have actively sought academic and professional opportunities to refine my understating of how good governance could help advance human development. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on how changes in agricultural practices in Ottoman Lebanon destabilized traditional social structures, prompting the reorganization of Lebanese political institutions along sectarian lines. I also worked with various organizations across South-East Asia on projects promoting sustainable food production practices and responsible value chains. Through such experiences, I have come to realize that any political narrative is incomplete if it does not account for the material inequalities that are prompted by preferential access to the natural environment and the resources that it harbours.
Image 2: JPCs office and current project
Currently, I am a Junior Professional consultant at the United Nations Development Programme’s Natural Resource Management Cluster in Indonesia. I am working on a project titled “Strengthening sustainability in commodity and food systems, land restoration and land use governance through integrated landscape management for multiple benefits in Indonesia (FOLUR).” The FOLUR Impact Program consists of a global platform and 27 country projects targeting the production landscapes of eight commodities: beef, cocoa, corn, coffee, palm oil, rice, soy, and wheat. In Indonesia, the project aims to foster and strengthen sustainable value chains of palm oil, coffee, cocoa and rice through implementation of a comprehensive landscape management approach integrating biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration and the sustainable production of cash and food crops at scale. FOLUR contributes to the global climate action effort by promoting agricultural practices that account for the overall health of all terrestrial ecosystems and by utilizing land use planning and management tools to mitigate the impact of commodity production. Locally, the project engages the private sector through the provision of training on integrated farmer support and value-chain traceability, obtaining investments for sustainable commodity production, and through partnerships between companies and other sectors focused on innovative incentive mechanisms. It also engages public sector actors by obtaining investments in agriculture and infrastructure alongside formation of jurisdictional sustainable landscape management plans and training for governments on integrated support for smallholder farmers.
During my time with UNDP, I produced desk reviews on topics pertaining to commodity production, helped with administrative tasks and created communication materials. My biggest project thus far has been the development of a website for FOLUR Indonesia. As the largest country consisting wholly of islands and the fifth largest country by land area, Indonesia harbours some of the world’s most important areas of tropical forests, possessing substantial globally significant biodiversity. Through this website, I hope to highlight the substantive steps that UNDP is taking against commodity driven environmental degradation and to inspire people to engage with commodities in a more mindful and responsible way, whether it be as consumers or producers.
Having mostly worked in grassroots organizations in the past, I gained a very valuable global perspective throughout my time at UNDP. Working on a project of such scale has enabled me to better understand how integrated knowledge management, coordination and collaboration, on an international scale, could help enhance knowledge of global issues such as climate change and commodity value chains, and encourage the fostering of lessons learnt for replication in other areas. I have had the privilege of experiencing such international knowledge exchange not just through my work with FOLUR, but also by attending the various online workshops, webinars, and forums hosted by UNDP offices around the world.
Overall, my experience at UNDP has been shaped not just by a team that has supported me in growing and enhancing my skillset, but also by a global community whose drive to create and share knowledge has inspired me to appreciate my work as a piece of a global and multi-faceted effort towards human development. Though the impending threat of a climate crisis that only furthers global inequality, may at times seem too daunting to confront, the global solidarity that I have witnessed throughout my time with UNDP has only fueled my drive for environmental justice.