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Gentian Sema of UNIDO, and avid Toastmaster at the VIC, was centre stage at the meeting with the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Amina J. Mohammed on Friday 12th May 2017. 

Working at the United Nations (UN), one of the challenges is to know when to accept invitations to significant events which may or may not be in the direct line of duty. Having just returned to the Vienna International Centre (VIC) on a temporary assistance contract it was not difficult for me to decide to attend the meeting with the newly appointed Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.

There were many spare seats and I knew that most of my colleagues would not have even read the invitation on the internal notice board, and many would have considered that their work load does not allow for such frivolous extra-curricula activity. I became more nervous as the advertised starting time passed and there were still many empty seats and no sign of the meeting starting. I thought of all the good training from Toastmasters (TM) about punctuality and how we really need TM at the UN.

I greeted my fellow toastmaster in recognition of his heavy workload for the sustainable energy meeting this week and congratulated him on presenting the Sustainable Development Goal for clean energy (SDG#7).

I was very pleasantly surprised then, to hear this talented woman, named Amina J Mohammed, address the meeting in excellent English and to feel her sense of humour as she advised that she was observing the body language and feeling the atmosphere in Conference Room D on the fourth floor of the rotunda. Instead of referring to the empty seats, she commented on the more than four thousand staff who work at the VIC and thanked those present for attending. She apologized for the late start and afterwards answered all the questions asked at the end of her presentation.

She mentioned the need for renewal of the aging UN system and even referred to the extended retirement age leading to a further aging of the UN population.

I was sitting there as a newly recruited 62 year old on a two year contract and just had to make my point. I mentioned Karen Judd Smith’s book: United Nations Unlocked and how I thought it offered wonderful guidelines about renewing the UN from within. I then also referred to Ms Mohammed’s comments on bringing more young people into the UN. I expressed my concern that by rotating out all the oldies, and only bringing in new people, surely much of the expertise and organizational knowledge was being lost. I pointed out that I had lots of experience in the “real world” before joining the UN at 55 years old and that I had served as a Non-Government Organization (NGO) representative before taking up active employment with the IAEA seven years ago. At that time I thought that many of the staff were not really in touch with the real world. Today even more we need to use technological resources but surely also should make best use of existing expertise. Ms Mohammed agreed that we need to take care of the generations and also addressed a number of the recurring issues relating to recruiting capable staff and she suggested active head hunting in order to be more effective. She praised the host government and encouraged us, the UN staff, to be more communicative about what we do.

So here is my contribution. I do not seek a public profile because it contradicts my role as an international civil servant. Yet I am aware that somebody has to speak out. And I feel I also need to represent my own case, which could be to promote the inter-generational communication. After all, with my five sons all contributing to society and supporting me in my technological development, I feel I can certainly be a role model for inter-generational cross pollination.

I was so happy then to have a young intern from Seibersdorf thank me for my comments afterwards. I could encourage her and feel my role as a mentor to the younger generation.

Oh, and I took photos of the pregnant photographer because I wanted to underline the role and value of mothers in the workforce.